Justine Picardie and her husband, Philip Astor, live in South Norfolk with their cocker spaniel Max. A novelist, fashion writer and biographer, Justine was editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar UK before moving to the Waveney Valley to work on Miss Dior: A Story of Courage and Couture, which is being launched this month with a special evening at Jarrold in Norwich.
where we are
We are based in a little village in the Waveney Valley. We fell in love with the house – an old rectory, that originally dates back to the 17th century, as well as the garden and the surrounding landscape. I love the big skies, the meandering River Waveney, and the little market towns that have a real sense of community.
I am a fan of Earsham Street Deli in Bungay, and the greengrocers across the road Gidden’s & Thompson. The butcher’s in Harleston is excellent – D.A Browne – as is the fish stall that comes to Harleston every Friday morning, you can find it outside the Co-op.
I also shop at The Green Cupboard and The Apiary in Harleston; in general, I’d recommend all the local shops in Harleston – you can always find whatever you need there. There’s a wonderful selection of antiques and vintage stalls at Cornucopia, in the old Corn Exchange, as well as a weekly market on Wednesdays, where I buy plants and vegetables.
the grog tray
The grog tray is the province of my husband, Philip. It’s an oak console table laid out with glasses, drinks, mixers, lemons et al. He’s more adventurous than I am when it comes to drinks – he’s developed a taste for Agora Vermouth, which is made in Suffolk. I like a gin fizz – gin with soda water, freshly squeezed lime juice, and lots of ice.
The outdoor space we have here has really helped the last eighteen months – I feel very lucky to live in the countryside, where we can explore the local footpaths, together with our dog, Max. Gardening has also been therapeutic – it’s given me a sense of being grounded, in a good way. The kindness of a supportive village community is always a source of comfort, as is the constant cheeriness of Max, who is a working cocker spaniel.
I enjoy cooking in the evening – especially when I’ve been writing at my desk for much of the day, as it’s good to do something more practical with my hands. I always try to use as much local produce as possible – a cottage pie made with minced beef from a nearby farm, and Norfolk carrots, celery, potatoes and onions, or roast chicken with fresh herbs from our garden.
I try to cook with whatever is in season – it’s a treat to have locally grown asparagus in May and June, and I always make fruit crumbles in the autumn, with apples, pears and plums from our garden and blackberries from the hedgerows. I’ve also made great quantities of quince brandy, as we have an abundant supply from a tree in the garden.
The one recipe that I use all year round is for a deliciously sticky gingerbread, which is very simple to make. You can find it here.
I am a fan of the Swan in Southwold, and the Sole Bay Fish Company in Southwold harbour, as well as the Ship in Dunwich after a walk along the Suffolk coastline. I also like visiting New Street Market in Woodbridge, which has a convivial café, a wonderful flower stall, and beautifully curated fashion and homewares.
My new book, Miss Dior: A Story of Courage and Couture, is published on 9 September by Faber. It paints a portrait of the enigmatic woman behind the legendary designer Christian Dior: his beloved younger sister Catherine, who inspired his most famous perfume, Miss Dior, and shaped his vision of femininity. Catherine was an extraordinarily courageous heroine, who dedicated herself to the French Resistance in her early 20s, during the Second World War, until she was captured by the Gestapo and deported to Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany.
I wrote the book during the Covid pandemic, when we were all going through a period of disruption and uncertainty, so the bravery of Catherine and her comrades in the Resistance were truly inspiring. The book took me years to research, so it’s very close to my heart; and for all its darkness, it also expresses my own belief in beauty and hope, as well as the timeless solace of the natural world.
I was privileged to have unparalleled access to the Dior archives in Paris, as well as to the homes where Christian and Catherine lived together, and the beautiful gardens they created, as they shared a love of roses in particular.
I will be talking about all of this, and more, at a special event, organised in conjunction with Dior, at Jarrold on 21 September.