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Settling down in London


The chip of ice in every writer's heart
Frederic Raphael Writer
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As soon as the contract had lapsed, the producer at Pinewood rang Leslie and me up and asked whether we'd write a film about Cambridge. So, of course, the contract had now lapsed, so now there had to be a new contract for the other film, for which we were going to get paid another £1250. I mean, it didn't seem like a particularly painful activity, writing movies. Not least because you didn't have to write most of them. Not that that was true later.

Anyway – so that was good. So I now, I bought, I went to buy a car, at Lex Garages for £250, a Ford Anglia. We had a car, a flat, and you know, we had a bit of money, it was... it was just fine. I finished my book called The Earlsdon Way, which was not funny. The Earsldon Way was a book about English suburbia and terrible people and... think of a model boat club which was sort of based on a golf club, where they didn't like Jews and all the rest of it and it was quite a solemn little book. Not bad actually. And I delivered it, I'd said to Alan MacLean, I've written this, I've finished the new book. Oh, he said, I can't wait to see it. Will you, will you let me have it? And I said, well I've only got one copy, because in those days you typed books, and I couldn't type with carbons if I was writing – some inhibition, I just couldn't do carbons with original writing. And I'd written some of it in long-hand but not... not much of it. I said, I really haven't got a copy. And he said, well I'll take very good care of it. I really want to read it. So I delivered the manuscript to... to Alan, or I handed it to Alan, and he said I'll call you whenever it is. I went up to play bridge one afternoon a couple of afternoons later, and when I came back Beetle looked particularly distressed. And I said, what's happened? And she said, well, Alan called. He doesn't like the book? No. It's not that he doesn't like the book – the manuscript has been stolen. Macmillans in those days, they all went out to lunch and they left the doors open in offices in London, I mean there was no security of any kind. Somebody had come in, and it was in the briefcase that Alan had, and they'd obviously taken the briefcase from his desk and buggered off with it. Now, my not entirely frivolous belief is that it could well have been MI5 who took the briefcase, in which case they were sitting there trying to work out what the hell The Earlsdon Way was telling them about the, you know, the British nuclear secrets, or whatever else it was that Alan was suspected of passing to the Russians – if he was. On the other hand, probably it was just nicked by somebody who stole the briefcase.

He hadn't read the book, and I was pretty upset, but you know, you're supposed to be a gentleman and all of that. So he said, well I'm really sorry, have you not got a copy? So, I said, I've got a bit of a copy and I don't... you know. He said, well I'll give you £50 if you, you know, just write it out again. So I got in the car with Beetle and I was furious and we drove and drove and drove and we got to Bath, and why we got to Bath I don't know and then Beetle said, you know, how much further are you going to go? And I said, I don't know, I think I'll kill myself. And she said, no you won't kill yourself. Just go home and write the book again. Which I did almost word for word, as far as I can remember. Because again, the strange thing about being a writer is, that the brain doesn't have emotions. It just does stuff. And don't get in its way and it will be all right. Get in its way and eventually, you know, it will say you know, come on, what are we doing here? But otherwise you just do the work. It's what... Graham Greene called it, and it has been said of me, it's the chip of ice in every writer's heart. If you haven't got the chip of ice, you can't do the stuff. If you have got the chip of ice, I'm afraid, you can always do the stuff. I've never had writer's block. I shouldn't say it, I don't even know what...why you could possibly have writer's block. Willie Maugham said, 'When I find it difficult to write, I go into my office, my room and I write my name, W Somerset Maugham, W Somerset Maugham. And do you know', he said, 'by the time you've written it about 10, times it's so bloody boring you find you're going to write a story instead!' And that's... I've never written, Frederic Raphael, Frederic Raphael, but there we are, it's not a bad name by the way. A bit of luck that is!

So I sat down and re-wrote the book and... Macmillans turned it down, because it wasn't a funny book like Jack Squires had promised I was going to write, it was a rather solemn piece of social realism about the state of England. So I went down the road to Cassells and they agreed to publish it and they gave me another £100 so everything was okay. And I worked with Leslie Bricusse.

Born in America in 1931, Frederic Raphael is a writer who moved to England as a boy. He was educated at Charterhouse School and was a Major Scholar in Classics at St John's College, Cambridge. His articles and book reviews appear in a number of newspapers and magazines, including the Los Angeles Times and The Sunday Times. He has published more than twenty novels, the best-known being the semi-autobiographical The Glittering Prizes (1976). In 1965 Raphael won an Oscar for the screenplay for the movie Darling, and two years later received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay for Two for the Road. In 1999, he published Eyes Wide Open, a memoir of his collaboration with the director Stanley Kubrick on the screenplay of Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick's final movie. Raphael lives in France and England and became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1964.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Pinewood, The Earlsdon Way, Leslie Bricusse, Alan Maclean

Duration: 5 minutes, 18 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2014

Date story went live: 10 September 2014