by Mark Binmore
According to my official twitter feed, I am a top selling author (so I’m told) with a hint of mint, mid 40s, based sometimes in London other times in south of France at my own small hotel. I have published twelve books, some prose and short stories, two collections, a biography and two novels about people and places which never existed except in the mind of this author.
- When did you first discover your love for writing?
When I was a child, I developed a love and passion for stationary especially pens and notebooks. I didn’t see the point in having one without the other and so from then on I started writing. I started out writing imaginary characters, song lyrics and short pieces of poetry before progressing to structured stories. I used to carry a notebook with me to catch memories and observations. It’s something I still do today, carry a notebook and people watch, observe, and listen for a name or something which grabs me. The other day having coffee I was intrigued by conversations near me about a woman called Jane Fish. I thought it was a great name but even better was that this Jane Fish came along and it turned out she was actually called Jane Finn.
- Do you have a favourite place to write?
I have my own library at home in France – my own private space which is filled with books, records, artwork, letters, unfinished manuscripts and other bits and pieces. It’s actually a tranquil room where I can escape to and think. On the wall are two of my favourite paintings which many friends find slightly strange. One is a picture of a cracked baby dolls head floating in a sewer and the other is of a little by lying in a field watching big clouds pass by. I find them both aspiring.
- Do you have a writing routine or process that you adhere to?
Every outcome is different but my usual routine when writing would be a good straight four hours in the morning followed by a break, lunch or gym, then back to writing afterwards but more and more I prefer to write in the evening especially late when there is quiet from the outside world. It can be sometimes different. I recently spent three days writing none stop and completed a book before falling asleep for about a day. Surprisingly the finished book needs little editing – according to my editor that is.
- Are there any authors or specific books you aspire to?
I am more aspired by books rather than a specific author. Vile Bodies and Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh take me back to a different era while autobiographies of people who have lived really grab me.
- What inspired you to write Simply Divine?
Set mainly during the 1920s/30s, it is a period in history which really fascinates me, the in between war years, the time when young people cast away their parents and grandparents Victorian values and wanted to party. I wanted to recreate this gluttonous fantasy by creating people that never existed against a backdrop of a world that did exist.
- Can you tell us a little about your book?
Simply Divine brings two of my books together – Now Is Not The Time for Trumpets and A Life Of Parties. We look at the lives of two beautiful party people Stephen and Agatha and go on their life journey. Both are different and both are based on real people.
- Do you have a favourite amongst all your characters?
Agatha Dewsbury. In a way parts of my life are embedded in her story. There is a great part of the book where discussions are raised between her editor and herself about publication of books, artwork, promotional activities etc. Those dialogues actually did happen between my editor and me. Although she is a carefree spirit, there is also a lonely fragile and vulnerable side to her which comes out and can relate to.
- Does your book contain a message for readers to consider?
Live life, have no regrets. It is what it is. That has always been my motto, “it is what it is.”
Would you be interested in sharing a teaser? Of Course. This is the beginning of the Trumpets book, setting the scene between James, an aspiring author and Stephen.
(James) Okay I’m nearly ready…
(Stephen) No rush…
Stephen was lounging in an armchair dressed in a bizarre outfit of purple trousers, a canary yellow and white frill shirt and a gold blazer. His hair, what was left of it, was also dyed purple and his cracked lips painted rouge. He smelt of a mixture of cologne, lavender and cigarettes. Surrounding him was an array of photograph frames and a collection of dusty hardback books. I recognised a few of the people featured inside the silver frames, his mother, sisters, one of his brother and a collection of deceased dogs all wearing a bizarre collection of Christmas party hats.
There was also a large black and white print taken sometime during the 1930s in the garden of Arches, Stephen looking angelic in a pirouette costume, his face dusted with white powder and heavy rouge applied to his cheeks. He is looking away from the camera while other people notably the socialites Angela Dewsbury and Desha King gaze affectionately in a sombre pose. It was this photograph that drove me to write to Stephen, this beautiful photograph of beautiful people that made me want to know more. In one hand Stephen held a gilded cigarette holder and the other a large glass of neat gin. He was shaking slightly and his eyes were glistened with tears.
I’m actually quite nervous
I’m not sure….I guess I have waited a long time to meet someone who wanted to listen.
Take all the time you need
Are you okay with this recording machine?
Yes, that’s fine
Okay, let’s do a test…just say something into the microphone…
I don’t know what to say
Start with your name
And where are we?
Stephen picked up my letter I had written to him earlier in the year. I was researching a book on what people call, the Bright Young People of the 1930s. Some called them beautiful; others labelled them as tragic and stupid. These Bright Young Things, or Bright Young People was a nickname given by the tabloid press to a group of bohemian young aristocrats and socialites in 1920s and 30s London. They threw exotic fancy dress parties, went on elaborate treasure hunts through night-time London, and drank heavily and experimented with drugs—all of which was enthusiastically covered by the journalists of the day. They were ridiculed, laughed at but most of all idolized by many.
I had read about Stephen and knew he had refused interviews for over twenty years. I understood he was the main persona behind this beautiful set and the last of a dying breed. I wanted to know the real Stephen, the man people forgot, I wanted to hear about his friends, the parties, what made him who he was now, the enigma, a recluse…a somebody. I was also keen to view Arches, the splendid home of Stephen and the base of where many a weekend party was held. Closed to the public and indeed to the outside world, I had read about the once beautiful building and its interior which featured a green morning room, a red morning room, the finest dining area, a great hall and the famous magnificent staircase which had been designed by architect Samuel Othman.
“The staircase itself is of marble and the steps having broad treads, moderate nosings and very low risers. A flight runs parallel to one side of the gallery to the angle of the wall where there is a landing, and then another flight parallel to the other side to the first floor, with an intermediate landing supported on small open arches. The balustrade is of marble with a broad flat handrail and dwarf pillars with swelling bases”
In 1925, the London Times described it in the following terms.
“This staircase is one of the most beautiful and interesting portions of house, I shall describe more minutely below. It is noticeable now, as giving a key to the external appearance of the whole. Round three sides of it on the east, south and west the principal rooms are grouped; and the simplicity of the arrangement has enabled the architect to obtain an external effect of considerable grace and dignity”
Arches was large, more villa than manor house and like other notable houses of the period built for sizeable families like the Wallingford’s who needed plenty of spacious rooms to hang with draperies, fill with furniture and stuff with objects they adored and had collected over the years. Such houses were no trouble to heat, fuel was cheap and it was easy to keep clean as servants were inexpensive.
Arches was an unusual and attractive house. Wide sash windows and coloured glass in the upper part. There was a multiplicity of chimneys, trellis work and plants covered the walls. Attached to the house was an airy conservatory where Stephen’s mother once kept birds. It contained wicker furniture, exotic plants, palm trees and other spiky plants. There was also a second smaller greenhouse which housed broken furniture, storage for croquet, mallets and hoops. This was a place where Stephen used to escape to, to think, to be alone. I had arrived a few hours ago and was slightly saddened at the shabbiness and darkness of the house. The once fine building looked a shambling wreck upon first glances, the gardens unattended and the paintwork peeling. A nondescript maid had opened the door, nodded at my prompt arrival and then proceeded to show me straight into the library.
I noticed that much of the house was no longer in use and everywhere you walked there were filthy white sheets covering an array of furniture and paintings. I was therefore surprised to see inside the library for it would seem this was one of few rooms that were still alive. My first judgement at meeting Stephen was wondering who the old frail gentleman was. I guess I was expecting the younger Stephen, the Stephen who had gold dust in his hair, the Stephen who wore makeup, who was slim and full of life. This Stephen was fatter, frail and yet….still mischievous looking. This Stephen was, of course, older.
So where do you want to start?
I don’t mind.
Yes….it was such a long time ago you know, my memory…well, it’s not what it was. It all happened here….in this house…..
Stephen paused for a few moments, stubbed out his cigarette and immediately lit another one and blew smoke into the sunlit room. I casually glanced around at the chaos. Golden art deco objects caught my eye, a catalogue of books, scatter cushions, dead flowers and the fragment smell of sandalwood and teak. Every ashtray was filled with the stubs of Pera cigarettes. Stephen caught me looking, smiled and preceded with his own question.
Perhaps…perhaps one should start with me……The interview begins.
- What would say has been your biggest challenge and achievement in writing Simply Divine?
Funnily enough completing it. It was my first full length novel and I started both Trumpets and Parties with the first chapter and then completed the last one, so I knew what journey I had to head towards. I spent last summer promoting the book throughout Europe (Chris Henson came with me and wrote an observational travelogue book called Tour De Europa) and acknowledging the reception the book received was amazing. The book was also nominated as fictional biography of the year by GoodRead.
- What have you learned about yourself as a writer through writing Simply Divine?
I was told that I had a great way of writing about every tiny detail, what shoes Agatha was wearing, the fabric colour, the accessories as well as embracing the whole mood of the era. I felt pleased that when people gave me feedback they really felt they were there at the parties, at Arches where Stephen lived and knew someone like Agatha – I guess in life we all know a Stephen and Agatha.
- Do you have any advice for other aspiring authors?
Write. Pure and simple, just write and never, ever throw anything away. I wrote a book several years ago and then left it. It has recently been rediscovered and re-edited for publication next year as it fitted into the era of my previous books. I would also set realistic targets even if it is just say thirty minutes of writing a day or six months to complete and edit a novel. I think it is essential to write about what you know, what you love and what you have experience in unless you am ample time and energy to do intense research. Most of all, my only advice for anyone wanting to write is just enjoy it, see where the journey takes you, you may be surprised.
- Anything else you would like to say?
I am more than happy for new writers to send me a proof copy of any book ready for publication if they feel they want someone neutral to give constructive feedback.
- And finally, do you have any future works planned?
Two books are ready for publication next year. Take Down The Flags tells various stories all set on one day; the day in question is the end of world war two. All stories are the opposite of celebration; I wanted to see the end of war from another angle. Simple Pleasures is the lost manuscript mentioned above. It’s a diary of a housewife, simple but with added observations and humour. It has been reedited to incorporate characters from Simply Divine to make it relevant.
Thank you for having me!
www.markbinmore.wix.com/markbinmore Main website