Full blown summer. Or it would be if the Met office had been right. My garden is sodden, sandals and tee shirts unworn, no chance of a picnic, never mind a barbecue.
But in fact I’ve just had a couple of great weeks, one in Verbier for the Music Festival and then another with Ernest in Lanzarote in scorching heat, palms trees blowing in the hot, sand-laden wind from Morocco. But the more I go to Lanzarote the more I like it. I’d shared the snobby prejudices of my friends about “Lanzagrotty”, convinced the island was full of loud, overweight, deeply unattractive English swilling lager. Well, there are some of course, but once you get off the plane where their children have been kicking your seat and screaming for three hours while Mum takes no notice, you need not see them again until the flight home, by which time they will have taken off most of their clothes to display the painful effects of sleeping on the beach. I now regard the parade of horror at Arrecife airport as a kind of entertainment. Today there was one fat fellow, probably 40, who was carrying his flip flops in one hand and a beer in the other and wearing nothing but a pair of short shorts, mostly hidden by his paunch. Do they let them on the plane like that I wonder? Would it be discrimination if they did? After all, it’s not illegal.
Lanzarote is, I think, wonderful. Reliably sunny, even in winter. Clean as a whistle, no high-rise buildings (well there is one, a hotel which went up without planning permission and becamea landmark and was eventually, after years of standing empty, allowed to stay), the houses are all bright white with dark green wooden windows. The mountains are all conical, defunct volcanoes, sculptural against the bluest of skies. The fields are frequently covered with picon, the black gravel made from the volcanic rock, which keeps the soil protected from the fierce sun and preserves precious water. Briefly green in early Spring, the landscape is mostly grey or a gentle brown. There are no European trees, only giant cactus and palms. The light is extraordinary, the coast either rugged and dramatic, or long white beaches.
Ernest, my pianist-turned entrepreneur-turned-pianist-again partner, is at the age of 79, building a concert hall out of a 300 year old camel barn on the island. He has persuaded his long-time friend, the pianist Paul Crossley, to be its musical director and the first mini-festival is to be at the end of March. There will be 12 weeks of concerts and Paul has already engaged most of the performers, all, like Paul himself, international performers of massive reputation. Of course I know nothing of music or musicians but the three of us watched them, one after another, on You Tube, and they had both Ernest and Paul wiping their eyes.
Maybe one day I will be able to tell Bach from Beethoven, but I doubt it. The depth of my ignorance astonishes Ernest’s friends but they are more charmed at my eagerness to learn at my advanced age than disapproving. Verbier was a revelation. A beautiful alpine town, very high up, and for three weeks each year taken over by the festival. We were there, oddly, not for Ernest, but because I had been invited to talk about Choral Society. The festival organisers like to have fringe events, which anyone can go to for free, as well as the big attractions. Christian Thompson, who had heard that my latest novel was about singing, thought it might be fun to have me discuss food, singing, whatever…so he gave the book to his mother to read. Her verdict was “Well, its not that much about singing, and not at all about music, but it’s a good read.” I could not imagine why anyone would turn up. But turn up they did, forty or so of them, and Classic FM recorded it, and we had a good natter about how music-lovers can make the whole business so scary that ignoramuses like me hardly dare go to a concert in case we wear the wrong clothes or clap in the wrong place or mis-pronounce Sybelius or Beyreuth.
Anyway, they were not like that at Verbier. Hardly saw a jacket or a tie, except for the concert version of Don Giovanni or big-name concerts in the evening, and even then they were rare.
Would not have believed I could take so much music. We went to rehearsals and workshops, masterclasses and talks, and concerts, concerts, concerts. Can’t swear I’m any more knowledgeable but I did have a good time. Only really bored once, by a mighty famous pianist who seemed to me to bang away with all the feeling and emotion of a photocopier. Gratifying to discover Ernest agreed and we skipped out at the interval and went down the mountain in the cable car. (Meant to go up, but nervously scrambled onto the wrong one – no matter: the views were still glorious.
So now its back to work. Novel Five (still untitled, but likely to be called A Serving of Scandal) is in final re-write stage and I was appalled to get eleven pages of closely typed notes from my ed. But happily most of the 100-plus notes are brisk comments like “Your favourite word is “O”. First, it should be spelt “Oh”. And at least 50% of them should go.” A little humiliating, but a lot better than being asked to cut a character or re-write a whole chapter.
Now, as regular readers will know, the whole point of this website is to try to get people thinking of me as a writer rather than a cook, and rushing to buy my latest novel, so you will have to forgive me if I include here my editor’s and agent’s comments on the book. (Yes, yes, I know, they are biased. Their job partly consists of being nice to their authors. But praise is praise and I love it. Also, they are both tough women, quite capable, as I am afraid I know first hand, of telling me if something just won’t do. And you can judge for yourself by reading the first chapter.
Jane Wood (Editor) said:
Well, I loved it! Really really truly. I think this a hugely compelling novel with two tremendously appealing main characters and readers will long for a happy outcome for them, just as I did. The novel’s setting is so well realized. It’s very contemporary and of our times, and makes its serious points without hammering us over the head with them. There are many powerful and memorable scenes – Kate getting ready for the Suskind wedding and it all going wrong; Oliver’s horribly realistic scenes with Terry (beastly man – I wonder who you had in mind when you wrote him?!) I could go on. Your writing is very warm and immediate and engaging. I think you’ve written a winner – certainly a winner for me. Congratulations!
And Jane Turnbull (agent) said “I started this morning and am just gobbling it up - it's terrific - you get better and better and I'm looking forward to talking to Jane W about publishing plans as I think it can do incredibly well - it's so contemporary and everyone will be guessing who it's based on! You have developed SO fast as a novelist - these characters are so real I can't believe they come from your head - a great talent Prue , it's very exciting.”
My other bit of good news is that WHSmith will be promoting the paperback of Choral Society which comes out in November. If I crow about this to my friends they look baffled. What’s so great about that? But believe me, WHS can shift books if they like them. You get to be on a table for a start, with a big sticker on the book saying 2 for 3 or some such, and on the shelves, you get your front cover rather than the spine facing the reader. And it lasts a whole month. You might even get into a window. All a heap better than one miserable copy on a shelf, in a corner, round the back of the shop.
Of course Tesco would probably be even better. It’s a bit sad really. Poor Hatchards and Blackwells and Foyles. What with Amazon and the supermarkets moving in on them, life must be tough.
Right, enough about books. My other excitement for this month is that I wrote a rather rude piece in the Spectator about a re-hab island that Ernest and I went to for three weeks in the hopes that it would help him cope with his depression. Needless to say the Management are pretty sore and making threatening noises. But since every word is true and I can prove it, I hope they stop protesting and improve their act. Click here. Since then I have been contacted by people with similar experiences in that and other quasi medical/re-hab/clinic-type places, of which there seem to be an astonishing number. Sad to think of hundreds of people suffering from addiction or depression and finding the “cure” not only expensive and horrible, but also useless.
Maybe one day someone will crack bi-polar (manic depression). Millions suffer from it, and have for centuries. And the medics know it is caused by too much or too little serotonin being “taken up by receptors in the brain”. You’d think swallowing serotonin would do the trick but No. It seems the only thing that is at all helpful is a combination of medication and some kind of talk therapy. And that takes years of trial and error if it works at all.
Still I suppose that’s better than a lobotomy or electric shock treatment or a straight jacket. But not much.