I was thinking of Blake the other day - there was an interview with the artist Billy Childish (painter, ex-Stuckist, performance artist, ex-of Tracy Emin, and bears an uncanny resemblance to my performance artist/painter brother). He's often compared to Blake. In any interview with him, the implication is always 'don't you envy Tracy's success?' Enough to make any man bitter but he seems to carve his own path (whatever you think of his work). Envy, covetousness is a tricky one - do you think you envy people you like, or is it just people you feel intellectually/morally/artistically superior to but have found greater success than you? That sense of schadenfreude (secret pleasure in another's failure) - are you sensing it yet watching bank bosses get their comeuppance? By a strange stroke of synchronicity I ended up watching the remake of Bedazzled last night. Pete and Dud's original inspired this whole exploration of the seven deadly sins and virtues, and as we reach the last one Brendan Fraser and Liz Hurley's attempt finishes it off. It's unfair to compare Hurley's devil with Cook's (though she possibly looked better in a bikini that he would have). Fraser's first incarnation was as a Colombian drug lord - complete with beautiful young wife, and envious employees.
Envy, jealousy is a powerful emotion and a great catalyst in fiction. What are your favourite examples? One of my best all time lines comes from Greene's 'The End of the Affair'. He wrote that the thwarted lover was 'jealous even of the rain' that fell on the woman's skin. The entire book is suffused with envy, jealousy, longing - and it destroys them. Take the pride of the wealthy older man in Shawn Colvin's song whose young lover could ask him for the moon if she would wear his ring - is that enviable? He may never have felt more like a man - but by the end of the song he's taking a pill and going to bed alone. On the surface he has it all - wealth, power, a beautiful young wife but who would envy that? A friend said to me the other day it's amazing how everyone is walking down the street in London looking perfectly normal, but we are all facing this uncertain future. Behind the masks we all wear, behind our closed doors who knows what goes on? This is where the story lies.
I remember having lunch with some new friends a few years ago. The house was immaculate, the food exquisite. As the baby fell asleep in my arms at the table, the hostess must have pressed a silent bell - a hidden door swung open and a kind old Filipino maid appeared magically, asking if I would like her to tuck him down for a nap. This is the Home Counties, not the far East, and it still isn't normal to have help like this here. At that moment, (thinking of the chaos at home), I envied the order, the calm, the confidence of the hostess. These days I don't so much envy material things as abstract conditions - space, peace, help, security, the time to write. That and word counts. A writer Mum at school (kids in full time so she is footloose during the day), merrily announces '2000 words today!' each time I see her at pickup. Envious? A little - of the time to achieve that on a school day (I mean, book three's barometer in the sidebar isn't moving very quickly is it ...) Where we live, there are a lot of older husbands off in the City with very glossy stay-at-home Mums casually wandering the aisles of Waitrose after school drop off, or chatting in the coffee shops while au pairs watch the children at other tables. Times like this suddenly everything looks rather more precarious. Is the grass really greener elsewhere or do you think it's true that if we knew the reality of other people's lives we wouldn't trade our problems for theirs?
Older man - younger woman. If you can tear your eyes away, I have this photo pinned above my writing desk at the moment because I was thinking about an Armani dress like this the other day (and yes, it is an excuse to gaze at gorgeous George). I remember spending a free afternoon from college window shopping with a friend (well, I was browsing she was shopping - this was the beautiful, glamorous girl who had starred in a Gerard Depardieu film and was dating a photographer in Paris). In Armani's Knightsbridge window we saw The Dress. The perfect little black dress. She tried it on. It looked exquisite. She could afford it. She was a great friend - loved her to bits but was I envious? At that moment, absolutely. Didn't show it of course, (told her, genuinely, that she looked beautiful), but I was green eyed with longing. This is a perfect example of using the 'method' to trigger emotions for your work. I'm developing a character in book three whose entire life is focused on her envy of the protagonist. Whenever I want to turn on to her emotions all I have to think of is that dress. Maybe there are things, or situations like this you can think of? The Frankfurt Book Fair kicks off tomorrow. It will be interesting to see how it goes. At one point the idea of selling the Book there was mooted - it isn't going to be. For months I've had it pencilled in the diary as possibly the moment when all the waiting, and hoping, and longing to see the book sold will come to an end - and now it will come and go, no relief in sight yet. The thought of all the other deals that will be made and books that will be sold ... envious? Too damn right. But good luck to them. As Winston Churchill said often during the Wilderness Years, and we said a few posts ago - the secret of success? KBO. (Keep buggering on).
TODAY'S PROMPT: Patience, hope, kindness - it's tough to hang on to them sometimes, but it's grit that makes the pearl. Why not consider the things you are envious of at the moment? Jot them down in your journal - and get to the bottom of what you really want (more often than not it's not the thing you pin your emotions on). Envy can be the flag for what's missing, what you want to work for. Dig out the pearl and throw away the rubbish (is it really to be a bored trophy wife in a gilded cage or is it to have some time to yourself to write, to work, to be yourself not just someone's wife or mother?) Teaching children kindness, sharing - to think beyond themselves is the single most important thing we can do as parents. If 'I want' is the natural state, learning to temper this with thinking about what other people want and need is the key to finding balance. Maybe we've all grown to used to getting what we want immediately with easy credit, loans, easy mortgages. Perhaps this 'correction' can be a good lesson for us all. Maybe 'there are no short cuts to any place worth going'.