City Lights by Barbara Nadel

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I’m such a city person! I live in the country and I love that too, but the city is really my natural habitat. Pounding the streets of central Manchester yesterday I felt incredibly uplifted and quite liberated by the relative anonymity of it all. After all, even if you know people in a city, you can’t know anything like that many. Not in relation to the size of the place.

Of course if you’re well-known all of that changes. Back in 2007 I was invited to a restaurant where a group of Manchester United footballers had dined several months before. The staff were still going over every small detail about that particular service. It was ‘Wayne did this’ and ‘Wayne did that’ as if they had some sort of intimate knowledge of Mr Rooney and his habits. It’s quite natural to want to get close to the rich and famous from time to time and in the normal course of events there isn’t really anything wrong with that.

But what happens when you are well-known but your work depends, to some extent, upon your keeping a fairly low profile? My detective, Çetin İkmen, is now quite well-known in my fictional İstanbul. He has been on television, in the newspapers and because he was born and bred in the city he knows a lot of people. He isn’t a young man and so he’s put a fair few villains behind bars and has, as a result of that and of just being a cop, he’s made some enemies. In the book I am writing now İkmen is being drawn into an issue that is very emotive for İstanbul people. I’m not going to let on what that is but, suffice to say, whichever side of this particular argument he takes, he’s going to be in trouble with someone. Further, in order to investigate this situation it would be useful if he could walk the streets, as I can, in a state of anonymity. But even in a city of 12 million people, he is known and so he has to rely upon others, who may or may not be twisting their observations to suit their own views, to be his eyes and his ears. Recognisable as he is, he can be attacked, abused, lied to and misdirected.

This does of course make for some very interesting twists, turns and big, fat red-herrings in my story, but as a real way of life I think it is hard. Although in the UK at the moment it is quite difficult to feel too much sympathy for politicians many of whom, we now know, have played fast and loose with their expense claims. But this being recognised/fame thing does give you some sympathy for them as they go about their everyday constituency work. How does Prime Minister Gordon Brown defend the existence of a library at a public meeting in his constituency at the moment? Like him or loathe him, it must be difficult to deal with everyday problems while the worlds press try to take pictures of your eyes. Is he going blind? Isn’t he going blind? Should, just maybe, the world wait until Mr Brown lets us all know? After all they are his eyes, it is his sight that is at stake.

So even in cities you can be hassled if you’re someone. It’s why, even if I were young and lovely and vocally talented, I wouldn’t put myself forward for any of these talent competitions like the X Factor. I love wandering around being myself, being free and alone and totally unmolested by others. True, the money that goes with all that, would come in very handy and I would still like to be a rather more well-known author. But to be recognised wherever I go? No, I don’t think so. Yesterday in central Manchester I pranced around in some dress shops ‘modelling’ some truly mad and totally inappropriate clothes. Now I ask you, would you want your mother to see you doing something like that on the 6 o’clock news?

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