Carol Drinkwater is an Anglo-Irish actress, writer and filmmaker. She portrayed Helen Herriot in the BBC TV adaptation of the James Herriot books All Creatures Great and Small.
More recently Carol has carved out a successful career as a writer. Suffolk readers will be familiar with her bestselling memoirs and novels. Carol's latest book An Act of Love was published by Penguin on 29 April.
- Who were your literary heroes as you were growing up and when did you first realise that you wanted to write?
I have been writing since I was about eight years old. In those early days, my dreams were full of theatres peopled with glamorous actresses, powerful women performing in plays. I idolised film stars such as Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe. Shakespeare was the voice of my adolescent years, my principal hero along with some of his characters too. Cleopatra stunned me with her self-assurance, as well as her doubts. She struck me as bold, selfish, vulnerable and charismatic.
- Many Suffolk readers will know you from All Creatures Great and Small which has been running again on BBC4 here. What are your memories of that time and how much of yourself did you bring to the part of Helen Herriot?
I don’t know how much of myself I brought to the role. I am, of course, my interpretation of Helen H. However, I found that the BBC scripts made her a little submissive rather than giving her the qualities the real Helen possessed. Joan Wight, who the character was based on, was a formidable character. I loved playing the role. I loved the work, the team, the opportunities the show offered me, but in the end I felt that Helen was not sufficiently three-dimensional or complex. This was why I left. Having said that, if I had that time over again, I would not leave the role. I would find a way to add new depths to the character.
- We often get asked for your Olive trilogy. Can you give us a little glimpse into what it was like to write them?
That is very nice to read. May I just correct you though, please? There are four books in the Olive Farm “Trilogy” It is in fact a quartet of books – the last is RETURN TO THE OLIVE FARM. There are also two travel books written after, The Olive Harvest (book 3) and before Return to the Olive Farm (4). They are titled The Olive Route and The Olive Tree. These two books inspired a five-part documentary film series also titled The Olive Route. I so enjoyed writing these books. They are a love story on so many levels: love for a man, my husband, Michel, without whom I would never have embarked on this adventure; love for a property and love for the Mediterranean way of life and its history.
I have lived on this old farm with our olive trees for over thirty years and I am still, every day, surprised by new facts, Nature’s glorious ways.
Writing the books was cathartic for me because I put pen to paper at a very difficult moment in my life – when we almost lost the farm and I almost lost Michel – the writing of the books helped me through that crisis time.
- Your new book An Act of Love is published on 29th April. Can you give us a flavour of that?
This novel is told through the eyes of a young woman. At the beginning of the story, it is 1943. Sara is a seventeen-year-old Jewish girl who, with her parents, finds herself here in the south of France. She and her parents are offered refuge in an unoccupied villa in the hills behind Nice. Although my characters are born of my imagination, the story is based on facts.
In November 1942, the Allies won northern Africa. Hitler ordered his soldiers to cross over from Occupied France into the Free Zone – this eastern corner of France was the most distant point of the Free Zone. The lives of all those who were taking refuge here along the Riviera coast became endangered. The community of a small mountain village offered to harbour as many refugees as they could reasonably cater for. It is a remarkable story.
My novel is that of strangers brought together. It is a tale of love and courage and generosity.
Sara, my principal character, a strong, passionate young woman on the brink of womanhood, hungry for life, begins to see the world from new perspectives, especially when she falls in love with a young Frenchman from the village, a student doctor. It is a coming of age story and it is a love story. A story of sacrifice, courage and redemption.
- Is there anything you can share with us about your latest project?
Do you mean what I am at work on now? As I write this, the project has not been officially announced so I am a little bound to silence but it is slightly different from my recent adventures and, I hope, will combine several strings from my bow. It is all very exciting. More soon!
- Do you get much time to read or keep in touch with what is happening in the UK? If so who are your favourite writers?
I read all the time. It has nothing to do with where I am situated. I follow UK and Irish news and friends on various social media sites. I have a subscription to The Bookseller so that helps keep me in touch.
Currently, I am reading Shirley Hazzard’s The Transit of Venus which, for some reason, I have never read. I love her writing style and her wonderful sense of language.
I am not a chart follower. By that I mean that just because a book is selling well or being talked about I won’t necessarily pick it up. Often, it has the reverse effect. I will wait till the brouhaha has calmed down and then read it. I am also sent books by UK or Irish publishers to read and review.
My book of last year was Colum McCann’s Apeirogon. A remarkable novel oozing humanity.
- What are you looking forward to doing most when we finally emerge from this lockdown period?
Our lockdown has taken a slightly different course to yours so my cravings might be different. Restaurants, bars, cinemas and museums are all closed and have been for months and months. I crave a trip to Paris with Michel, my husband, for dinner and a screening at a cinema and perhaps an afternoon at a museum. Such simple pleasures which we frequently indulged in and took for granted and now so achingly missed.
- Can you tell us one thing about yourself that your readers may not know?
Goodness me. Well, I am a worrier and a perfectionist (insofar as my talents allow me to be). This is a rather challenging combination and can sometimes wear me out. When I am embarking on a new project, a new direction, like now, as excited as I might be I also suffer terrible bouts of uncertainty with sleepless nights.
Aside from these anxieties, I am blessed and am very aware how fortunate my life is.