Sunday, June 13

Esther Freud on Hideous Kinky: ‘The memories came back to me, funny and chilling’ | How i wrote


I I was 24 when I enrolled in an Arvon creative writing course and left with 40 pages of what I hoped would be a novel. It was based on my early childhood on the hippy trail in Morocco and it was structurally complicated, full of flashbacks, anecdotes, and location hops. I had started it in another course at City Lit, where they encouraged me to present a longer piece, breaking the habit of short poems, songs and sketches that had made up a show that I presented. I didn’t know that celery could kill you – with a friend from drama school, who we had taken to the Edinburgh festival. I was happy to get on with this life, writing and acting with Kitty Aldridge (now a writer too), but her acting career took off in a way that mine didn’t, and I turned on my own devices.

Tell the story, it was the advice I received at Arvon, start at the beginning and continue until the end. So I went to an old summer house and wrote what became the first chapter of Horrible pervert. The rest could have come from there, but he hadn’t found that other vital ingredient: discipline. To write a book, apparently, you had to sit down and do it, and I still hoped that wasn’t true. Two years later I was out of work, again, single, again, and in surprisingly desperate mood at 26. I made the decision that the following Monday I would write for three hours and keep writing until my agent called and told me. He said they needed me right away for a Shakespeare tour around the world.

That didn’t happen and so I applied myself, hard at first, slowly more easily, until soon there was nothing else I wanted to do but sit at my kitchen table and move on with my story. The memories came back to me, some funny, some chilling, full conversations, word for word. When I was stuck, I would travel around London to interview my mother, and as she spoke, I would reimagine her stories from the perspective of my five-year-old self. By chance he was living in an area with a large North African community, a Moroccan counseling office on the corner, where he sometimes stood in line, to his surprise, with questions about places he had visited, the spellings of half-remembered names. I wondered, on difficult days, if I should go back to Marrakech, remind myself of the 18 months we spent there, but I was concerned that the memories I had kept for 20 years, along with my kaftan, a beaded necklace, and my Arabic book sister, it would evaporate. It was only when I finished the book that I rewarded myself with a visit, and as soon as I stepped off the plane and breathed in the familiar scent of dust and heat, I felt right at home. I stayed in an old hotel, three floors around a courtyard, a bathroom on the landing, a faucet and a basin for washing clothes on the ceiling. Nothing that seemed to have changed.

Kate Winslet Horrible Kinky
‘I indulged in the fantasies of who could play the role of mom’… Kate Winslet in the 1998 film adaptation of Freud’s book. Photograph: Allstar / BBC

By then I had an excited feeling for the book and indulged in fantasies of being interviewed and photographed, who could play the role of “mom” when it was made into a movie. But at the same time, it didn’t surprise me when the first agents I sent it to turned it down: being an actor had set me up for disappointment. Then all of a sudden an agent liked it, gave it to a publisher (the same publisher I still have, 30 years later) who bought it on the spot. I was exultant. I remember navigating Portobello Road, walking on air, amazed that my life was about to change, that I had changed it by sheer force of will. A few days later I started with a second book, and it was then that I met a friend of my mother, a woman who had visited us in Morocco, bringing her baby, Mob. He congratulated me and asked what I was doing now. I’m writing another book, I told him. Other! She looked astonished, but no one could have been more astonished than me.

I couldn’t love you more is a Bloomsbury post.


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