Friday 25 September 2009

John Banville, Miss Marple and Antonia Rolls

Yesterday I heard Mariella Frostrup interview the author John Banville about his writing. He said something like all his work is a comment on life around him. He spends 8 hours a day, every day, in front of his computer. By 3pm he is in a trance like state, that in order to write a book he sinks into a kind of dream and when he reads his work the next day, he can't remember doing it at all. I loved this. He is so very famous and intelligent, so very likeable and modest, and doesn't seem to get out much. His books and converstation show a deeply intelligent and complex mind, full of experience of Out There. Gosh, how does he do it?

And we come to Miss Marple. Sweet little old Miss Marple who has a mind like a razor, is more perceptive than is possible, and has superb manners. A lady who is brave and right-thinking, with a deep and bottomless intellect. An elderly lady who has a routine of early mornings and early nights and a regular pattern to her day in her village. A lady who does not get out much, and yet observes and understands the terrible world of crime and people caught up in it based only on her experiences and observations of the small village and its inhabitants in which she lives. She too is full of understanding of Out There. How does she do it?

And now to me. Antonia Rolls sits in her studio day in day out. She lives in a tiny town called Bognor Regis at which most people choke and ask if they can help. She has three large unruly and fanatically independant minded very hungry children between the ages of 12 and 19, and she has superb manners. She is able to get into a trance like state at 3pm, but it is not always a creative one. Often it is just a post - lunch pre - tea trance like state, and when she looks at what she has painted or written on a Tuesday, she is stunned that she did that on Monday and like John Banville, can't remember doing it. There is a bit of a difference between John and Antonia though, John knows what he is doing and is focussed and Antonia tends to put her head down, gather her courage, and hurtle forward hoping that something good will come of it. There is a bit of a difference there.

Antonia doesn't get out that much either. But, she thinks she knows a great deal about human nature. From her studio, she conceives of huge projects and fancy exhibitions. From the silence of her wooden studio in the garden, she writes her blogs and feels she can change the world. Like Miss Marple who is fictional, and John Banville who is not and is far far more advanced in this world than Antonia (so far), Antonia uses her observations of a quiet and uneventful life in her studio (office - John Banville, village - Miss Marple) and applies it in her paintings, to huge universal subjects and experiences from Out There.

I found comfort listening to John Banville yesterday. If he sits and works for hours alone and it is OK, and puts out his very well reviewed books, then it is fine that I sit and potter alone in my studio for 8 hours. And I often think of fictional Miss Marple, who seems to have it all in many ways. Deep intelligence, self possession, modesty, never at a loss for words, quiet life in a village but never a dulling of the intellect, lots of afternoon tea, and huge excitement around her that time after time, only she can solve in her quiet unassuming old lady way. She can beat the worst of the baddies and the best of the cops, she can think them into a cocked hat, so to speak. And she never looses her cool and those that underestimate her get a shock. But most of all, for me, all this brilliance comes from observing life from her quiet village, not trekking in the Himalayas, not seeking an audience with the Pope, not paragliding over the Fjords. I like that. That is what I do in Bognor Regis.

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