Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Who is speaking here? Will someone tell me who's in charge?

A friend asked me this the other day. Who is speaking on your blog? Is it you or your book character? Or are they quite alike?

Well, er, it's me talking on the blog, it's not her. Her name is Marilyn and she's invented. And of course we're not alike. I mean, I'm just not her, I mean how can I be? She is tall, half-Hungarian with knockers and big cheek bones, divorced from a television executive with a couple of unflinching British teens. She's done the subordinate wife thing for too long, the woman behind the man, the madre in a cardigan, the food shopper, the woman sipping cups of tea. I can't say how much I enjoyed creating a woman so DIFFERENT from myself.

Whereas myself, argh, let's leave that. I just live here, wrote the book, write this blog. Suffice to say that I do love story-telling, creating an entire world that you can enter and even smell when you lay your thoughts to rest at night. And Marilyn's new Italian world was created from the many elements I thought would make a cracking read for a woman as demanding and fortified as myself. Someone who likes sex, men, teenagers, architecture and good wine, and not always in that order.

I started writing 'The Divorced Lady's Companion to Living in Italy' at a time when I began to realise that thirty-year-old (traditional chick lit market) and forty-year-old women have very different needs. There is so much that a woman has/is striving to/still wishes to accomplish over those dense pre-50 years. And yet these are the years when women begin to fade away. When we may be dumped/betrayed/jaded. When our clothes are advertised on girls younger than our daughters; when we appear most often (on Italian tv) in ads about dust, hygiene or bloated stomachs!! I just wanted to shift a few deck chairs and stir up some arresting humour around an older lass who learns how to get crude again, to perk up and work out which hat she could be wearing.

So Marilyn, my book character, is not me. She is just the vehicle for a rant, a laugh, a vent for my espresso fixation and a reason to hang around Venice and Milan.

Although that Australian character, Fiona, that saucy red-head who grabs the ball and runs with it, now she's the one you should probably cross-examine...

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ps GRAZIE MILLE to poet JOHN SIDDIQUE who is hosting my 'Culture Diary' on his blog this week I am reading his sexy and sensitive poems in Full Blood.

pps wonderful news from Ether Books who have a selection of my stories online - stories based on the cusp between European and African ways of thinking! Do take a look there are amazing writers present!

Monday, 17 October 2011

The artistic temperament

I used to live with an artist. Somehow I doubt he would say the same thing about me. Oh yeah, the time I lived with that creative woman. Nope, he would just say, the time I lived with that woman, I am sure of it.

The tricky thing about being a multi-tasked, forward-thinking, 360°-encompassing female is that your art is dissolved into your being, and your being is dissolved into the many people making demands, however quiet but always sustained, all around you.

It is hard hungry work, identifying the motherlode of creativity, reaching its rich fluid, then extruding the flow from compacted rock, layers of expression and experience, into fragments of crystalised energy with edgy facets.

And then you have to drive a teen to the station. Or remember whether you have to pick another one up. Or service the car. Or have the border trees trimmed. And that hole in the fence.

One way of looking at female artistic endeavour is to consider that its fruits are often doubly delicious. Attained a such a cost - that combat against selflessness and sacrifice - these endeavours may require a daunting leap, of course with strings attached.

I think of Françoise Gilot, mistress of that brilliant minotaur Picasso who, an artist herself, dared to critique their life and his god-like mannerisms. Anyone who read her 1964 book 'Life with Picasso' may know that one of the most creative minds of last century shunned his ex-lover and their children when the book was published. Never spoke to his teenage children again. His son Claude who climbed over the artist's fence, never to be admitted to his home.

The earnings from Gilot's book gave her the economic resources to fight for her children to claim the Picasso name and inheritance. She married again, twice, painted throughout her luminous life, lives in New York.

Her pensive, stylised face looks out from Picasso's seductive portraits.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Based on the author's vast experience and wild imagination

I've taken the strap line from my cover and am seeing a whooping woman on a tabletop in high heels. Is that really me? This lady sounds dangerous. And yet this woman/author is shepherding young adults through life, seriously playing Scarlatti and hoping for some early snow and pearly high altitude dawns.

Yes the season is changing. Leaves are skating down and tractors are peeling open the earth and I am moving from being a writer on a word-high to an author working on her game plan to sell her book. I am slightly scared. Okay, I am shit-scared, sleepless at night. I wish that memory of swimming out to those Corsican buoys was a little more convincing. Think sand, think sultriness. Turning over under my umbrella, a dip in green water...

But as the autumn advances there is no escape. I have to see this thing through. Hone my lapsed marketing skills and learn how to package my book. This morning I read that hundreds of new novels hit the shelves in the UK each month. Hundreds?! I read that I need a famous person to attract a crowd. Who?! I think of texting Mr. Clooney or dragging in leggy Elle MacPherson, now there's a divorcée, given there is a sassy Australian girl with a great -bleep- collection in the book.

At least I have my book launch dress. Or two depending on the weather and the riskiness of the occasion. On Friday myself and the Facebook teen daughter journeyed up north to a designer friend's outlet and gorged ourselves on clothes, bags and shoes. How sinful, how delicious.

But truly I feel like running off to Paris, rushing down a street in the chill wind, walking through a great and engulfing art museum of gilded frames and grappling beauties. Sitting on a bench in a vault of light.

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p.s. Thank you to Mike French - I've just joined the literary review The View From Here as a contributor and look forward to taking part!

Saturday, 1 October 2011

A Good Woman is Easy to Love

I love it when older women come good. I love it when they find success or a new heart-throb or a fabulous dress, especially when they have had a rotten run or spent their lives shovelling pasta or trimming roses.

I feel rather stupid saying this but the recent Demi Moore/Ashton K blow-up (which I'm not going to pretend not to know about) makes me feel the inverse of this, meaning sadder. For a while it was all Cougar Town and power to the old girls, but if you look carefully, it all happened in the wrong way, and was never anything other than skin-deep and a marketing curve. There was never any real revering of the older gal, it was a galling push against gravity, a bit of smut and throwaway twenty-year-olds on the side.

Even if I think of chic Madonna with a boy just older than my eldest son I think Eeek! What on earth would they talk about? What is the real substance of this? Not that my sons are unintelligent, or crude, or incapable of decent conversation. But they are just - different.

In my book my heroine tries her hand at both - young and saucy, older complicated and not-altogether wiser. I wanted to show how a woman of a certain age can have the power to shop around, and should do! Shopping around definitely has its upside and terrific moments (especially if one includes Italian shoes). No?

And yes like everyone over 40 these days I have girlfriends who have young guys, even guys you can sense are old at heart and have taken off the tinted glasses, or don't mind standing together in strong light. I admire these couples for what I assume they are stating - We are lovers, We don't give a stuff, We are good together. Hats off to them. But I can't help wondering whether there is sadness in the wings, or up ahead and not too far off either.

Probably the only way to get around this one is the way a seasoned Susan Sarandon does in the remake of the film Alfie, when she dumps a disbelieving and delicious Jude Law. Do take note:

But why!? Alfie asks.

Because, Liz replies, I've found someone... younger.