Raised in New York and a long time resident of Notting Hill, Bella Pollen is an author and journalist who writes for UK and US Vogue, The Times, The Sunday Telegraph and the Observer. She has written 5 novels and most recently an illustrated memoir, Meet Me in the In-Between, which looks at her journey from privileged childhood in Upper Manhattan to an early marriage to the son of an Italian Godfather, to the border towns of Mexico where she falls in with a crowd of Pink Floyd-loving smugglers. From setting up a fashion business, to motherhood and relationships, the book is a funny, poignant memoir about belonging, searching and most of all, discovering. We asked Bella about life in Notting Hill, writing and what she is working on next.
The theme of escaping is one that runs through many of your books – where do you go to escape in London?
The only time I do any decent thinking is when I’m walking. In London I try to walk everywhere, linking parks and bridges, rivers and hopping on the occasional Boris Bike. I have a hopeless sense of direction, so I get lost quite a bit.
What is the least-known best kept secret in London?
The Grant Musuem of Zoology, a macabre and wonderful labyrinth of skulls and oddities and creepy things in formaldehyde. I mean, obviously, it’s for geeks who like that kind of thing, which I do.
What’s your favourite website/app?
I’m distracted the whole time by the New Yorker online, it seems to send me something every ten minutes to read and I can’t not read whatever it sends. I also really like the game Slither. Someone put it on my phone a few years ago and now I can’t stop playing with the pixelated munching worm.
What was the best present you’ve ever received?
A friend in the States gave me a booklet for a paper cut out Michelle Obama doll and all her outfits to match. Hours of fun.
What are you reading?
Anna Karenina, which I’m ashamed to say I’ve never read before. I’ve barely read any of the classics and am starting only now.
Where do you go for Sunday brunch?
I still love The Electric on Portobello for Sunday brunch. They have that thick thick smoked bacon, which is like a wedge of sweet fatty pork belly.
What is your favourite memory of London?
I was buying a saucepan once in a local shop on Westbourne Grove, years ago. It was during a tense political period in London. A muslim and a skinhead got into a fight in the middle of the store. The guy who owns the store is Indian. He saw what was happening and switched on the television. The World Cup was on. The fight stopped immediately and both men started cheering England on together. It was a really nice moment.
You live in Notting Hill which has changed markedly over the past 20 years. What do you miss and what do you like about the present Notting Hill?
I first lived in Notting Hill in the late seventies. The thing I miss the most is the Coronet Cinema, which was the last cinema in London you were allowed to smoke in. I watched Mad Max there and accidentally set myself on fire, it made me so nervous.
It’s a cliché to complain that Notting Hill has poshed up beyond recognition. It’s true but everywhere changes. I miss the gas station, I miss the oddbods who used to live in the area. I miss the stores that sold practical things, but I guess this is the story of much of London. Notting Hill is green, it’s windy because it’s on a hill, which I love. It has fantastic food, it has the market and it’s never lost its laid back multicultural vibe.
What do you recommend for writer’s block?
I’m pretty sure writer’s block is fear based. But having the block is so frightening in itself that you get caught in a cycle of fear because you’re scared by the death of imagination. Reading helps, not books, but newspapers, short articles. Writers are on transmit so much that sometimes that they forget about the input. Ideas come out of the minestrone of stuff swirling around your brain and you have to keep adding to it.
What is the subject of your next book?
Secret lives and the genesis of double families.
Meet me in the In-Between, a memoir by Bella Pollen is out now in paperback, £8.99 and published by Picador.