Published: 17 February, 2016
by JANE CLINTON
by Céline La Frenière
GLASTON Town, the gritty debut novel by Céline La Frenière, is part thriller, part soap opera; with characters who will appal and entertain in equal measure.
Set in a rough neighbourhood in London, the Glaston Town community has already battled against an influx of drug dealers and crime as well as having taken on the council to save their beloved Lavender Gardens. Then a murder is committed.
It is not a million miles away from the real-life experiences its author, a screenwriter who cut her teeth in Hollywood, now living in Talacre in Kentish Town.
There was the “cleaning up” of King’s Cross and the movement of dealers to Talacre in early 2000-2002. Then there was the threat of a road cutting through Talacre Gardens. In both of these issues she, along with many others in the community, fought long and hard. Both times, they won through.
“Of course I have taken some inspiration from real life but it is just inspiration. I invented quite a lot but this was too good not to use. If it is happening outside your door...”
The novel, which is divided into three parts, has many bleak moments of poverty and despair, but the prevailing theme is the sense of community that emerges in the darkest of times.
“Someone said to me that if Dickens were alive today he would be writing about all these things,” says Céline, 66, who is French Canadian and has lived in the area with her partner, Peter Cuming, since 1999.
The locals come together with the police to clean up the area and with the help of the Glaston Town Journal (which bears more than a passing resemblance to the New Journal) they campaign to save their open space, Lavender Gardens.
“The campaigning in Talacre taught me that when a neighbourhood gets together it can be quite powerful,” says Céline, who is acting treasurer of the Friends of Talacre Gardens which was given Town Green status in 2010 and is now protected.
Céline grew up in a crowded tenement in Montréal. Her father, a gambler, lost the family money and overnight they had to relocate to British Columbia. It was the trauma of that move, aged 16, which set her on her way to become a writer.
“My father was in trouble with the Montréal mafia because he knew too much,” she says. “I started writing letters to my friends. I was grieving for them and for Montréal. I discovered that writing a letter is the beginning of writing a novel.”
She modelled and trained to be an actress and worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, but it was winning an audition for a US television series that gave Céline her big break.
“I was going to be one of the organic vegetables in the series,” she laughs. “It gave me a ticket to Hollywood. I showed people a screenplay I’d written and it was picked up. There were not many women writers there. I was lucky. It probably had a lot to do with the way I looked. I was a pretty little thing then. Hollywood is not known for its depth.”
She wrote the screenplay to the 1979 disaster film City on Fire, which starred among others Ava Gardner, who was often the worse for wear on set, and Shelley Winters. “Shelley Winters quite liked me and would say: ‘Look at this woman, she is Brigitte Bardot and she wrote this film!’,” recalls Céline laughing.
Eventually she teamed up with the director Ronald Neame and they formed a production company. The partnership lasted five years.
She adapted the British romantic comedy Foreign Body for the screen and with the money she bought a cottage in Hampstead in the 1980s. She has made London her home ever since.
She was offered a screenwriting job with Disney, but after 12 years she felt it was time to leave Hollywood.
“I loved Hollywood in many ways, they were really good to me but unless you are really beautiful it’s not a very wholesome environment for a woman,” she says.
Céline is now writing a second novel about the revolution in Québec in the 1960s, although she admits she is tempted to return to the characters of Glaston Town.
“Maybe one day I will write a sequel to it. It would be nice to see them all again, to see what happened to them.”
• Glaston Town by Céline La Frenière is available as a free download for a limited period until 8am on February 16. The direct link for this offer is: www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1500599484
Celine has donated copies to Kentish Town and Queen’s Crescent libraries. More information at the Glaston Town website: www.glastontown.co.uk