‘I thought, this is a doddle, I’ll do some more’
Gerald Isaaman talks to prolific author Rosemary Friedman about her new book of essays
22 September, 2017 — By Gerald Isaaman
Rosemary Friedman, aged 88, says she is giving up her ritual of writing daily from 6am until lunchtime
PLUNGING into a hot bath has often provided the Eureka moment for Rosemary Friedman, the relaxing moments inspiring ideas, plots and solutions for her stream of books and plays that have poured from her typewriter.
Indeed, at 88, she can claim to have published some 26 titles including 21 novels, children’s books, works of non-fiction, more than 50 short stories, as well as plays for the stage and scripts for films and TV. A lot of water under the bridge, you might say.
Now she has declared she is giving up her ritual of writing daily from 6am until lunchtime at her top-floor eyrie overlooking Regent’s Park.
Whether she sticks to that decision may be in some doubt. “Writing every day gets rid of all your worries and troubles,” she tells me. “It takes you to another planet. I just might do a coda. I simply don’t know.”
Here are 35 warm and wise essays on what she calls her reflections on life under the title Final Draft.
Writing essays may not be the literary fashion today, but in this case it was entering the 2015 worldwide William Hazlitt Essay Prize and being long-listed for the £20,000 bonanza.
“I thought, this is a doddle, I’ll do some more,” she says. “I really enjoyed the experience and writing at essay length. And putting them together into a book was probably one of my inspirations while sitting in a hot bath.”
Michel de Montaigne, the 16th-century social philosopher, has been one guide for Rosemary. He used his essays “to inform the reader of everything that came into his head, sharing his experience of what it was like to be human,” she explains.
And in her own words adds: “In essays or reflections, as in life, there are no easy answers, no neat solutions. The old Yiddish saying postulates that ‘it is easy to sit on the fire with someone else’s tuchus’. Montaigne is brave enough to put his own backside into the flames and tell us what it feels like.”
So it is that Rosemary covers a wide range of subjects in her essays, from truth and beauty, her grandmother’s chicken soup, travel, envy and jealousy, to the sexual allure of hands, travel, music and loneliness and widowhood since the death of her psychiatrist husband Dennis, aged 91.
There is an element of doom too amid her thoughts on today’s pre-occupation with the cyber world, the tweets of powerful world leaders threatening our existence, the obsession with what she calls “clean eating for someone who grew up in a wartime world of rationing and the popularity of the cliché”.
“Yes, I suppose I wrote some of it while I was feeling quite doomish and depressed,” she admits.
Though as the mother of four daughters and with 10 grandchildren, she says: “I remain optimistic for my grandchildren because they’re so optimistic when I see them. And that’s even though it’s pretty ghastly everywhere in the world at the moment.”
One of the joys of Rosemary’s reflections is that with age has come a sagacious outlook having benefited from her own learning, her own delving into the lives and works of great writers in particular, giving Final Draft a rich background for her own mini sermons.
Writing about sex, she tells us that “Rosebud” in the movie Citizen Kane is believed to refer to the newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst’s pet name for the most intimate part of his mistress’s anatomy.
Rosemary adds: “Today’s ‘meat market’ dating apps such as Tinder and Grindr have spurred a new sexual revolution and, as casual ‘hook-ups’ have become the norm, the popularity of ‘texting’, which eliminates the need for ‘feeling’, has taken the embarrassment out of asking someone for a date and made ‘flirting’ more fun…
“Sexuality is here to stay. Be it permitted or proscribed, be it in the interests of recreation or procreation, be it the prerogative of the young or the consolation of the old, it will find a way.”
Yes, sex, money, ideas and the explosive internet undoubtedly make today’s world go round at a dizzy pace, but no doubt Rosemary would prefer to consider the comment of Hazlitt, who lies buried in St Anne’s churchyard, Soho. “A gentle word, a kind look, a good-natured smile can work wonders and accomplish miracles,” he wrote.
• Final Draft: Reflections on Life. By Rosemary Friedman, Peter Owen, £14.99