Life won’t stop at 65 for Deborah Moggach

Deborah Moggach attended a screening of the film, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, followed by a ques

Deborah Moggach attended a screening of the film, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, followed by a question and answer session - Credit: Archant

Woman behind feel-good bestseller made into blockbuster movie shares plenty with guests of the Exotic Marigold Hotel

The unlikely theme of pensioners finding love has proved a bestselling boon for Hampstead author Deborah Moggach.

Her 2004 novel These Foolish Things has now shifted 300,000 copies after being turned into blockbuster Brit movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Directed by Shakespeare in Love’s John Madden, with a to-die for cast that includes Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy, it centres on a group of lonely British retirees who move to the cheaper, warmer climes of a ramshackle Indian hotel.

Curled up on a sofa in her Heathside home, Moggach jokes that it has made late flowering love all the rage, with oldies in clinches left right and centre on the big and small screen.

“I think it was a hit because of the strength of the performances and it’s a feel-good film that makes you think life doesn’t stop at 65,” says the 64-year-old.

“If you have spirit and are open to things, you can have all sorts of adventures, but it doesn’t shirk the fact that old age isn’t for cissies and India is not for the fainthearted.

Most Read

“All these Hollywood types didn’t realise people my age and upwards want something that reflects their experience. Old age is not just about getting dementia or heart attacks, it’s about muddling along being a human being, making the same mistakes in love you did in your teens but a bit less dignified – you don’t want them to see you naked.”

Finds love again

As a baby boomer, Moggach has no truck with the old school resignation of sticking with lifelong relationships – however unsatisfactory.

“Baby boomers have challenged as we have gone along, 65-year-olds today aren’t what 65-year-olds used to be.”

Moggach herself is a case in point. Though slim, stylishly dressed, coiffed and made-up, it is her ready laugh and riotous, Bohemian take on life that lends her the youthful demeanour of someone decades younger.

And like her Marigold Hotel guests, she’s found love again, with Mark who lives in a charming Welsh town Presteigne which she has worked into her sixteenth novel Heartbreak Hotel.

Warm-hearted, boozy thesp Russell “Buffy” Buffery has inherited a ramshackle B&B from his erstwhile theatrical landlady, and sets about running “courses for divorces” to teach newly single people the skills they’ve always relied on their other half to provide.

“I am interested in endings,” says Moggach, who has a marriage and one or two long-term relationships under her belt. “In the old days we didn’t have an ending, you got married and one of you died. Now most of us have several relationships because we live so long and we expect too much of marriage and our fuse is shorter and we bail out at the first sign of trouble.

“It’s easier to deal with beginnings because we are madly in love and think the best of the other person, but endings are difficult because the love and goodwill has gone and we have to learn to deal with that gracefully.”

In relationships, she muses, you often divvy up tasks. One might be better at cooking or finance, another might always fix the car or tend the garden.

“It can feel like a terrible bereavement when a relationship ends, and even more so when the sink blocks, or the car breaks down.”

Shot through with Moggach’s trademark wit and humanity, the novel draws us into Buffy’s idiosyncratic world and inevitably the bedsprings are soon groaning beneath the weight of rebounding divorcees of all ages copping off with each other.

Even the septuagenarian host, whose Ex Wives were the subject of a previous Moggach novel, gets in on the act.

“When you fall in love later in life you both have a lot of baggage, and feeling jealous of someone’s past or their exes is really about missing your own youth as well as the person they were as a lithe younger man instead of the wrinkled old baldy you’ve ended up with.”

“That sort of elegiac feeling to do with one’s lost youth and coming to terms with the person he’s been with, all those other people, is interesting.

“I know two people trying to book a holiday where neither had gone with previous partners, and found the only place they could go was Luxembourg.”

The novel also takes pin-sharp, humorous swipes at the recession and the shortcomings of living in London.

“I love it in Wales,” says the author, who grew up in Camden Town and has lived in Hampstead for decades.

“I’d move there like a shot if it I didn’t have kids here.”

“I don’t want to romanticise small town life but you walk down the high street and know everyone, you can buy everything, there’s a butchers, a fishmongers and no huge supermarket. It’s like a soap opera where the man in the deli gets a neck massage in exchange for a trout... there’s this continuity with people that as a Londoner I invest with romanticism.”

Literary gene

Moggach, who is no slouch as a screenwriter with hits including Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice, is busy adapting Heartbreak Hotel for TV.

“It’s wonderful to do both novels and scripts. Scripts quite often don’t get done, they need the funds or the producer goes somewhere else and giving your energy and imagination to something that doesn’t get made is frustrating. Then there is that lovely secret thing of going into a novel. But if I get too lonely writing novels I can go into the more sociable world of scripts, or if I get sick of writing squillions of drafts and them not getting done, or someone else taking it over, I can go back into the private world where you have total control and make up characters who go to Bermuda because no one will say it’s too expensive.”

With Moggach’s own parents both writers, the literary gene clearly runs in the family since her daughter Lottie is about to publish her debut novel. (Her son Tom has also written a non-fiction book called The Urban Kitchen Gardener).

“My parents wrote very different sorts of books so I didn’t feel inhibited or that I was treading on their toes, but Lottie was writing a novel, which is what I do. It could have been difficult or rocky but it wasn’t, and she’s had publishers fighting each other over it:which is wonderful.”

n Heartbreak Hotel is out now published by Chatto&Windus priced £14.99.