Novelist Laura Del-Rivo arrived in Notting Hill in the mid 1950s and has stayed ever since, bringing us wonderful stories of the area and other places a bit further afield. Del-Rivo’s first book, The Furnished Room, is set in post-war London in the early 1950s. She describes a city that was less crowded, had less traffic, had bomb sites always within view and was predominantly white. Shop and office workers spent their lunch hours in the cafeterias of Lyons and the A.B.C.
After success with The Furnished Room, which Michael Winner made into a film West 11, Del-Rivo abandoned her writing and worked for some friends who did house clearances. Basically they bought junk and sold antiques. She took charge of their market stall. “All the dealers used to come up from Bermondsey with torches,” she remembers, “to get the early bargains.” Now, she sells a colourful variety of stockings, socks and ‘twisted fifties’ dresses on a council stall under the Westway (pic above). She says: “In this job the buzz is the buying. ‘I want those leg warmers. I want that top!’ on my stall. Selling is alright if someone really likes your stuff, or needs help finding something special. If you are having a bad day it’s hard not to take it personally.” Though the good thing is there is always something on the stall that is tempting and Del-Rivo is confident of her taste: “I always think I’ve chosen the right thing.”
Del-Rivo came to live in Notting Hill by chance. In the mid-1950s her writer friend Colin Wilson lived here, at 24 Chepstow Villas. The landlady was very bohemian and the house belonged to the landlady’s parents who owned several houses in the area. A lot of wealthy people left Notting Hill during the war, and you could rent a large room cheaply in the neglected houses. The delapidated house had large beautiful rooms and it was full of writers and painters. When Wilson suddenly moved to Cornwall, Del-Rivo took over his room and has remained in the area ever since.
Happily for us, about 10 years ago, she started writing again and in 2013 Holland Park Press published Where is My Mask of an Honest Man, a collection of seven short stories set in and around Notting Hill. Her books are initially handwritten, and then typed at the publishing house. “Most of the characters are based on real people. There really was a milkman who could play chess.” Other characters are based on people she spots in the street. “There was a man with a haircut with paths cut into it, so I made this character who has somehow victimised his own head with razor cuts. It seemed a very self-mutilating style, it looked like there was wire tightly bound round his skull.” You can read about a host of other colourful characters in the beautifully written and surprising book. From any of our fabulous local bookshops, definitely Lutyens & Rubinstein, Book & Kitchen, or from … amazon
Laura Del-Rivo kindly lent me one of Colin Wilson’s books, partly set in Notting Hill. I really enjoyed it and recommend this too. It’s called Adrift in Soho Adrift-Soho-Colin-Wilson