Writer Raffaella Barker feels that reading - and indeed writing - novels is an art we should all develop more. “Reading and creative writing is the best way to learn to empathise with people” she explains “and it’s the best way to learn about people’s characters and motivation”.
Raffaella’s life is perhaps akin to a character in one of her wonderful novels. She shares her beautiful house, overlooking Cley beach in North Norfolk, with her husband James. Her two sons Lorne and Roman and her daughter Esme are all in their 20s now, but coming home regularly is still an essential part of their lives. Inspired by the wild coastline, marshes and some artistic (and sometimes eccentric) inhabitants, Raffaella is currently writing her tenth novel.
Raffaella was always destined to write creatively; her father was the poet George Barker and her mother novelist Elspeth Barker. After spending her childhood “sulking in Norfolk, mostly in her nightie”, she moved to London after leaving school. She worked as a life model and film editor, but her writing path began when she got job a Harpers and Queen Magazine, followed by a regular column in Country Life.
Raffaella published her first novel Tell Me Some Lies in 1994 – and has received acclaim from all the broadsheet literary critics ever since, for whom she now also regularly free-lances. Currently a third of the way through writing the “trequal” to her novels Hens Dancing and Summertime - the story continuing with the Summers family in later years. She also manages to find time to teach creative writing at The University of East Anglia, as well as therapeutically in London and also privately.
Life has thrown Raffaella some tough challenges too, particularly four years ago during a routine mammogram, when she was shocked to learn that she had breast cancer. “I really recoil from the idea of having chemotherapy, and luckily in my case it was spotted early enough for me to make a choice between surgery or chemo” she told us, “I had a single mastectomy, but it really knocked me”.
What made it particularly difficult for Raffaella was that her menopause hindered her recovery. “I had terrible memory problems, a lack of self-confidence and self-belief, plus awful hot flushes, while trying to heal from major surgery”. Raffaella explained how miserable she felt at the time, and after a great deal of advice from various doctors she decided that HRT was the only answer. “It was very much my decision, based on the fact that as I hardly drink and I exercise regularly and it was much more useful for me to have a good life”.
Raffaella is a picture of health now, and without question, beautiful both inside and out. Despite her illness the sea air and her lifestyle clearly agree with her and she really does embody ageless beauty. If you’re lucky enough to spend time with Raffaella, it’s a wonderful treat. We highly recommend her private workshops, where she’ll help to inspire you and your friends to create! You can reach her through her website at www.raffaellabarker.co.uk
Here are the answers to her 5 Beautiful Thinking questions:
1. What’s the best thing about getting older?
To be able to see things from all sides. When I look out through my eyes, I feel anything from 8 to 28 to 39 to 48! I haven’t got that much awareness of myself as a 53 year old, when I’m in London on the tube, I don’t think I’m one of the eldest. I feel that I have more people that I have empathy with because I can relate to more stages of life.
2. Who is your female inspiration and why?
Angelie Jolie is my female inspiration because her example helped my kids in dealing with me having a mastectomy. When I found out I had breast cancer, no one else in our family had had it before, so for my children it was hard to understand and make sense of, as it was for me too. My eldest son Roman, asked me if I was going to have the same treatment as Angelie Jolie had talked about having the year before, and I thought “Oh yeah!”
Of course, she had a double mastectomy and a hysterectomy, but there she was still looking amazing and a beacon of strength. I explained that mine was simpler as I was only having a single mastectomy - but her experience was shorthand for how you come through something and gave context to a very personal and frightening event. I actually drew comfort from the idea that my children were relating me to someone strong, beautiful, sexy and feminine. I always thought she was marvellous, a single minded Goddess.
3. What’s your top health/spiritual/beauty tip for ageing beautifully?
The most important thing is good posture and good physicality so you can move well. I don’t think I need to look younger than I am but I want to look well. And so a good hair cut, good hair colour and good hair texture. I go to Josh Wood in London.
Also lots of exercise and laughing!
4. What would your younger self say to you now?
She would say “are you glad you had your children so young?” I would say I am so glad! I have been so lucky to have my children to grow up alongside; they keep me real and inspire me. I don’t know my younger self had it in her to be proud of anything - she was a bit wild, very impulsive and daft but she would be happy to know me I hope! I always had older women mentors. I think I have done many of things that I wanted to do.
5. What are your dreams for your future?
I have a totally bourgeois dream to have a house in another country, to have different sensory experiences and relate to other daily lives. I am especially drawn to Italy; my Dad was too and he lived there at times. I like the coast but I really love the countryside near Florence. I like the idea of a place where so much has happened – and of landscapes that are living paintings.