The Lady in the Van

“And what I’ve learned, and maybe she taught me, is that you don’t put yourself into what you write. You find yourself there.” Alan Bennett .

This brilliant insight comes from the British playwright, author, actor as he recounts the mostly true tale of Mary Shepherd, who lived in a van on his driveway in North London for 15 years.

Mary Shepherd. Photo by Alan Bennett.

The book, stage play and 2015 film, starring Dame Maggie Smith and Alex Jennings, documents the friendship of the author with Shepherd, a woman he met as she sold pencils on a street corner.

This cantankerous 60 year old vagrant, former music prodigy, nun,  victim of institutionalization and blackmail was an inspiration to Bennett until her death in 1989.

The quote stopped me in my tracks, forced me to rewind.

It spoke to the truth of self discovery, all from the exercise of writing.





This entry was posted in Art, Books, Education, Entertainment, Humor, Inspiration, Movies, News, Writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

70 Responses to The Lady in the Van

  1. Brenda says:

    A fantastic quote, and very on point. 🙂

  2. joey says:

    Mm, very nice. Yes, I agree. Also, I feel I must see this movie. Thanks!

  3. Sue Vincent says:

    I love this film. Alan Bennet …and Maggie Smith…capture something very special with their portrayals of Mary Shepherd.

  4. TanGental says:

    Ah the man is a genius. A curmudgeon himself but fabulous none the less. Indeed he was brilliant as far back at the early 60s as a student working with Peter Cook. Have you seen this?

  5. A fabulous quote. I loved the movie with Maggie Smith. She is such a great actress and the story is so poignant yet so uplifting. Class. 🌼

  6. Dame Maggie at her cantankerous best. I did a review on this in May last year. If I may?

  7. MicheleMariePoetry says:

    Sounds like a movie I want to see now.

  8. Wow this is wonderful! I also love the quote

  9. What an amazing relationship and story, and quite an insightful quote. Thanks for sharing, Van. ❤

  10. C.E.Robinson says:

    OMG…that is so true! I loved that movie and now I love that quote. Thank you, Van! 🌷Christine

  11. George says:

    Love, love this quote, Van! Thank you for sharing it with us.

  12. Brilliant and it does grab you by the throat. Thanks!

  13. I live, in that quote.

  14. bone&silver says:

    SUCH a good & poignant film; as usual Maggie is amazing

  15. What a wonderful and insightful quote.It made me stop and think again. I certainly have to watch the movie.

  16. The streets and the people that survive on them offer as much in the way of an education as the Ivy League schools. The biggest difference is most people can’t AFFORD the education the STREETS offer!!

  17. Val Boyko says:

    Nodding my head … Its one to pause with.

  18. -Eugenia says:

    I love the quote! There are many sides to life that we haven’t yet discovered. Taking time to step back and rediscover our role in life can be a move in the right direction. Too often we don’t take the time to look at another side other than our own.

  19. J.D. Riso says:

    Wow, so true. Thanks for sharing this one, Van.

  20. I’ve not watched the movie, but it’s waiting for me as I recorded it a few weeks ago. Such a fabulous quote, Van. One, too, that I shall remember and work to.

    • I’ve been told that Bennett, like Maggie Smith, is a national treasure in the UK. I can see why, Hugh.

      • He is, Van. Many years ago he did a series of half-hour plays called Talking Heads which was screened on T.V. My favourite was called ‘A Cram Cracker Under The Settee.’ It stared the actress Thora Hird. If you ever get the chance to see it, I’d recommend it.

  21. Thank you for the post, Van. Now I’ll look for the film.

  22. AmyRose🌹 says:

    Whoa like you this quote stopped me short. I thought. And I reread the words. And I thought some more. And then wow, yes how true this is! I am finding myself as I write. How powerful that my words I form, form ME. And another movie I must see!! When I chill it’s either with a good book, my knitting, or a good movie. Thank you for this post, Van! It was so needed by me right now. 🤗

  23. prior.. says:

    I thought there was going to be a photo of the blog host with the van – lol –
    and such a meaty quote….

  24. mike2all says:

    Like all good writers, Bennet hit the nail on the head. We do find ourselves in writing and often we lose ourselves to it. I have been writing in order to find bits of me that went missing down the years. And am still doing so.

  25. Oh Van I am way way behind your posts but hope to put that right, right now.. Is doesn’t seem that long I was breaking egg shells with you lol..
    The film I went to see when it hit the British Cinema screens, I went with my hubby and loved every moment of it.. Alan Bennet such an excellent writer, full of humour and Maggie Smith who at the age of 82 now, don’t know her age then, but, is still active in acting I believe..
    Not many people such as Alan Bennet would allow someone who is homeless apart from her van to live on their drive for all of those years..
    A remarkable True story.. And the real Mary Shepherd must have been one remarkable lady.. 🙂

    • Such an interesting chemistry between the two of them, it was brilliant to put it in writing. No worries on reading the posts. I don’t know how folks keep up with this stuff sometimes. Thanks, Sue.

  26. (To park her van.).. Don’t you just so dislike predictive text when it gets it wrong.. LOL ..

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