A guide to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Lily James in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Image: Lily James stars as Juliet Ashton

The announcement that the New York Times best-selling novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is to be turned into a film was greeted with joy by the many fans of the 2008 book.

The film will hold the same name as the book and the historical drama is due to be released later in 2018 (although an exact date has not yet been confirmed).

In this guide – and with the help of a few experts – we will look a little closer at why the novel became an unexpected but huge success, some further information regarding the upcoming film adaptation, and how you can get closer to the action by visiting some of the places mentioned in the story.

The background of the story

Fountain pen and paper

The story behind the novel is itself worthy of mention. Decades ago, an American editor and librarian called Mary Ann Shaffer found herself stranded on a visit to Guernsey when heavy fog caused the airport to close.

To pass the time, Shaffer read several books about the German occupation of the Channel Islands during the Second World War and decided there and then that she wanted to write a novel about this tumultuous period in the history of what was otherwise a peaceful and beautiful place.

It was many years until the author got around to putting pen to paper and, sadly, Shaffer became seriously ill before she was able to complete the amendments to the novel which her editor had requested.

Shaffer was determined to see the project completed, however, and therefore asked her niece – the successful children’s author Annie Barrows – to finish the novel. Barrows accepted and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was released to the acclaim of critics and adoration of readers. Sadly, Shaffer passed away just months before its publication.

Why the novel is so loved

Guernsey coastline

We wanted to get a better idea of why so many people fell in love with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society upon its release, so we spoke to two authorities on the subject to get their opinions.

Firstly, we heard from Amber Topping, Editor of The Silver Petticoat Review, a website specialising in reviews of modern and classic film, literature and television spanning genres such as romance and period dramas. Here’s what Amber had to say about why she loved the novel, how it awakened her interest in the island of Guernsey itself, and her hopes for the film adaptation:

“Not since I read the imaginative descriptions of L.M. Montgomery’s Avonlea (aka Cavendish, P.E.I.) from Anne of Green Gables, have I been so excited to see a place both on screen and in person than when I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. So, when the upcoming 2018 film adaptation of the New York Times Best Seller was announced, I couldn’t have been more thrilled. The book captures your heart in a way few novels can (just look at its incredible success), and because of that story magic it will make for a fabulous film adaptation – as long as the essence of the novel remains intact.

“The upcoming adaptation includes Lily James, Michiel Huisman, Matthew Goode, and Jessica Brown Findlay in the lead roles with Mike Newell (a director with a great deal of period drama experience) on board to direct, so it’s hard to imagine a wrong foot put forward. And then there’s the brilliant source material.

“Set during and after World War II, the historical book captures Guernsey and the past with the skill of Jane Austen’s wit while also celebrating loyalty, love, and the joy of reading in a fresh, unique way. And with memorable characters, a swoon-worthy romance, tragedy, intelligent storytelling, and a gorgeous setting everyone will want to visit, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society has just the right ingredients to make the perfect period drama adaptation.

“The film also promises to spark even more interest in Guernsey as an ultimate travel destination – especially for fans looking to experience the beauty of the places described in the book. From St Peter Port to the Little Chapel to even the gorgeous countryside and scenic coastal cliffs, new fans will fall in love with Guernsey in the book, (hopefully) the film, and especially in person.

“That is if the adaptation turns out to be every bit as good as many of us book fans expect it to be.”

Les Hanois Lighthouse

Image: Les Hanois Lighthouse

We also spoke with Sahar Abdulaziz, a highly respected author who has written a number of books spanning both fiction and non-fiction, including The Broken Half, As One Door Closes and the upcoming novel Expendable. Sahar spoke to us about the deeply emotional roots of the novel’s success:

“War is ugly and tumultuous, but for the people of Guernsey, each day of their five-year Nazi occupation seemed more perilous than the next; an undetermined devastation derived from countless lives damaged, lost, and forever changed.

“The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a novel composed entirely of exchanged letters which transport the reader back in time; plopped straight down into the lives and hearts of a community in the midst of survival, and kept whole by a common thread – a deceased yet honourably aligned kindred spirit. A woman who had touched each of their hearts and had given them hope, strength, and the reason to continue fighting for their lives, despite having hers stolen.

“But perhaps this is the allure – not merely of the novel as a standalone, but of the island as well. Travellers who visit can experience a place where those who, when faced with possible detection, imprisonment or even death, still managed to encapsulate the world’s beauty through their ingenious use of books and the exchange of free thought. Through this form of brave resistance, they not only survived, but ultimately sustained their humanity as well. I have to believe that there is an important message in this for all of humanity and one I look forward to watching come to life on the big screen.”

The places found in the story

Sausmarez Manor

Image: Sausmarez Manor

As well as the spellbinding story, one of the biggest appeals of the novel is its vivid descriptions of the beautiful island on which it is set. Already a popular holiday destination, the number of Guernsey breaks taken are expected to rise following the release of the film, which will introduce more people than ever to the wonders of this quiet, understated yet endlessly appealing location.

It should come as no surprise to learn that many of the novel’s settings were inspired by the beautiful sights and historic buildings that can be found around Guernsey. In fact, a number of the island’s most famous locations – including Candie Gardens, the Little Chapel and the German Military Underground Hospital – are featured prominently in the story.

We were also delighted to speak with the owner of the historic Sausmarez Manor, Peter de Sausmarez, about the significance of his family home in the story. Not only is the manor mentioned in the novel, it is also considered to have been the loose model upon which the main house in the book was based. However, as Mr de Sausmarez explains, his family’s connections with the book run even deeper than that:

“The episode [in the novel] of the Germans arriving at the house after curfew when they were dividing up the pig very much parallels what actually happened and is mentioned in the diaries of my Great Aunt during the Occupation, which were published a few years ago called ‘Guernsey Under Occupation’ by Alice Evans. Alice is her great granddaughter who has collated and edited the diaries.

“They managed to dissuade the inquisitive German to proceed further though without the wonderful explanation that has given rise to the title of the book ‘the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’. I have been persuaded to give readings of excerpts from the diaries which so vividly bring to life the highlights and the low, by someone who managed to live through it all.”

Sausmarez Manor is open for tours on various days throughout the year, and many will also fall in love with the stunning sculpture park and subtropical gardens which can be enjoyed year-round in the grounds of the house.

Many of the other locations described in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society can also be seen in person by those who want to follow the trail of the story, either independently or via specialist tours organised by experts who know all about the story of the novel and, most importantly, the fascinating history of the island.

The film adaptation

Lily James and Michiel Huisman in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Image: Lily James and Michiel Huisman, who co-stars as Dawsey Adams

Anticipation is already building for the release of the film adaptation of this heart-warming, much-loved novel and, given the cast and crew behind the theatrical version, it is easy to see why.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society the film, is directed by Mike Newell, whose most famous work is probably Four Weddings and a Funeral, regarded as one of the best and most successful romantic comedy productions of all time. With other major films such as Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Mona Lisa Smile to his name, there is no doubt that the direction of Guernsey is in safe hands!

The same is also true of the excellent cast, which features some of the finest up-and-coming and established actors from the UK and beyond. The protagonist, Juliet Ashton, is played by Lily James, who rose to international prominence playing Lady Rose MacClare in the hugely popular period drama Downton Abbey between 2012 and 2015. This was followed by her acclaimed portrayal of Cinderella in the blockbuster 2015 Disney film.

Starring opposite James is Michiel Huisman, who will take on the role of Ashton’s correspondent and friend, Dawsey Adams. Huisman has an impressive list of film and TV credits to his name, including The Young Victoria, Nashville, and the wildly successful Game of Thrones.

Other actors confirmed as appearing inthe film,  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, include Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey), Matthew Goode (Downton Abbey and The Imitation Game) and Katherine Parkinson (The IT Crowd and Doc Martin).

You can find out more about the film, its key locations and even how to make your own potato peel pie by clicking here.

Image Credits: StudioCanal, Sausmarez Manor, Enrapture Media, Alvaro Serrano, Freestock.ca

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