Book presentations at Bar Luna

I gave a presention (see below) on ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, by best selling English author, Deborah Moggach.  The event was held at Bar Luna for the Festival 4Play – an event that gives a taste of what’s to come at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in October.

First up to the mic was Gary Reilly reviewing Robin de Crespigny’s book, ‘The People Smuggler’ and then Steve Castley talked about Julienne Van Loon’s debut novel, ‘Harmless’.

I then gave my review of the funny and quintessentially British book, Heartbreak Hotel.  My review is below (minus the sections that I read from the book last night)…Heartbreak Hotel…To set the scene for Heartbreak Hotel, let’s look at Deborah Moggach’s previous but one book, These Foolish Things which was turned into the Bafta award winning film called, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”.

I haven’t read that book – but the film showed quirky English humour at its best.

A mixed bag of English pensioners (played by a host of famous actors including Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith and Tom Wilkinson) end up staying in a run down hotel in India, unreliably called: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

The-Best-Exotic-Marigold-Hotel-judi-dench-28494371-325-480Reasons for swapping their lives in England for India include… divorce, health, change of financial circumstances and, for one man, a longing to return to the place of his youth to see his first love and to deal with the guilt he felt about that gay relationship – a guilt trip which turned out, after all these years, to be unwarranted.

The idiosyncracies, doubts and hang-ups of the hotel’s guests are displayed in amusing, awkward and, often, poignant moments.

Some of them barely coped, others dealt with, and a few of them thrived in this strange land – a world away from their roots in suburban England.

Ex-pats here in Bali, in particular, will doubtless pick up on the subtle similarities – however different Indonesia is to India.

For instance, on the journey to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Bill Nighy accepted a sandwich from a local.  His wife turned her nose up at the idea because she didn’t know what was inside the sandwich.

He calmly repeated what he had been told, with the throw away line, “it’s an Alu sandwich” – now, of course, this gem was completely lost on his fellow English travellers who had never heard of the reptile.

Alu - monitor lizard

Alu – monitor lizard (like a small Komodo Dragon!)

Before I came to Bali – I’d never heard, or seen, an Alu either (don’t worry they run away if you get anywhere close to them and, no, I haven’t tasted one).

So this book and the film was about living in a completely new way, surrounded by strangers, in a country with a vastly different climate, culture and conditions to what they were used to.

With this framework in mind, let me tell you about Heartbreak Hotel.

There is a similar theme going on here – about uprooting and radically changing your life.  It’s a theme that I personally relate to.

For instance, the main character is English – so am I.

He gets fed up with life in London – so did I.

He ends up running a guest house – guess what, so am I (

However, that’s were the similarities end, as his newly acquired bed and breakfast is in a small Welsh village called Knockton, and mine is here, in Ubud!

His name is Buffy and he used to be in showbiz.

He’s an ex-actor with a fairly complicated family life.  His six children (including 1 stepdaughter) come from 3 marriages, and include a gay son, lesbian daughter and another daughter who was the result of an affair with her Ghanaian mother.

When Buffy’s long term friend, Bridie, dies, she leaves him her guest house in the Welsh countryside.

It doesn’t take too much to persuade him to up sticks and try his hand at this new venture – even though he’s usually more familiar with opening a bottle of red wine than opening up his house to guests.

One of the reasons for his decision to leave London and move to Wales, happened when one of his daughters, Nyange, came to visit him.  She was completely unable to find anywhere to park on London’s busy streets near his house, so he ended up taking a tray of tea and biscuits down to her car!

Once he starts living in the rather run down guest house, in the small village of Knockton, he realises he needs to do something to fill the guest rooms up.

He hits on a brilliant idea… running courses for divorces!

The aim is to empower people who had previously relied on their ex-partner for anything, from basic vehicle maintenance, cooking, accounting, gardening and – get this… a course aimed at men, called, “How to talk to women”.

An attractive local man called Nolan, who is a mummies boy to his sick mother, is given the job of teaching car maintenance – much to the delight of the women on the course.

In fact, in order to get closer to him, Amy, a professional makeup artist, offers to make him look like something out of a horror film… with unexpected results.

Heartbreak Hotel is full of real life observations, often with an amusing angle.  It highlights the camaraderie that can be found between strangers, as well as the emotional distances that can divide couples and families.

It is also very much a book written by an ‘English’ writer.  One who knows London well, which is where most of the characters are from.  In fact she often refers to places and events that Londoners, in particular, would relate to…

References to ‘treading the boards’ at the theatres in Shaftesbury Avenue, bankers drinking in the pubs in Threadneedle Street, the memorials in Postman’s Park, near St. Paul’s Cathedral.

She mentions areas like Brick Lane and Shoreditch and even ‘strap hanging’ on the northern line.

(for those who don’t know what that is…

Strap hanging to help keep your balance while standing on the tube

Strap hanging to help keep your balance while standing on the tube

Someone is referred to as being a Twonker (an English insult) and then there’s the joke about Voda’s boyfriend who had her name tatooed over his back.  When she left him, for another woman, he changed the tattoo to Vodaphone (which is the equivalent of Indonesia’s Indosat in the UK!) – however, he misspelt it – the company is called Vodafone!

There are many characters to keep up with and, a few times, I had to refer back to remind myself who was whoThis will be overcome when the story is filmed, (it’s being adapted for TV at the moment) as seeing the characters will make it even easier to identify with them.

I found Heartbreak Hotel to be a very enjoyable, amusing read and an insightful slice of humanity – recommended reading.

Let me tell you about the author, Deborah Moggach.

Deborah Moggach

Her parents were both writers – her father wrote naval history, biographies and children’s books, while her mother wrote and illustrated children’s books.

She and her three sisters grew up to the sound of typewriters tapping in the veranda.

Deborah has written 17 books and her first book, ‘You Must Be Sisters’ came out back in 1978.

She’s worked in journalism and publishing and written for TV.

In fact Deborah recently adapted “Pride And Prejudice” as a film, starring Keira Knightley, for which she received a prestigious BAFTA nomination.

She has been Chairman of the Society of Authors and worked for PEN’s Executive Committee, as well as being a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

So perhaps it is no surprise that she is a best selling author and the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival is looking forward to warmly welcoming Deborah to Ubud in October (update, I’ve heard that Deborah is now unable to attend the festival – hmmm, maybe they will ask me to present her work instead).

Thanks again to Bar Luna, Janet DeNeefe, the Festival 4Play team and all the guests for coming out to listen, as well as Deborah Moggach for her book – and thanks to you for reading this far.

Leave a comment


  1. Thank you Julie for this,
    I enjoyed it for the 2nd time!
    You are just a great reader and talker!!! and of course: the greatest writer!!!
    Keep on going, you MUST come out sooner or later as the winner.
    All my love,

    • Thank you Sandeh – for coming out to listen to me talk last night and for reading all about it again today, much appreciated.


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