Read Vogue, buy the perfume

So they got Sophie Dahl to do a column on perfume.

A while ago, the husband bought me the book on perfume (called, I think Perfumes) by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez that covers almost every scent since it was first made commercially available – except my favourite, Jardin Clos by Diptyque – and in the process creates a whole new syntax and vocabulary for describing olfactory moments.

I loved Patrick Suskind’s Perfume when it came out and was amazed that he could sustain his hypnotic descriptiveness of these moments across three hundred pages of historical serial killer suspense.

Anyway, back to Vogue. I’m slightly nervous when I hear Sophie Dahl is going to have her own column. She’s a published writer and the grand-daughter of the granddaddy of them all, but will she actually have the time to write all the words herself? I hope so, because they’re lovely words and I’m enjoying the column and, guess what, it worked, and this kind of one-stage-removed subliminal sales stuff almost never works on me.

CristalleShe described Cristalle, by Chanel. I wore it when I was in my twenties and doing fun stuff like falling in love and reading a LOT of books. I must have been happy, because the smell of it now makes me supremely content. And I’m smelling it now because when I was out shopping, with my MW cardigan fresh in my bag, I bought a bottle in Liberty.

My Perfumes book gives it five stars – an exceptional, timeless scent – but points out that it can be a bit scary and reminds you of a glorious woman getting up and putting her clothes back on after a night of sublime passion. Not the promise of it, but the suggestion that the woman in question, although perfectly capable of it, has other things to do.

It doesn’t suggest this to me at all, of course, although they’re usually right in that book so I bow to their judgment. To me it suggests writing a children’s novel people are starting to like and shopping with my stepdaughter (we went to Abercrombie & Fitch and she looks jaw-dropping in the results, no surprises there) and finding THE LAST MW CARDIGAN IN LONDON and coming home to the man who buys me surprise dresses when I make enough suitable hints.

I may be wearing it for a while.

The sign of the feather

Matthew Williamson's first show - the cardi

Matthew Williamson's first show - the cardi

Some things are meant to be.

I blogged here a while ago about my favourite fashion moments. One of them was Matthew Williamson’s first show, when he got his mates to model and they included Jade Jagger and Kate Moss, and he dressed them in rainbow-bright colours with cheeky cardigans and their hair in unusual oversized buns.

I’ll always remember the photos of Kate, hair up, dress v sexy, bright turquoise cardigan v cute, looking like a girl who’d just found a fabulous new best friend in this amazing designer.

So now he does a high street collection for H&M. Something I’m researching at the moment, so taking an interest is actually work, as well as immense pleasure. Despite living in London, I know for a fact that everything will sell out in the first hour to people with sharper elbows than me, and probably big accounts on ebay, so I don’t even bother to go.

But on Saturday, I’m shopping in town with my younger stepdaughter and we happen to be in Oxford Circus and we go into the wrong H&M store (the one that doesn’t do children’s clothes), and there is a rack with about 4 MW items on it – the things that didn’t sell or got returned, I assume.

And one of them is his signature bright pink cardigan, with his signature peacock feather on it. The only one left. In my size. Stepdaughter says buy it, so I buy it. And there it is, in my wardrobe, a piece of fashion memorabilia that I won’t bother to add to the massive number of pieces already marked down for various children in my will, because by then it will be overused, holey, bobbled and unwearable.

It fits, it goes with nearly everything, it’s beautifully made, it wasn’t that expensive and the detailing (dah-ling) is an instant pick-me-up: pink sparkly buttons and tiny beads on the feather, which extends across the upper shoulder.

Clever Matthew. You really can have a dream, and make it, and sell it, and make other people happy with it.

Especially when they don’t have to fork out a fortune on ebay to get their hands on it.

Location location location


Two pieces of advice for would-be writers:

1 – Write. To some, this is obvious. To others, less so. Over the years, various writers have said it to me. The last one was David Almond (kerlanggg), a few weeks ago. Actually, by then it was ‘keep writing’, but the point still applies. It’s very simple. Don’t complicate it. Just do it. You’ll learn from it. If you never have time to do it, are you sure it’s what you really want to do?

2 – Set your book somewhere you really like visiting. Because if you’re lucky people will want to meet you in the setting of your book. So, mineshaft: bad; V&A: good.

I was there this morning, to meet ‘my German publisher’ (YES YES YES!). After a lovely coffee in the garden in the sunshine, I showed her the costume collection, which is my spiritual home and is where two of the key scenes in the book are set.

Aside from the fact that ‘my German publisher’ (ahem, YES YES YES! Again) is a warm and wonderful person I could spend time with anywhere, this was pure bliss.

It was followed by a quick, inevitable trip to the shop, where I bought more acrylic jewellery, and a visit to the silver collection, where a friend of my parents-in-law has a communion cup on display. I say this casually, as if that’s what one does, but I AM VERY IMPRESSED. Even more so to know that he made it when he was 24.

My book is a fairy tale, but such things can happen in real life.

I spotted his piece instantly. It was the first one whose label I checked. And luckily, for the record, it was my favourite by far. Paul, you are a very clever artist.

All fabulous. Followed by a fabulous bus trip back to my library, down Knightsbridge and Sloane Street and the Kings Road, in the sunshine, surrounded by Londoners enjoying the weather. Plus some more pages of my current book (to read): ‘Jeff in Venice’ by Geoff Dyer. It’s sublime and to those of us who feel we own Venice, a worthy tribute. Like your best trip to Venice ever, multiplied by love and cocaine. Which it is. I wouldn’t know about the cocaine bit personally, or care to, but I do know from experience that Venice is a good backdrop for falling in love.

Only problem: I arrived at the library in such a good mood, so buoyed by my fabulous evening, fabulous day, that I haven’t written a word of book 2 so far today. There is such a thing as too much fun.

Unreliable narration

Well, I didn’t wear the sequins. Or the Anna Lou brooch I eventually found on the Northcote Road (I never did locate my jewellery box with the elephants in). I did manage the Jasper Conran DJ, but in the end I wore it over the little pink cocktail dress with my name on it that the husband bought me after all, on the afternoon of my book reading.

He took my comments on this blog, and elsewhere, as hints, rather than the submissive acceptance of common sense they were. He is a very nice man.

Having learned from experience, I had my hair done by a professional, which gave me the weird opportunity to ask for the first, and possibly only, time in my life if I could look like Emma Watson. From a hair-stylistic point of view. We agreed I was the spitting image.

The reading itself went fine. I actually enjoyed it. Thank God I wrote a book I can face revisiting. The party around it was surreal. It was in high-baroque surroundings, at Beach Blanket Bablylon in Notting Hill. Not only that, but the weather was perfect, more summer than spring, balmy and blue. And lots of people wanted to meet me. If you go to a publishing event and wander around with a sticker on your chest saying ‘author’, people do. And of those, the ones who’d read the book loved it and understood it and had clearly been made happy by it. I think I only spent about three minutes in my normal party mode of wondering what the hell to do next to pretend that I’m busy.

Somebody said somewhere, and it was repeated, that writing and publishing are two completely different animals. This is useful to know. Writing is private, imaginative and literary. Publishing is collegiate, purposeful and numerate. It’s fun to dip into for a while, but I’d hate to become obsessed by it.

It could be tempting. How many translations? How many copies sold in, and sold out? (I’ve only recently learned those are two different things.) Any movie deal? How big? How many festivals? How many interviews? And I guess, later, how many reviews? How positive? How influential? And where on the book charts? And on Amazon? (Current answer: about 255,000th)

There are endless lists of things to worry about, other than what your characters are up to, if you choose to be so inclined. I can’t believe it leads to happiness. Whereas I know for a fact that getting characters into and out of difficult situations absolutely does.

So far I haven’t sold a single copy of my book. Correction: I’ve pre-sold two (to my ex and current husbands). It’s a nice position to be in because it makes it impossible to take all these numbers seriously. And I haven’t received a bad review (there have been none at all). But I might get a film deal and I might be sold in the States and Germany and Brazil and Japan. Which I gather are the biggest book markets. Again – who knew? It’s perfect and will probably never get any better than this.

No stress. No pressure. Lots of people who like my book and want other people to like it too. Lots of possibilities. Nobody disappointed yet. Second book going fine. I’ll try and turn it into a meditation so I can return to this happy state later, when things get stickier.

Oh, that bit was reliable narration, by the way. The unreliable bit was suggesting I would show up in sequins and then not doing it. Sorry.

My other bag is a Fendi

I was on Twitter, looking up the London Book Fair (which I’m not at, but will be going to a bit of later, see passim) when I finally decided to check out Stephen Fry.


His tweets make almost no sense at all until you see what he’s replying to. It’s what people send him and how he reacts that makes the whole thing so compulsive. I was on for five minutes and I’m already more wired, hooked up and tuned in than I’ve ever been.

One thing he was touched by was a tee-shirt that says ‘Stephen Fry is my friend, no seriously’, with the Twitter logo. If you tweet, it’s funny, trust me. They also point out, on the shopping site (shoptdeadinthehead), that “No, he won’t have a clue who you are in real life. No, not even if you do a Blackadder impression…”, which is fair enough.

But on that page – oh joy of the internet – they were advertising another of their products. It’s a pure Anya Hinmarch ‘I’m not a plastic bag’ (my younger stepdaughter has one I AM SOOO JEALOUS) take-off, which is quite funny in itself, and it says ‘My other bag is a Fendi’. It’s one of those if-I-have-to-explain-it-you-won’t-get-it moments, but it’s one of the funniest things I’ve seen. Sheer genius. I’d put up a picture, but for once the internet fails me and it won’t let me. Here’s a link: ‘My other bag is a Fendi‘.

Now back to Stephen Fry, my new best friend. Well, technically my leader, I suppose, because I’m about to be a follower. Soooo many more excuses not to write the novel. Except it’s still going pretty well and shortly I will return to it, to extricate my characters from one tricky situation and dump them into the next one.

Then I might try Ashton Kutcher. It’s a Twitter thing.


Is it sensible, when you’re forty-two and know better, to wear a long, sequinned tee-shirt to a party/book reading? As a dress? If you wear black tights and shoes and a jacket to tone the thing down?

If you have to ask the question, you know the answer, Sophia Bennett. The answer is no. No no no no no no no! Everyone else at the party/book reading will have spent the day in London Book Fair meetings and will be in Sensible Shoes. Will they think you look like some latter day glamourpuss Zadie Smith? Or a scatty old lady who forgot to put on her strides? You know the answer and yet you persist.

The thing is, after the Barbie episode the husband sensibly suggested not buying more fashion-related stuff until I actually receive some money from book sales. So although the perfect little cocktail number is dangling from a hanger in my local boutique, in my size, practically with my name on it, I have to prise something out of my existing wardrobe and wear that.

Hard to believe, but I was with my mother when I bought the sequinned tee-shirt dress last year. Of course, to my mother I will always be twenty-two, and that’s lovely. But my mother won’t be there on Tuesday.

Everything else in the wardrobe is too old/plain/sensible/boring. I need to wear something that will make foreign publishers and book buyers think ‘Threads? What’s that again? Oh, it’s that book by that woman I met in London at the Book Fair.’ Jeans and a tee-shirt won’t do it. My old Ghost dresses (knee length, sensible) won’t do it. The sequins are not sartorially ideal, but they are at least memorable.

Sure, the book buyers will think, ‘Oh yes, it’s that book by crazy, shiny woman I tried to avoid at the Book Fair,’ but the point is, they will remember me. And hopefully remember that my book is shiny and lovely and wonderful. And forgive me, I hope.

Or blame my husband. I’ll tell them it was his idea.


Various things have arrived recently.

First, my Daisy Daisy handbag. Lovely! It looks like a soft toy version of a handbag, but you can actually use it. It’s very turquoise. Can’t wait till it’s summery enough outside to justify the mind-bending colour.

Second, Barbie. She’s tall, sassy and gorgeous. Thanks to Herve’s assiduousness, she got here the day after I ordered her. Sadly, I have nowhere to put her out where she’ll be safe from the clutches of the two year-old, so she’s camping out in the top of my wardrobe. One day, however, she’ll have pride of place in my study. When I have a study.


The first proofs arrived today. Five of them. All Chicken House yellow, cheerful and intriguing. And solid objects that you can open and read.

Of course I was thrilled, but weirdly, I was less thrilled than when I found the book on Amazon, even though these are real copies and that was just a name and a price tag. Go figure. I think I’ve just run out of thrill for the moment. The bank is empty. The river has run dry.

Plus, I was looking for typos. Can’t help it. Haven’t found any yet, but there are a couple of tweaks I’d like to see. Once a proof reader, always a proof reader.

I have to read from one of the copies on Tuesday. Luckily ‘my editor’ has insisted on large type and leading (I love arcane printing terminology – always have), so it’s easy to see the words from a distance with forty two year-old eyes.

I’m staring at the little pile of copies now, still trying to be thrilled. Still just feeling mostly tired. Partly due to the two year-old being awake between two and five this morning.

However, one unexpected paragraph does make me smile. Barry, ‘my publisher’, has written a little foreword that I didn’t know about. It’s sweet and personal and charming and shows how deeply and completely he’s understood my book.

Thank you Barry. Your latest author, though tired and low on thrill factor, is very touched.