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Brilliant flights of fancy from husband and wife team

PUBLISHED: 13:31 24 December 2006 | UPDATED: 10:28 07 September 2010

Husband and wife writers, Edward Thorpe and Gillian Freeman, talk to Bridget Galton about their latest novels HIGHGATE couple Edward Thorpe and Gillian Freeman have published books in the same month – both released by Arcadia. Both are works of fiction b

Husband and wife writers, Edward Thorpe and Gillian Freeman, talk to Bridget Galton about their latest novels

HIGHGATE couple Edward Thorpe and Gillian Freeman have published books in the same month - both released by Arcadia.

Both are works of fiction based closely on factual events - although the similarities end there.

Freeman, 77, a novelist and screenwriter who worked with directors Jack Cardiff, Robert Altman and Sidney J Furie, has brought to life the famed Bloomsbury Group of Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell, Lytton Strachey and Vita Sackville-West.

Thorpe, a former actor and Evening Standard dance critic, has imagined the close personal correspondence of a fictional German pilot for The Luftwaffe Letters.

Both works have been years in gestation. Freeman had originally researched the Bloomsbury Group for a planned script that never came off.

Reluctant to waste her efforts, she decided to release the unconventional band of intellectuals from the pages of biography and vividly colour in their conversations in a novel.

But Nobody Lives In Bloomsbury took Freeman two years to write because she can only type with one finger following a debilitating stroke a decade ago.

"It's such a claustrophobic little group of people all in love with the wrong person," she says. "That kind of unrequited love can be personally devastating - but at the same time they broke the boundaries of their day. They took the stuffy Edwardian milieu and broke all the social rules and morals."

Freeman has often been drawn to unconventional subject matter. Her novel and 1964 screenplay The Leather Boys had a taboo-busting homosexual theme, The 1967 book The Undergrowth Of Literature, was a cause celebre for its study of contemporary publications about fetishes and dominant/submissive relationships, and 1972's I Want What I Want was one of the first films to deal with transsexuals.

Freeman feels that Woolf was probably a "very prickly person".

"You would have to feel yourself on the same intellectual plane to talk to her. She was so highly intelligent, rigidly examining everything. She could be devastatingly exact in her thoughts but was probably a difficult person to love."

Thorpe, who is also the Ham&High's dance critic, says he has channelled a "lifelong obsession with aircraft" into his latest novel.

"I wanted to be a pilot. When other boys were reading Magnet or Wizard I was poring over Aeroplane and Flight."

In later life he became fascinated by the story behind the Luftwaffe - how the Nazi leaders created an elite force with the most advanced military aircraft - then self-destructed in a mess of bad mistakes and overbearing egos.

Thorpe says the German fighter pilots were the least touched by Nazi Party politics - but were finally thwarted by Hitler's bad decisions.

He has created a whole network of family and friends for his fictional pilot Peter von Vorzik - an aristocratic background, a new wife, a devout Catholic sister and a brother high up in the SS.

Von Vorzik doesn't sign up to Nazi ideology but is passionate about flying and wishes for the war to be over so he can join Lufthansa.

"They were a very special band those fighter pilots," says Thorpe.

"The cream of their generation. Although we were outnumbered in the Battle of Britain, we had radar and our Spitfires and Hurricanes were a match for the Messerschmidts. We also had the advantage of flying over our own airspace, while they could only engage in combat for 10 to 12 minutes before having to return to refuel."

Thorpe says the demise of the Luftwaffe is detailed in the book, Goering's tactical mistakes, the force overstretched in attacks on Russia and Hitler's refusal to accept the numbers of aircraft from Russia and America.

"On D-Day, the fighting force was totally overwhelmed."

The couple, who have two daughters, Harriet and Matilda, and live in Southwood Lawn Road, maintained a long friendship with Gosford Park director Altman until his death last month.

Freeman wrote his early 1969 screenplay about a psycho killer, That Cold Day In The Park, and says she probably got on well with him because she "wasn't too upset about any changes he made to my script".

The auteur was renowned for encouraging improvisation and shooting on multiple cameras - deciding later what would make it into the final cut.

"It was one of my first films and I thought everyone worked like that," smiles Freeman. "Bob was malleable and open to suggestion. He wanted his actors and writers to tell him what they felt about the film."

Thorpe says the 81-year-old had kept quiet about a heart transplant nine years before for fear of losing the vital insurance needed to secure his films' finances.

"Bob had an easy laid-back charm. We had a lovely evening with him in his house in Malibu three weeks before he died. He looked frail but was in great spirits and didn't seem ill. He was chafing to get back to New York to his next project.

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