Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Four for Forty: 2000s

Somehow the noughties began with us walking home along the Embankment in London at 4am on the morning of the new Millennium in evening dress, and ended with us living in a desert thousands of miles from everyone and everything we knew and loved. How did that happen? The entire decade is a bit of a blur, come to think of it - not for any terribly exotic reason, just because it was really busy. The pilot decided he was going to be a pilot, we sold our home so that he could train in Spain. We travelled round the world, lived overseas, had two children while he built up his flying hours. Meanwhile, I worked as a travel writer, set up an art consultancy, started writing a novel and ... and the whole trip felt like I was a passenger on a rollercoaster, (trying desperately not to let the children, cats, hamsters and hounds fall out of their seats along the way). There have been great highs, and some terrible lows. But that's life, and the rollercoaster is still riding. How about you?
TODAY'S PROMPT: I remember an old friend said 'oh, your thirties are a *breeze*, the kids, the house, you feel really settled for the first time ...' Not my experience at all. A calculated gamble made ten years ago changed the course of our life. With children, you become very much the frame, not the picture, I've learnt - everything changes. The stakes are higher. Today, why not reflect on what the last decade taught you - what did you learn? What surprised you? What did you/didn't you risk? Write a stream of consciousness - what have you seen, loved, lost in the last ten years - what has been your journey? Enjoy the ride x

Friday, 12 August 2011

Four for Forty: 1990s

So, how are you this morning? I was up late researching, so yes I would like another coffee, thank you. It's hard to think in a straight line during the school summer holidays - this first paragraph has been interrupted by: 'Mum, if I bought a parachute would you let me jump out of the window?' and 'Mum, can I have a squirrel monkey for my birthday'. Late night working it is.

There's an amazing moment with writing novels when they suddenly rise up and become real to you. Have you had that feeling? It would be interesting to know if it's the same for other artists - actors and musicians. That amazing moment when everything clicks into place, the characters round out and the world you've been building floods with colour and sound. It's like falling through the back of the wardrobe into Narnia.

This new book is a story I really want to write, but the research has been like pushing a boulder uphill. The hero - an all-American 'enigma wrapped up in a puzzle and tied with a mystery' as he described himself, has been hard to get a handle on. The book started with me wondering why on earth someone as unlikely as him would be that heroic. One of his biographers said in the myths there were times when men became gods - maybe it's that. When he landed a contract to write his autobiography, he complained 'it's impossible! It's a cast of hundreds - it's worse than WAR and PEACE!'

I was beginning to agree with him, then yesterday I had some big breakthroughs. I tracked down a rare DVD from a filmaker in Munich of the house where it's going to be set, and out of print catalogues from dealers in Paris and New York. Then, through my wonderful ex-tutor at the Courtauld Institute, I've been put in touch with a woman who was there - the last survivor of this amazing, heroic chapter during WW2. It was one of those days when you feel like you've got an angel sitting on your shoulder making everything come right. We even had a new one - my daughter came through and told me to turn *my* music down when I was celebrating.
So, in terms of 'process' this is where I wanted to be before doing the copy edit on the Spanish novel, (it is that point where you are scribbling notes on the backs of envelopes - ideas are coming hard and fast). In a funny way, it's like I'm coming full circle back to the beginning of the nineties, because this book brings in all the academic study, all the art ... The nineties are a strange decade aren't they? Not as easy to pigeon-hole as the previous decades. What were they characterised by? Grunge? To paraphrase my mother's: 'it may have been the Sixties but nothing was swinging for me, dear,' I kind of missed the whole grunge thing. How about you? Answers in the comments box, please.

My 90s began here - I rocked up in Durham to study Philosophy, with a cinema size Betty Blue poster, a couple of pairs of jeans, and a head full of questions. I wanted answers - I wanted to understand the world, (instead, I just found more questions, and I was missing Art so I transferred to the Courtauld Insitute in London). But Durham was beautiful - my favourite walk was from the Cathedral along the river bank at twilight, Prebends bridge lit up  by old streetlamps. It was - and is magical. Not least because I met the pilot there.
The Courtauld was amazing - the years there really shaped the rest of my life. It's one of the best places in the world to study Art - it was academically rigorous but eccentric, (I walked in to the student cafe on the first morning to find a guy wearing a gold lame jump suit draped over his boyfriend). This was the nineties to me: lectures in rooms hung with masterpieces, hours in the V&A or National sketching, making a cup of coffee last as long as possible in the Waldorf Brasserie across the road (there were no coffee shops on the Strand in the olden days). As today's video clip says: nobody told me there could be Days Like This.

TODAY'S PROMPT: What were the nineties to you? After a few months in Durham, I spent the whole decade in London. It was: studying, walking back to our first flat over Westminster Bridge at twilight. It was a crazy year as an Administrator for a performing arts festival, taking care of VIPs and performers. It was my first career - as an art consultant working out of a gallery in Chelsea with a group of people who became like a second family. It was buying art at auction in Paris, curating jobs in embassies and palaces of breathtaking extravagance - and then coming back to the half renovated flat we were doing up, and getting on with hanging tiles and plastering walls. What about you - what was your soundtrack of the decade? The films you loved? The places that shaped you? Why not free write and see if you can define a decade that seems to lack an easy 'tag' - use what you get to write a short story about the pre-Millennium, or to feed in to a character's background. Enjoy x

Friday, 5 August 2011

Four for Forty: 1980s

One of my favourite lines from my mother was: 'it may have been the sixties, dear, but nothing was swinging for me.' My equivalent, my 'summer of love' was the 80s - how about you? Looking back was it a non-stop party with fabulous hair, scent that could knock a guy out at 40 paces and shoulder pads that could take an eye out? Maybe we all live several lifetimes in one - the decade seems like a different world entirely from where we are now. Do you remember that confidence?

Boy, you need a healthy sense of that as a parent. Last night I was tucking in our daughter, and she said to me: 'Mum, when's Dad back from Washington?' I said he flies in late tonight. 'Oh good. Dad's *fun*' I don't know how this happened - when did I get to be the bad cop? The one who enforces bedtime, manners, brushing hair and teeth, rather than the one who comes home from trips like Father Christmas and is *fun*.

What do you say? 'I used to be fun, my girl, let me tell you about the 1980s ...' (you can see the rolling eyes, hear the 'Jees, Mum you're so *old* can't you?) I was her age when the decade began, and most of my best memories are tied up with the house above - summers were swimming in the river, horseriding on the moors, ballet classes, endless games of tennis on a sand court with wooden rackets (I'm sounding old to myself now ...) Sometimes I wonder why siblings' memories of identical childhoods can be so different - to me the 80s were an incredible time. It all seems so innocent now. Horses, friendships you thought would last forever, boys, beach parties, summers driving half way across Europe in a red Renault 5. I used to be *fun* (she says quietly ...).

Thinking about this post, I checked out the place I grew up in Devon on Google Streetview - I still wonder if this isn't the ultimate Big Brother style invasion of privacy - it was sad to see how the woods I played in have been cut back and built on (though weirdly you can still see the old stable and my bedroom window ...). Have you ever looked at your old homes?

Things change, our family moved on. As a teenager I wanted to live in every capital city in the world. (Now of course all I want is to give our children the childhood I had, free in the country with animals, wild swimming and less computer/TV time ...). I was idealistic, and naive, had my heart broken several times and made all the usual mistakes kids make. The career's teacher encouraged me to join the Foreign Office. So of course I became a writer. My study walls at school were plastered with Peter Lindbergh fashion shoots - the strong, glamorous Supers were great role models for a near 6' kid growing up (my nickname: Miss Vogue ... *sighs wistfully* ...). Is it just me, or were we more confident then? More certain? My girl's cathedral school, and sixth form at a boy's public school gave me a sense that anything was possible - it's just as well all that confidence hasn't been knocked out of me entirely. Maybe it will help me make it through the most incredible challenge yet: parenthood. But that's to come in the 00s :) So, that's my 80s - now over to you ...

TODAY'S PROMPT: What were the 80s to you? What would you tell yourself if you could hop in a DeLorean and go back in time? Write a stream of consciousness in the comment box, or on your own if you prefer. How about: Robert Palmer's dancers; black lycra minidresses; Obsession; Poison; Giorgio; dry ice and strobe lights; Rayban Wayfarers; Sobranie Black Russian cigarettes; brat pack movies, Breakfast Club; Cindy Crawford ... Why not take a few minutes today and write a few pages, the first things that come into your mind - smells, tastes, images, anything. You can mine this resource later for a longer piece, or maybe a short story about the days when hair was big and the shoulder pads were bigger. Enjoy x 
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