Good morning Virginia and welcome to OAPSchat. This stands for Optimistic and Pro Active Seniors Chat and I am delighted to have this opportunity to ‘chat’ to you!
Please help yourself to a flapjack and I will pour the tea. Can we begin by finding out a bit about your childhood.
Do you have happy memories of your schooldays and what were your favourite subjects?
I didn’t like being at school – I was an only child and I went – from 3 – 16 – to my great-aunt’s day school in London. However, there were two excellent teachers and my best subjects were Maths, Latin and English.
What was your first job?
I worked as a secretary to Shirley Williams (now Baroness Williams of Crosby) at the Fabian Society, a left-wing organisation, the earliest political think-tank. She was incredibly kind, bright and generally an admirable person. She also spoke very fast which got my speeds up.
I always think of you as the original Agony Aunt and have read many of your columns throughout the year. How does one become an ‘agony aunt?’
Surely the original agony aunt was Marge Proops? But very kind of you to think of me as such. I was freelancing and had been very depressed and had masses of therapy and so when this job came up I thought it was perfect for me. I was also a “carer” by nature since, although my mother was a big fashion icon in the ‘sixties, Professor Janey Ironside at the Royal College of Art, she was also very depressed and an alcoholic, so I knew about helping people very early on in my life.
When did you first decide to become a writer?
One doesn’t “decide”. I just drifted into it. I wrote a book – then a piece for a magazine called About Town which was published. Then a publisher asked me if I’d written a book and I said yes and that was published and slowly it seemed clear there wasn’t anything else I was remotely good at.
I am reading your latest novel at the moment. ‘No Thanks, I’m Quite Happy Standing’ and am thoroughly enjoying it. Can you tell us a bit about the path to publication and the invention of ‘Marie Sharp who has appeared in three previous novels?’
Thank you very much! I found being sixty quite extraordinary and the arrival of grandchildren even better. I wanted to share my newfound happiness and feeling of liberation so I invented this character, Marie Sharp, a sixty-year-old granny, and wrote about her. It’s like an elderly Bridget Jones diary. Old age had got such a bad press and in fact there were – and still are up to a point even though the aches and pains rather take over after 70 – lots of advantages to being an old crock.
Do any other writers influence your work?
I’ve always loved PG Wodehouse. Not many women do, apparently. And Elizabeth Taylor, the fifties novelist. And Julian MacLaren Ross… and the Russians… I could go on and on.
How did the idea for your one woman show ‘Growing Old Disgracefully’ come about? I live in Hereford and would love to see the show if you perform at our local theatre one day.
Well, do ask your local theatre to ask me! I’d love to come! I did it because I found that when I appeared at book festivals – which don’t pay usually – I was making audiences laugh, and yet all I got was the sale of about five books and occasionally a bottle of rough wine which, as I don’t drink, wasn’t much reward. So I worked up a show – Nigel Planer directed me – and took it Edinburgh and I’ve been touring the country ever since with it. I love doing it.
Do you get nervous before performing in front of a large crowd?
I’m afraid I am sickeningly confident.
What is your agenda for the rest of 2017?
Possibly another book of a different sort. I’m also home schooling a boy in English which I’m finding fascinating. Also freelance work.
FIVE QUICK Answers Please!
Town or Countryside? Town with country visits.
Classical or Rock music? Rock – I used to be a rock columnist for the Mail in the sixties.
Indoor or outdoor exercise? Preferably none.
Male or female company? Male.
Emailing or chatting on the phone? Both. Just communicating any old how.
Many thanks for your time Virginia. May I wish you continued success with your one woman show and also many sales with your novels.
I would be delighted if you would like to join my website and become an OAPSchatter!