By Muriel Marks
In 1987, in her late forties and with two marriages behind her, Muriel Marks decides to take control of her destiny, putting herself through night school to qualify as a chef. Destiny takes the upper hand however when, on a weekend break in the West Country she meets debonair English actor Leo Lewis, recently returned from the glittering world of Hollywood. Falling instantly in love, they decide to open their own restaurant together, fulfilling a long-cherished dream for Muriel. To attract visiting entertainers, they call their new venture ‘Backstage’, and Freddie Starr, Les Dawson and Johnny Cash all become appreciative patrons. Leo however prefers centre stage, especially when the alcohol is flowing. Toss a few pretty waitresses into the mix and the recipe soon becomes explosive. The little town of Paignton doesn’t know what’s hit it and neither does Muriel. As Leo’s wildly drunken behaviour escalates into violence, the restaurant degenerates into a nightly farce for the customers and a living nightmare for Muriel. After much angst she is forced to sell the business, and Leo departs back to the States and his Hollywood career. Absence soon makes the heart grow fonder however. Realising she is still in love, Muriel flies out to America to be with Leo. She finds him not in Hollywood but New Jersey, and living a far from glamorous life. The pair survive for a while on poorly paid menial work, buy a second-hand car and head west, bound for the sunshine coast of California and the movie capital of the world, where Leo has ‘contacts’. But as they pass deeper into the heart of America, with Leo increasingly drunk and Muriel in constant fear of arrest as an “illegal”, she realises she has absolutely no idea what lies ahead of her. “My Double Life” is a unique true story of cookery and crookery, showbiz and booze, of love, enduring friendship, aspiration, despair, and starting all over again. Its cast of characters is vivid and varied, from movie stars to tragic has-beens, villains and freaks to the merely eccentric, along with kindly, lost souls, everyday heroes and heroines, all set against the deceptively sleepy backdrop of the British seaside and the vast, alien landscape that is America. It is also about a woman who followed her heart and survived to tell the extraordinary tale.
Muriel Marks is currently preparing her next book, while making chutneys, jams and continuing to enjoy her passions of animals, antiques and books. My Double Life is her first book.