Life Lessons with Sir Ronald Harwood CBE
Sir Ronald Harwood CBE, 77, is a playwright, author and screenwriter who is most famous for his screenplays of The Dresser, The Pianist (for which he won an Oscar) and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. He was in the UAE last week for the Abu Dhabi Festival.
1. Take chances. This is especially relevant for an artist – if you play it safe you will never do what you’re supposed to. People take jobs that make them feel secure, then try to write at night and weekends. In reality, the only job that would work with might be teaching because of the long holidays. Of course there are plenty of examples of people who have managed it, but if you want to write novels or play music, then just go for it. As Voltaire said: “Doubt is an uncomfortable position but certainty is absurd.”
2. Keep a still centre. If something went wrong I used to thrash about. I don’t do that anymore but rather I keep still and let it play out. I also never regret anything – I have made some terrible decisions in my life but never have I regretted one of them. I find that they always lead to something that you don’t regret and something that is helpful.
3. Discipline yourself. I always call myself a casual labourer but I try to make it as little of the casual as possible. Get up at the same time, start work at the same time and finish at the same time. Forget about weekends until the work is done. That’s what I’ve done for 60-odd years and that’s how the work gets done, especially on long novels or plays. Mind you, I’ve never been good on holidays.
4. Say yes to everything. I say yes to every invitation I get. Sometimes when it comes to it, I don’t go, but you never know where these opportunities will lead. Life is all to do with people, the people you meet and how you get on with them, what qualities they have and what your meeting leads to.
5. Love your family. That’s what parents are for, to be there for their children, otherwise what’s the point? The triumph of parenthood is if your children like you when they grow up.
As told to Helena Frith Powell
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor in chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group. She writes a beauty blog wwwbeautyorbeast.uk.
Her third novel, The Arnolfini Marriage, based on a romance that evolves around a van Eyck masterpiece came out in 2016. As well as writing regularly for newspapers and magazines, Helena is also working on a thriller called Welcome to Sweden that will be published in spring 2018. Her latest non-fiction work Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles is out in hardback and will be out in paperback in January 2018.
Helena was educated at Durham University and lived in the Languedoc region of France for eight years, where the family still have a home. She lives in London with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square January 2018
Welcome to Sweden; Gibson Square spring 2018