Lucy Caldwell: The Story So Far


I read the most incredible novel this week. It's called Angel and is set around the turn of the 19th century, about a 15-year-old who lives above a grocer's shop but dreams that she is born of aristocracy fallen on hard times. Angel writes a preposterous book - all lords and ladies and champagne, peacocks strutting on lawns and butlers with white gloves - and although it is florid and ridiculous, a London publisher accepts it on the hunch that it may well prove to be a comic bestseller.

Angel came recommended by two of my literary heroines, one of whom I met on the film set of Blake Morrison's wonderful memoir, And When Did You Last See Your Father?. We were sitting in the green room sharing the literary sections of the Saturday supplements for a good 10 minutes before recognising each other. The scene was an award ceremony circa 1985; I was in a strapless, tight-bodiced, shiny black-and-fuchsia satin confection, four-inch stilettos, purple lipstick and eyeshadow and a back-combed side-ponytail. (I only admit this because the chances of anyone actually identifying me on celluloid are negligible. Hitherto, incidentally, the pinnacle of my acting career has been on Radio 4, as the sound of a corpse with rigor mortis being massaged prior to embalming. But that's a whole other story.)

So, this writer, who as she will be similarly unrecognisable shall remain nameless, sang the praises of Angel. As soon as I finished it, I e-mailed my lovely friend Nick, a playwright and literary agent. "It's devastatingly brilliant," I enthused. "And you'll never guess who it's by: Elizabeth Taylor, of all people, who'd've thought it?!"

Lovely Nick e-mailed back: "Um, Luce," he wrote, tactfully, "I don't think she's the Elizabeth Taylor you're thinking of..." It turns out that Angel, recently reprinted by Virago, is being made into a $15m film by François Ozon, starring Romola Garai, and is by another "Elizabeth Taylor" altogether: Buckinghamshire-bred, née Coles.

Thus was I saved from many an embarrassing faux pas in literary company. But I can't quite get over my disappointment that the book wasn't scribbled in violet ink by the star of Lassie Come Home, in between filming Cleopatra and Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?.

Following my own brief foray on to the silver screen, I rushed across London to meet a friend at a concert, having made a frantic and futile attempt to scrub my face clean with babywipes in a mirror-less loo. Luckily, it was Rachmaninov's Vespers, sung by two choirs dressed in purple, in a Gothic church lit only by candles. And so the matte pan foundation, mauve eyeshadow and indelible traces of magenta lipstick - worthy almost of Angel's imaginary excesses - didn't look so out of place, after all.

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