Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Why I grieve for Nora, whose wit, wisdom and huge talent I will miss

I was half way through writing this column when I heard Nora Ephron had died. It took me all of half a minute to delete everything I'd typed so far and start again. I try not to be one of those people who announce a new hole in their life every time a high profile person dies. But I make an exception for Nora Ephron, because I really do feel this one.

In a way, Ephron was almost everything I ever wanted to be. In fact, scratch that - apart from twice divorced, she was absolutely everything I wanted to be. I studied film and literature at university, and fantasised about being a journalist one day.

She scripted and directed films, wrote novels and essays and worked as a newspaper journalist right up until she died. And she was brilliant in every field. She covered every inch of my vaulting ambitions and towered over every big dream I had.

In a time when the film industry had almost no female voices at all - there is still only a handful - Nora Ephron was a giantess.

She never seemed intimidated by being so thoroughly surrounded by men; indeed she seemed to relish the challenge. She embraced her female instincts and interests and wrote beautifully, with great warmth and humour, about the stuff she really cared about; love, family, people.

And with films like When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle, she created characters that will live on in movie folklore long past her own, or any of our lifetimes. I remember re-watching Sleepless in Seattle one night and being overjoyed to find that the loveable, funny Meg Ryan/Nora Ephron female lead shared a name with my daughter. It made me sure I'd picked the right name.

As well as writing some of the best films about relationships of the last few decades - perhaps, with When Harry Met Sally, the only one to come close to Woody Allen - Ephron was also a hilarious, quirky, truthful newspaper writer.

She could turn her legendary wit to any subject - from the pros and cons of Teflon to the fundamental differences between men and women - with such brio and intelligence, she could make it compelling. And so much fun to read.

Better than that, she was also said to be just about the best company anyone could ever hope to keep. Even men - my God, even movie men! - admitted she was often the funniest person in the room. And she spent a lot of times in rooms with extremely smart, acerbic men, from Rob Reiner, the director of When Harry met Sally and one of the greatest laugh out loud movies of all time, Spinal Tap, to her ex-husband, Watergate journo Carl Bernstein. Maybe that's what I envied her for most of all; she could shut up even the most heavyweight of male egos with a neat one-liner.

But in the end I think I loved her most for the soft heart which nestled quietly below all those razor-sharp bon mots. Just go back and watch the scene when Harry tells Sally he loves her, that 'crinkle above your nose when you're looking at me like I'm nuts' and all.

Or watch the scene in You've Got Mail in which Meg Ryan remembers being a little girl dancing and being swung around by her late mother. I cannot watch it, or even think of it, without a lump in my throat.

Knowing the woman who put that sepia-soaked memory in my head is no longer around really does leave me with a little hole in my life.

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