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Understanding Viginia Ironside

In the 60s she wrote a rock column for the Daily Mail. At 67, Viginia Ironside is writing the Dilemmas column for the Independent. And she is a published writer. Here's the journalist, agony aunt, columnist and author unravelled.

books Updated: Aug 09, 2011 11:16 IST

Viginia Ironside began her career as a journalist - after a book of hers, Chelsea Bird, was published when she was twenty. In the sixties she wrote a rock column for the Daily Mail. Had a job of agony aunt at Woman magazine for ten years and since then worked as problem page editor for the Sunday Mirror and today at 67 she's writing the Dilemmas column for the Independent every Monday, and a monthly column for the Oldie.

Having stumbled upon this book - No! I Don't Want to Join a Bookclub - I felt curious about the lady who'd penned this autobiographical novel about "growing old disgracefully" and upon reaching her I found that she is 67 years too young! These are excerpts from the e-mail interview with the journalist, agony aunt, columnist and author.

AD: You've experimented in distinct genres - children's fiction, advice columns, a memoir and novels. What more can we expect from the proverbial mighty pen?

VI: I'd love to write a really serious novel, but I've only managed one, which is Made for Each Other. I'm now old enough to know it's best to use my strengths, rather than hanker after some kind of literary acclaim, so it'll be humorous novels from now on, I think.

AD: The Independent review of your 2007 novel No! I Don't Want to join a Book Club reads: "Like all good humorists, agony-aunt Ironside is a natural embellisher, and Marie's diary entries are an amusing mix of self-analysis, observation and grievance." You'd mentioned in your mail to me that you are working on a follow-up - for Germany, where it has been a huge seller. What will Marie Sharp do next? Continue making diary entries or...

VI: It's difficult writing the follow up to No! I Don't Want to Join a Bookclub. I thought I had put everything amusing and touching about being old into that book. All the bits I left out went into the next book - The Virginia Monologues, Why Growing Old is Great. However, the book was such a success in Germany - it was in the top ten for months, sometimes above Stieg Larsson himself - that it seemed mad not to follow it up. I spent ages wondering how I could do it and then realised that the best thing to do would be simply to write the same book all over again. It's what all the most successful writers do, from PG Wodehouse to Raymond Chandler. So that's what I'm trying to do.

AD: On your official website you've talked about "long bouts of depression" that you suffered. In your experience did reprising Anna Raeburn role of agony aunt at Woman magazine help you? How?

VI: There is nothing more designed to cheer one up than a pile of letters from people more miserable than oneself. And answering them - and I always answered every single one, not just the ones printed in the magazine - was healing too. I always say that if you shower someone else with love and comfort, some drops of love and comfort will inevitably fall on you as well. I loved the job and still continue writing an agony column for the Indpendent newspaper.

AD: Your persona is one of a forthright person - Janey and Me is a leaf from your life depicting your struggle with your alcoholic mother and No! I Don't Want to join... is about growing old disgracefully. While writing, do you feel any kind of pressure - that you'd upset sensibilities, hurt feelings? How do you tackle those uncertainties?

VI: I wrote about my mother long after she had died, and showed it to all my family before going to print. I did the same with No! I Don't Want to Join a Bookclub - much of which is, it must be admitted, pretty autobiographical. The problem is that almost anything you write is bound to hurt someone. I have written what I've thought were dreadful things about people's parents, saying they were ruthless, back-stabbing go-getters, and they don't seem to mind a bit. But when I described someone's mother as "tittering" instead of "laughing" he didn't speak to me for years.

AD: In No! I Don't... Marie Sharp is an in-your-face agnostic. And you've said that the novel is heavily autobiographical. Many people turn to God eventually. What is your belief?

VI: In my experience many people turn away from God eventually, rather than turn to God. I have absolutely no belief in anything that we can comprehend. If there is anything going on after death or even before we existed, I imagine it is something that we can't even imagine. And in that idea or world or whatever it is, I would think that the very phrase "before or after death" or the word "spiritual" is meaningless.

AD: Journalist, Agony Aunt, columnist and now performer with Virginia Monologues - many hats, many profiles. How do you keep rocking?

VI: It is a great advantage in a way to start one's life shy and miserably depressed because if you're lucky you simply shed all these setbacks as you get older. As you lose physical energy and the ability to run for a bus, you gain confidence, certainty, and intellectual and emotional energy that you never had when young. To tell you the truth, at 67 I feel I'm only just beginning.