Carol Drinkwater: from award-winning actor to bestselling author
John Rainsford discovers the emotional outpouring behind the writer’s latest novel
Carol Drinkwater: “Personal loss is a trial that we all face,” Drinkwater said. “Like every negative challenge we rise to it or we don’t”
Many have claimed that changing job and moving home are two of the most traumatic experiences that humans go through during the course of their lives.
Carol Drinkwater would know better than most, having made the troubled transition from award-winning actor to bestselling author while simultaneously crisscrossing the globe.
The Islington-born Londoner, who was raised for a time in Co Laois, explained: “I was educated at a convent in Kent. It was run by Irish and French nuns. I mostly hated it but they did allow me to follow my passion for drama, writing plays, performing, and directing my works.
“I was also able to study French, Italian and Spanish, all of which have stood me in good stead, so not all bad. Indeed, I still read a fair amount of French literature and I am very attracted to the emotional depth and simplicity of writers such as Marguerite Duras.”
After serving her time at the National Theatre Company, under the leadership of Laurence Olivier, Drinkwater got two lines in the now iconic film A Clockwork Orange in 1971. However, the film’s director, Stanley Kubrick, insisted that she appear topless while saying them.
It was her first job out of drama school and although she made a success of it she retained a certain negative perception about her own body image. That trend accentuated when fame and fortune arrived, with her portrayal of James Herriot’s wife, Helen, in the BBC series All Creatures Great and Small from 1978 to 1985.
What the media termed her “voluptuous” figure led to her being branded “the girl who brought sex-appeal to wellingtons”.
After 42 episodes and two films (with a weekly audience of 24 million viewers in Britan) she decided to leave, contrary to the wishes of series producer Bill Sellars. She rarely worked with the BBC again.
“Robert Hardy was very disappointed by my decision as was the BBC producer Bill Sellars,” Carol said. “Tim (our name for the late Robert Hardy– his real Christian name) was for me a leader, the captain of our ship. I learned so much from him.
“He wasn’t always easy because he had high expectations and standards and for that I admired him even more. I also had high standards in a young actress way. I believed in not letting opportunities slip by.
“I watched him fight for the standards he considered we as a team and the scripts could achieve. I loved him deeply. We were very good friends. I cried like a child when I heard he had died this summer.”
Called to Australia for work, she enjoyed her first major success as a writer with a novel for children, The Haunted School, in 1985. It sold 150,000 copies and was made into a Disney mini-series by French producer Michel Noll. It won the Chicago International Film Festival Gold Award for Children’s Films in 1986.
They bought a ruined olive farm in Provence in 1986, suitably called Apassionata (“with passion”) and married two years later. Drinkwater longed for children but was told by doctors after several miscarriages in the early 1990s that she could not carry a baby to full-term. This devastating news was followed in 2000 by a freak car accident in which her husband was seriously injured. As a consequence the couple split for a few years but were reconciled.
Today, 20-odd books later, she has sold more than one million copies. The central tenet of her writing is that love can console us against the harsher realities of life.
It was a philosophy developed in her 2013 novella The Girl in Room Fourteen, which topped the UK and US Amazon fiction bestseller lists. That success story was swiftly followed by two further novellas, Hotel Paradise (2014) and A Simple Act of Kindness (2015), and two novels for Penguin, The Forgotten Summer and The Lost Girl, and a new two-book deal.
“You won’t find a publisher until you have written the book and you won’t find the time till you sit down, stay down, and write it. No one else is going to do it and that is a fact. None of us has the confidence (or time!) but if you are passionate about the story, the project, that counts for a great deal.
“If you don’t love the idea of the story, don’t bother. It is going to be with you for a long time in writing, and publication. So, if the passion and drive is not there from the beginning then it will be very hard to find the energy to keep going through the tougher days.”
It was the terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015 on Charlie Hebdo in January and the Bataclan siege in November, which influenced her latest work. Drinkwater’s husband had worked with one of the illustrators murdered in the Charlie Hebdo attack. The sudden shock of fearing for a loved one led her to research the events of that fateful day, spending a full month at the French national library taking down case notes. The Lost Girl takes an emotive and controversial look at the struggle of a mother who faces personal crises induced by the calamity of losing her daughter.
Then, early in 2016, Carol’s elderly mother, Phyllis, who had been living with her and Michel in Provence, passed away, with the resulting emotional outpouring filling the book’s pages.
“Personal loss is a trial that we all face,” Drinkwater said. “Like every negative challenge we rise to it or we don’t. You grow stronger as you work your way through whatever life has thrown at you or you buckle and go under.
“As far as I can see, there is no choice. You take a deep breath, try to keep your wits, your sanity, pray if that helps and it does help me, and then do your best. Indeed, my later father, Peter, used to say it to me regularly: ‘You can only do your best, love. Get out there and do your best’. I have tried to live by that maxim!”
Carol Drinkwater’s The Lost Girl, is published by Penguin at €16. For more information visit caroldrinkwater.com