Thursday, 23 October 2014

The Face That Launched a Thousand Headlines

Dear God, here we go again. Renee Zellwegger or however you spell it,managed to get herself on to the main six o'clock news yesterday all because she has altered her face Apparently people care whether she did it with the help of a surgeon and others are concerned that she felt pressured to do so.

More to the point I can remember one actress saying that she had spent the whole day under Mel Gibson while they kept on shooting and shooting one particular scene and all the shots were of him. Oh yes, a glamorous life. Being an actress, like most other jobs, is tedious. The bottom line being that one hopefully occasionally gets paid for it. Rather like writing really. Gritted teeth and unpaid bills. Lonely. At least as writers we spent most of our lives not being looked at.

Why do top actors have to look beautiful?  Why can't they just look like people? I blame Hollywood. I watched the original version of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and guess what?  No beautiful people. It was so much more honest than the American version which I thought was dreadful. All blue eyed gazes and love scenes which were more Enid Blyton than Masters of Sex. Why is Hollywood so coy and yet needs beauty all over the damned place? I'm tired of it.

Luckily I was brought up to believe that you are what you are and whatever you are in every respect is damned well good enough. I would never have made an actress. Sometimes I hate being at home and working but I can waffle around the garden in my pyjamas, water the plants in my dressing gown and watch afternoon tv. At the moment I'm researching shepherds so I watch - fittingly enough - Escape to the country. Very funny. All these women who don't know how to use an Aga. Come out the way, woman, I can cook a dinner on twigs.

In the meanwhile for God's sake leave poor old Renee and the other actresses alone. They have enough to worry about.
Now I have my pyjamas on and the fire and it is just time for a nice glass of fizzy. Oh the joys of being a writer.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

A Man ( or woman ) by any other name

Fiction is a strange thing. Whoever can look at a Jane and not thing of that wonderful grey figure in Jane Eyre? I cannot think of the name Barbara without thinking of the person as fat even though the two Barbaras I know are very slender. Names evoke character. I cannot envisage Bob as anything more than a dog with silky ears whereas several of the men in my books have managed the name Rob with no trouble.

My men are not heroes. I hate the very word. There is no such thing. Some of them have evil qualities but I try to keep them human or I feel as though I have failed the reader. Most of them are decent, and to me that's the most important quality of all.

There are fashions in names. In my latest book, the Fall and Rise of Lucy Charlton, which is set just after the Great War, the two main female characters are called  Gemma and Lucy and as somebody pointed out these are not the sort of names which women used at that time. Well, tough. They suit the sisters and I like them. Sometimes you have to get past the obvious even in history. You expect your reader to overcome disbelief and slide willingly into your story. Otherwise she should be reading something else.

My favourite man in a book is not the psychotic Heathcliff, the arrogant Mr Darcy or the bully Rochester but a slight unassuming figure, Freddie, the main man in Cotillion by Georgette Heyer.

Freddie is not clever and not handsome, he is not tall. He is rich, I have to say and I did wonder rather whether Miss Heyer took her character partly from the bumbling Bertie Wooster, my favourite man apart from Freddie in fiction.  I have this dream that one day I will be twenty and beautiful and will marry Bertie Wooster and spend the rest of my life dancing late at smoky dark clubs, drinking champagne and being looked after by the inimitable Jeeves.

I will wear gossamer dresses and drive sports cars, write stories for Aunt Dahlia's My Lady's Boudoir and be unfailingly polite to the horrifying Aunt Agatha. I will of course be kind to Bertie's uncle who looks after the Wooster millions. We can sit by his study fire and talk of books My background would be perfect and so high in society that my family can talk of nothing but matters that don't matter.

I sometimes think that mothers burden their sons with special names so that no clutching female will come along and skin of them of their cash, as Bertie would say.  Cecil is not the kind of name where he would nick off from wife Ann for a floozie named Posy.

My mother obviously didn't think when she named me Elizabeth Rosemary. Many is the time I have signed my name Elizabeth R and heard titters.

Quentin only in Enid Blyton, same for Julian and Dick and even George.

My favourite name of all time is Harry. There's something sweet and yet wild about Harry, I can see him now sitting in the dark corner in a pub. He's just come back from war, the woman he adored has married another man and he is brooding, drinking a lot. He will never forgive her but he desperately wants her back.

And if you doubt me this is part of the story of one of my books, Swan Island. There is no hero in this book, just two decent men doing their best after the hell of a war where everybody lost someone. It's also my mother's story. The man who loved her went away, I think to Burma during World War Two, to fight. Her first husband had died, ( that's in my story, though differently ) and thinking she had lost her second love to the war, she married my father and then Harry came back. The other man in the story is called David Black and like my father is a decent upright hard working rather clever man and Ella loves him so what is she to do?

My mother used to tell the story so well, of how my father had taken her to a dinner dance at some lovely hall in Darlington and she saw the man she had loved and promised to marry walking across the dance floor toward her. There she is beautiful, black haired and blue eyed and pale skinned in the Irish way that she had, wearing a silver and peacock coloured dress, wondering why fate is doing such a thing to her.

My mother was called Bertha Ann but she was always known as Pat because her father saw her in the cradle and said 'What a little Pat. '  Irish to the core and a borders lass too. There you go, you see. A  rose by any other name, my lovely lovely mother.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Oh bugger, it's a stick!

In the past year I have had to have reading glasses and hearing aids but doing my knee in last week was the final straw!  The doctor suggested a stick since he wasn't sure whether it was arthritis or a torn muscle. Possibly both, he said cheerfully.
I therefore - I was going to say 'dashed off'.  Unfortunately not. I hobbled to the indoor market with a friend who knew how to use a stick. Isn't that what friends are for?  To experience things before you?  The man in the market was very helpful and now I am the proud owner of one of those sticks which you can fold up and put into your handbag.
Stick walking is an art form and requires remembering which foot to put in front. Pain helps of course.
But there are a lot of limits. I can no longer go to my favourite lunch restaurant because the loos are upstairs and I hope to God this doesn't last over the spring because my favourite dinner restaurant is by the river, The Cellar Door and by hell, it requires people who can get down at least fifty steps before they get to the river. I have sat there in rain, in sunset and in shine and I'm damned if I'm going to give it up.
I can't walk into town and especially not back, Durham, like Rome, being built on seven hills.
You melt into the background when you have a stick. Some people don't see you and trying walking over you. This is why older people are grumpy. I made other folk get out of the way. Tall young men are the worst, I think they just can't see me. I've lost an inch in height lately as well and believe me I didn't have it to lose. I will turn into a square me shortly.
In the meanwhile my daughter tells me I don't remember anything she says and have taken to putting things into the fridge which don't go in there. Now I know why people have bungalows, at least they don't have to back upstairs for everything that they have forgotten.
I shall take comfort in the fact that I do my work sitting down with my leg up though not above my heart at the doctor suggested. Even laptops have limits.
I am going to Prague next week. I cried down the phone at my daughter who is going with me but she said,
'I'll get you around Prague if we have to have a wheel chair.'  So if you happen to be in Prague next week I'm the woman in black waving a stick. I tell my friends I'm turning into John Steed from the Avengers who had an umbrella which became a weapon. Watch out, here I come!