Country Life magazine recently asked me to write about a week in my life. Here's what I wrote
MY COUNTRY LIFE DIARY
Barometer anxiety is not a widely-recognised medical condition. But I’ve been under pressure in more than one sense this week thanks to a malfunctioning antique weather-glass. In a rush of blood to the head I bought one as a birthday present for my husband, and the dealer from whom I bought it came and fixed it on the wall. After which the needle stayed resolutely put. ‘Much Rain’ it insisted, even as the sun blazed outside. The dealer came back and moved it to ‘Fair’; scarcely had he rolled away in his Mercedes than the rain started drumming on the roof. The needle did not move.
The dealer’s due back – ‘your threads are probably twisted’ – he told me on the phone. Which is no doubt true, but what about the barometer? This, and the fact that I’m looking for yet another piano teacher for my children means I’m becoming a repository of anxieties stemming entirely from my own aspiration.
"I'm a character from one of my own novels," I wailed to a friend. "I'm a middle-class cliché."
She replied: "I can top that. This morning I've had a Polish builder, the Ocado man and a gay gardener."
Adding to my concerns was my daughter's birthday party. She wanted a worm party; every invitee was to be presented on arrival with a flower-pot and spoon and sent down to the vegetable patch to dig up wrigglers. But I couldn't see the mums going for it somehow. So what else? It's a jungle out there in the world of infant entertainment solutions – literally. A 'petting zoo' party I once took the children to, expecting bunnies and hamsters, turned out to be snakes and scorpions. One of the fathers got bitten by a tarantula. And everyone's seen the local clown before (the bit when he makes sausage dogs out of balloons always seemed more adult-oriented anyway). In the end we had a very successful party in the garden with games.
I was confident of sun; the barometer was at that point still riveted to 'Much Rain'.
I review popular fiction for various organs and have recently noticed the rise of what I think of as 'tax lit'. This is a school of writing in which characters seem to be indulging in the author's own sybaritic tastes; possibly so she/he can claim them as research expenses. I may be imagining it: anyway, there's nothing new, or wrong, in setting stories in exotic locations amongst luxury-lovers. It's just that, increasingly, descriptions of their indulgences seem unnecessarily long and detailed. You can almost see the receipts attached. I daren't give examples in case I get sued, but next time you come across someone doing something expensive which doesn't contribute to the plot, ask yourself if I'm being cynical.
As a reviewer I also get sent many examples of another rising phenomenon, the Fascinating Author. Time was, press releases featured a synopsis of the novel and the barest details about its writer; 'X has two children and lives in Devon'. But these days, X is nowhere if she hasn't got half a side of thrilling personal titbits. In the last two weeks alone I've had releases about authors who also collect phrenologists' heads, are 'hugely knowledgeable about gypsy folklore' and use their psychic forces to assist the police. Makes me feel inadequate in comparison – 'daughter likes worm parties… owns failing barometer..'
And so, for my latest novel, Gallery Girl, I've become a high-concept contemporary artist alongside the day job. Gallery Girl is a comedy about contemporary art, inspired by the fact that most contemporary art is, well, hilarious.
To launch GG I, together with my husband, have hired a glamorous Cork Street gallery. Hiding behind the persona of Zeb Spaw, the bigheaded bad-boy artist who is the villain of the novel, we have produced a series of spoof cutting-edge contemporary artworks. 'Fifteen Metres Of Fame' is Zeb's hommage to Warhol, a fifteen-metre rope hung with pictures of celebrities mounted on cardboard (mostly All Bran boxes). 'Tripetych' is three panels featuring blown-up images of offal. We are quite proud of 'Hunter-Gatherer', shopping lists found abandoned in baskets in the local Waitrose and framed in rows of four. Will I win the Turner Prize? Who cares, it'll be a great launch party.
Our exhibition, angry_with_britain, will be ceremonially conveyed from our Derbyshire studio to Cork Street in our long-wheelbase Defender, a majestic beast we recently bought and christened The Red Baron because of its deep burgundy colour. We crowned the Baron with a roof rack, meaning that we are forever barred from the occasional car park (height limit 2m). But what of that, when the Defender's height means you can see over walls into gardens you never knew existed and look down on anyone who drives a Range Rover? There's also the roar of the engine (you can't hear the children squabbling), that gearstick, those air vents, that subtle lift of the palm from passing Defender drivers. This summer we plan to cram the Baron to its nine-person capacity and drive to north-west Scotland. It will be interesting to see who's still got fillings come Lochcarron.
Enjoyed this? Then check out