Wednesday, 6 March 2013


When I went to England for The Sun’s launch and promotion of The Girl with a Peppermint Taste serialization, I should have stayed with Major Bill and Doris in London, but they didn’t know that Eve and I were living separately and I couldn’t face pretending that all was well when it wasn’t, so I gratefully accepted an invitation to be the guest of old friends in Somerset.
 After a rainy weekend walking in gumboots across soggy fields,  I travelled to the big city to be interviewed at the publishers as arranged. The moment I met the tabloid journalist she informed me that we would have to work together on adapting the text of the book. This would take at least a week and I saw myself spending a ridiculous amount of time on train journeys. However, the lady in question had other things in mind. 
  'I think it best if I interview him away from here if you don’t mind,' she told the publisher, 'Otherwise he might feel inhibited about telling me his innermost secrets in front of you.'
 'Good idea,' was the reply, and I was whisked away feeling a little like a newly acquired puppy. 
 As soon as we were out of the building she suggested we should go to her place where it was guaranteed there would be no interruptions. I could hardly refuse, though I sensed I might be like a lamb being led to slaughter. 
 Her car was conveniently parked round the corner, she opened the passenger door for me, a minor detail which told me she was in charge.   
 We drove up to Hampstead where she had a flat. Up the entrance stairs it smelt of cats. Inside her flat it smelt of cats and dogs. There was only one of the latter, a small, long haired terrier of some kind that barked and snapped at me. The cats, several of them, were all asleep. 
 We sat in her sitting room. The setting was pleasant, the interview personal. I was served tea and biscuits, stayed for a snack supper worrying about catching the last train to Taunton, so she suggested that, considering the amount of work we had to do on the adaptation, it would be sensible for me to stay with her a few nights. She had a guest room if I insisted on being alone. It was a forthright invitation hinting that she found me as attractive as I found her. I did not refuse. 
 I cannot deny that I was intrigued by this young woman. I liked her no-nonsense attitude to the relationship that grew between us very quickly. It was certainly not love on my part, more a feeling of gratitude at being wanted but, as I got to know her better, it became clear that we had absolutely nothing in common. She was English to the core and seemed to think that anyone living on the continent rather unfortunate. She was also a political animal with close connections to the Labour Party. I had no interest in politics whatsoever.    
 The adaptation was completed in time, it was a question of agreeing on the cuts that were necessary to keep the length down. A few days before the publication of the serialization, my self esteem rose a good number of notches when I saw the title of my book and my name in large green letters splashed across the sides of several double decker buses and, in the evening, the 60-second spots on television with dramatized passages of the book sandwiched between commercials for fish fingers and a deodorant.
 The following week The Sun came out with a double page pull out spread which guaranteed that it would never be reviewed by the Times Literary Supplement or any other culture prone paper, but it generated a surprising amount of interest, resulting in my receiving a call from Carter De Haven ( the film producer I had recently met in Nerja ) inviting me to dinner. He and his wife were in London on their way back to the States. Over coffee and brandies he told me he had read the serialization of Peppermint, liked it and intended taking an option on the film rights if I would write the screenplay.    
 The essential action of the novel was set in London with an English upper class executive falling in love with a cockney girl who takes him on CND marches to the atomic weapons establishment at Aldermaston and other left wing demonstrations. 
 Carter did not want the anti nuclear element in the film, it was too politically risky. He had Steve McQueen in mind for the executive, so the character would have to be American, and a young Scandinavian actress was already lined up for the girl in his mind, so she wouldn’t be cockney. Also, he did not want the story set in London but in Florence.
 I was about to point out that these ludicrous ideas changed the story so completely that I might as well write another book, but instead swallowed my author’s pride and diplomatically asked him the reason for his baffling requests.
 'I’m buying a property in Tuscany,' was the simple explanation. 
  I told him I had never been to Florence and didn’t know Tuscany.
  'Go,' he said. 'Do Italy. Drink in the atmosphere. All expenses paid.' 
  So his production company booked me on a flight to Rome, a hire car was put at my disposal and off I went to do Italy.
 I did not return to the Sun journalist in London after criss crossing Tuscany and staying a few days in Florence, but drove back to Nerja via the Cote d’Azur, dropping in to see my parents and ageing  grandmother on the way.  
 Once home and settled in my bachelor flat, I wrote the screenplay, which of course had remarkably little to do with the original story, and sent it to Carter in Hollywood. 
 The book itself was published as a hardback and paperback in the UK and the States with more good reviews than expected, but the film was never made.  The whole business, however, proved pleasantly beneficial financially - which should have given me peace of mind - but the domestic front became more traumatic than ever.

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