When I started writing Frantic in 1971 I had just returned from an extended vacation in San Francisco, where I had seen a new theatre group called The Cockettes perform at the Palace Theatre in North Beach.
I had never seen anything like them before, and during Les Ghouls, their Halloween spectacular, I was so enthusiastic I impulsively jumped up onto the stage at the end of their show. I wasn't the first person to be so spontaneous. In the late Sixties, audiences ran onto the stage nightly after gyrating in their seats during Hair.
The Cockettes were the original creators of Glam Rock. Performers like David Bowie were sartorially influenced by them.
If I had started to write Frantic today, I very much doubt I would have remembered intimate details of those crazy days, but as I actually started writing my novel in the early Seventies, I managed to record fresh sartorial and visual details of that extraordinary period in history.
At the time, I was too young to be allowed into bars in San Francisco, and was too naïve to realise that the entire city was in the political grip of a gay lib sexual revolution, which would eventually lead to same sex marriages over three and a half decades later. Unthinkable then.
Vintage clothes are in Vogue now, but in the early Seventies, second hand clothes were the norm. All the kids put their individual looks together from charity shops, which helped make street fashion more daring and innovative than ever before. I didn’t have to invent what my characters wore in Frantic, as I described their fabulous costumes from first hand observation, but fictionalised them.
For instance, Alice, the heroine in the book wore a 'pink basket cloche hat decorated with scarlet ostrich feather plumes, a Thirties pink satin sailor suit, spider web fishnet stockings, and a pair of skyscraper stilettos saturated with red rosettes.’
As I started writing Frantic shortly after I returned to London, and because my San Francisco experience were still fresh in my mind, I was able to describe friends' apartments down to the last exact detail in the novel.
‘The bedroom was a mass of ostrich feathers, which hung down from the rhinestoned ceiling to diamonté covered rugs in whispering waves. All the walls were sequin thick, illuminated by psychedelic rays tinkling from flashing prisms. Glitter of a thousand hues washed over the entire apartment, sporadically lit by flickering Chinese umbrellas concealing pot-pourri light bulbs. Garish kimonos hung on every doorknob, and piles of fancy dress lay knee-deep on the floor.’
In London clothes were equally as stylish as on the West Coast, and in Frantic Alice the heroine always looked realistic, that’s because I invariably dressed her in exaggerated versions of costumes I wore in real life:
‘What with her exotic cardigan, her Mr Buddha rayon black and silver flared skirt, silver jazz shoes and freaked out hair, plus her trademark thick smear of indelible scarlet lipstick, she looked a divine mess.’
I really did have an outfit like that, so in this instance all I did was create "Mr Buddha", the fictitious name of Tommy Robert's Mr Freedom shop.
But it wasn’t only the clothes which made the early Seventies unique. In the first part of Frantic, the music was still hardcore rock and roll, before the invention of glam rock, spearhedaded by bands like The New York Dolls, who incidentally were the forerunners of punk music.
I had been to several rock concerts in San Francisco, and re-invented the musicians and the music in Frantic solely from my observation.
‘She'd never heard a singer make noises like him before: raspy, grating ear-splitting groans, similar to a stuck pig slicing on an old fashioned corrugated iron washing board. It was a refreshing departure from traditional acid rock improvisation, when infinite guitar solos were executed before vocals. Now the music and voice were One.’
Survivors from the Seventies say that Frantic seems wildly authentic, but that's because Observation, Adaptation and Fantasy were my main tools for writing my first novel. They do say that writers should write about what they know about and I am no exception.