Stranger in a familiar land Writer Susan Crosland is being introduced to her native country

May 21, 1992|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,Staff Writer

New York -- This is how British invasions work these days: Take over a room at chic Le Cirque for the night. Invite a mix of celebrities of the moment and powers-that-always-will-be from the media (Barbara Walters), entertainment (movie mogul Barry Diller) and that fuzzy place where people are famous for being famous (Ivana Trump). Call the paparazzi, pour the drinks and introduce to America . . .

Susan Crosland.

Who, if you're British, needs no introduction: She is the popular writer of racy novels (that everyone just knows are about personal pals like Henry Kissinger and Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown), elegantly crafted celebrity profiles and political columns from an astute, insider perspective.

"It's very odd having made your way in another country to come back to your own as an unknown," said Ms. Crosland, who at 56 is one of those radiantly self-assured women, glamorous in a sort of off-hand way.

Perhaps the only Americans who similarly need no introduction to her are Baltimoreans of a certain ilk and age: The ones who xTC know her as Susan Watson of Roland Park, daughter of Sun correspondent and editor Mark Watson, niece of Sun editor John Owens and former wife of the Sun correspondent Patrick Skene Catling, who initially took her to London, where she has settled on a mostly permanent basis.

"Dangerous Games," her second novel, is being pushed as the crossover book that will make her as celebrated here as she is in England. Already a best seller on that side of the Atlantic, the book -- a sort of thriller/romance novel whose sexy, powerful characters seem, as they say, thinly veiled versions of real-life media and political luminaries -- has been published here by Random House.

That publishing house happens to be headed by Ms. Brown's husband, Harold Evans, and together they gave the Le Cirque party Tuesday night for their friend and her book, which has insiders buzzing in a guessing game over the characters.

"It's Tom Clancy in high heels," Ms. Brown said of her longtime friend's book. "It's got a lot of verve. It's funny. It's been making the rounds [at Vanity Fair], and everyone loves it."

The current consensus seems to be that Ms. Brown is the model for the main character, Georgie Chase, a dynamic magazine editor with a successful career on both sides of the Atlantic. (To blur the fiction-nonfiction line just barely, though, Ms. Crosland gave Georgie the trademark bob-and-bangs hairstyle and heavy-on-black wardrobe of Vogue editor Anna Wintour.)

And, of course, all these women -- Georgie, Tina, Anna and Susan -- are of that trans-Atlantic set that has seemingly taken over a certain faction of journalism, especially its magazines. They offer a perspective that manages to be inside and outside at the same time, Ms. Crosland believes.

"They bring just enough of the outsider's eye to see various strands of America from a few paces away," Ms. Crosland says of the British editors' successes with American magazines. "And it's what I can do in England. I can see what is odd about the English that the natives don't quite see."

Still, several decades after moving to England, she is very much a part of the inner, Buckingham Palace-10 Downing Street circle. Much of that comes from her marriage to Tony Crosland, the charismatic and beloved Labor Party politician who died suddenly and tragically in 1977. (Ms. Crosland married him in 1964 after divorcing her first husband, with whom she had two daughters.)

Her years with Mr. Crosland were heady ones: The Labor Party was in power, Mr. Crosland was arguably among its most brilliant theoreticians, and their social circle encompassed political and media stars on both sides of the Atlantic. Ms. Crosland, then writing as Susan Barnes, was considered the originator in the British press of the insightful, stimulating celebrity profile in which the writer's eye was as much a part of the story as the subject of that gaze.

Ms. Crosland laughs now at how, when everyone was playing who's who over her first novel, "Ruling Passions," no one believed the one detail about her lead character, Daisy, that actually was true to life: Both Ms. Crosland and her fictional alter ego told the hiring editor that they were experienced American journalists who happened to leave their clips behind when they moved abroad.

"I think this editor was amused by the simple brashness of it all," Ms. Crosland says.

And she herself seems amused rather than annoyed by the continual insinuation that her novels are mere glosses on real life people and events -- especially because her novels have a reputation for the sexy stuff.

"It's very odd about sex: In a certain genre of writing, such as the detective novel, you can have some violence and you can have some sex, because it's that genre. But as soon as you cross outside that genre, it's absolutely assumed any sex is based on personal experience," she says.

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