I can still remember the moment when Meredith Harper strolled into my head, fully formed...
Alright, that sentence is more aimed at being a snappy opening for this article, rather than the full, actual truth. It took a little bit more work than that and maybe one day I'll talk a little about that process. But, to be honest, anyone who thinks the truth should stand in the way of a good story or a witty anecdote, quite frankly isn't interesting enough to live. I'm not saying lie (necessarily), but cut the dull bits out! If you want to know what it's like to listen to the story of someone who lets things like facts get in the way of a punchline, then let me inform y'all of a time when I sat next to a "friend" in a restaurant who proceeded to regale those of us miserably trapped at her end of the table for twenty-three minutes about a time when she had visited a buffet with her boyfriend. (I can only assume he's deaf.) And she then proceeded to tell us everything they had eaten at that buffet. You think stories should be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Then I defy you to sit through anything like that. Twenty-three minutes on a buffet menu? If she'd read the actual menu out loud to us it would have taken less time! And in order to hear this pile of conversational bilge, my friend Scarlett and I had been interrupted from telling another of our hilarious stories in which we'd face-planted in a Morroccan themed nightclub and she'd accidentally attempt to seduce a dwarf! Good call, moron - your story about the sweet and sour rice which you couldn't decide was more sweet or sour was definitely much more entertaining.... Idiot.
Anyway, Meredith Harper mentally shimmied into my life in all her bon-mot dispensing, designer-loving, hyper-elegant, "never explain and never apologise" splendour when my friend Ellen Buddle handed over an article from the Guardian by Julie Burchill called Bring Back the Red-Blooded Bitch. The main giste of this article was that no-one writes great mean girls anymore. Okay, we have Regina George, Tanya Turner and Blair Waldorf. But they either learn a lesson or lose every ounce of viciousness once they fall in love. No-one writes Scarlett O'Hara, Margo Channing, Alexis Carrington or Crystal Allen these days and Julie Burchill is of the opinion that that's a pity. To quote: -
"These days, bitching is low-fat, decaffeinated and kick-free. Worse than that, it is, above all, phoney. Though the great bitches of Hollywood were dressed to kill and magnificently shallow, there was something incredibly honest about them - whether they were real, like Bette Davis, or imaginary, like her character Margo Channing in All About Eve. In the old days, a bitch came on with all guns blazing, talons sharpened and a neon sign a mile wide above her head... She may have been a gold-digger, a back-stabber or a ball-breaker - but she was never a hypocrite. She got a tremendous kick from being a bitch and didn't care who knew it."
The more I read, the more I realised Julie Burchill was right. In fact, prophet like, frankly. Look at The Other Boleyn Girl, in which Anne Boleyn is presented as a soulless, incestuous, murdering witch. In reality, the worse thing the real Anne Boleyn could have been accused of was having a nifty repertoire of put-downs and being a bit catty to people she didn't like. (Wasn't her fault Jane Seymour looked let a bulldog's butt ugly cousin!) Not everyone who's bitchy evolves to poisoning bishops and trying to seduce their gay brother, Philippa!
When I created Meredith, I wanted to create an unashamed, unapologetic super-bitch, who wasn't doing any of this because she was insecure, unhappy or, most laughably of all, jealous. She's doing it because people annoy her and she is really funny! She's not doing it to hide her own insecurities. Hitting or mocking the weak kid, the different kid, the bright kid, the poor kid or whatever is just plain disgusting and, what's worse, it's pathetic, too. It's basically a flaming declaration to the world that your own personality simply isn't interesting enough to attract attention without making people either afraid of you or participants in the neandrathal pantomime you call your life. That's being a bully and there's a big, big difference between a bitch and being a bully. One is about being nasty to those who cross you; the other is about targetting those who are weaker than you or threaten your vast but unstable ego. Never confuse being bitchy with being a bully. It's like confusing Dom Perignon with buckfast.
Meredith Elisabeth Anne Harper is supposed to be gloriously and unrepentantly bitchy. I'm not saying she doesn't have feelings. She does. She's not a sociopath. But I wanted to write a character who harks back to an age when "a bitch came on with all guns blazing, talons sharpened and a neon sign a mile wide above her head." Well, maybe not neon ... that's a bit tacky.
For Julie Burchill's full article, click here.