Happy Birthday

We have two family birthdays this week, so I’ve been baking, shopping, organising, wrapping and generally worrying about whether or not we will mark the days with enough fanfare. It’s silly, really. The ingredients of a good birthday celebration, for me, are:

  • a great home-made cake, preferably flavoured with fresh orange juice and peel
  • tea in bed
  • smiling, happy family
  • one or two presents to open. Doesn’t matter what they are, as long as they’re nicely wrapped
  • a funny birthday card from my husband
  • bubbles

And that’s kind of it. I think it’s true for most of our family and yet somehow we get caught up in the parties, balloons, endless boxes arriving from Amazon and general stress.

All of which means I’ve missed out on another birthday that I meant to mark with some sort of celebration. Threads officially came out at the beginning of September last year. So much happened in the months leading up to it, and so much has happened since, that the date just sort of floated by. But I wanted to remember some highlights of the last year while they’re still fresh. Here are the ones that spring to mind:

  • My book on the shelves of Waterstones in Kensington High Street, which was the first time I ever saw it in the wild. Took pictures. Posted them on this blog. Felt good.
  • Seeing a girl take Threads out of her school backpack and read it on her way home
  • My launch party at Village Books in Wandsworth. Old friends and family, plus the people who kept me going while I was writing the book. It was my way of saying thank you and I loved every single minute. One of my favourite parties ever
  • Joining the Society of Authors and putting their blue card in my wallet
  • Changing my occupation on Linked-In to Writer
  • The Threads reviews. Thank you to every single person who’s written about Threads. I couldn’t be more grateful
  • The fan mail. Thank you to every single person who’s written to me. You are wonderful. You totally keep me going
  • The school and book group visits. Fabulous. To everyone who came, and everyone who organised – thank you. You were amazing
  • The letters from my parents’ friends, who’ve known me since I was in nappies, telling me how much they enjoyed the book
  • The festival talks. Wonderful. Best of all – the panel at the Hay Festival alongside Francesca Simon, Patrick Ness, Julia Eccleshare and Maurice Gleizman, among others. That was a surreal and extremely fun experience. Definitely one for the grandchildren
  • Sitting round a table at Chicken House with Barry and the rest of the team, outlining the plot for Beads, Boys & Bangles. Mostly with my hands
  • Visiting New York with my stepdaughters to research Sequins, Stars & Spotlights
  • Judging the Threads fashion competition and then going to the Matthew Williamson show with Jewel Simpfendorfer, who won. Jewel getting her picture taken by Scott Schuman of The SartoriaList, which is one of my favourite blogs
  • Working on books 2 and 3 with the help of Imogen and Nicki. And on the US version of book 1 with Siobhan. I have editors! I am SO LUCKY!
  • Making virtual friends with a group of supportive writers from all around the UK and beyond. Cheering each other up and egging each other on
  • My youngest son spotting my books on Amazon (did I happen to be checking them out there? Maybe) and saying ‘Mummy’s books’
  • My elder son quietly telling someone that his mummy was a writer

So if book 4 goes pear-shaped, and if I end up back in one of my old jobs, with just a bunch of memories (and a blue card in my wallet), that’s not so bad. They’re a lot of great memories for one short year. Enough to keep me going for a long time. Happy Birthday Threads. Sorry it’s late.

Books that stay with you

When I’m speaking at an event (which I love to do, by the way – invite me, invite me!), the only question that really scares me is this …

OK, stepping back a bit. I remember speaking to a group of businessmen, and very occasional women,  in Venice (she said showing off) and it was SERIOUSLY FRIGHTENING because there were a LOT of questions related to the subject, which I seem to remember was globalisation, that I didn’t exactly have the answers to. I probably wasn’t the only one, looking back, who didn’t have all the answers related to globalisation, but that’s how it felt at the time. I just had to pray that people would sit back and listen and not be too interested, because as soon as they started asking for detail, or further analysis, or predictions, or anything involving actual numbers, I was probably sunk. And in Venice, that’s something you don’t want to be.

That was the story of my life for quite a long time. Learn about something. Present on it. Hope you don’t get asked to many questions. If you do, answer them as fast as possible and hope your adding up doesn’t go wrong. Until my last job before I wrote Threads because, if I say so myself, I was (and here I’m showing off again) ON FIRE. I was managing the creation of a new website and for once I actually felt I knew what I was doing. I was in control of my subject. If people wanted to ask me questions then – bring it on. I was ready. As long as the technology worked during my presentations, which it always did because it was (and here I’m not boasting, I was just working with some really good people) fabulously well-designed, I was going to be OK.

But that was nothing, nothing compared with the fun of being asked questions about being a writer. If only I’d known. The thing is, if you’ve wanted to do something since you were seven, and you’ve worked at it, one way or another, all your life, and you’ve finally done it, and people like it, and they ask you what it feels like, or what you do all day, or how you approach different aspects of it … you always know the answer. They’re just asking you about your life and the things you feel most passionately about. They’re starting interesting conversations and you can’t really go wrong: you just have to be as honest as you can, and I can do that.

Except for this one …

OK two. The other one is ‘What’s your favourite colour?’ and that’s complicated. It’s sort of blue, but in many circumstances (eg favourite wall colour) it’s white, and in others (eg favourite travel card holder colour) it’s hot pink. So there’s a long answer to a short question there, but I get there in the end.

The question that really scares me is this: ‘What are or were your favourite books?’

HELP!!!!

Apart from the years after I had my children, when I was reduced to reading nothing but short magazine columns and Calpol instructions, I’ve read voraciously all my life. Books have propped me up through hours of boredom, taken me into lands of wonder and adventure, taught me about good and evil, made me laugh, helped me pass exams, and inspired me to be who I am. But can I remember my favourites? As soon as I’m asked the question, my mind goes blank.

There’s Noel Streatfield’s work, of course, and PG Wodehouse, and Paul Gallico, and the Jennings books. The Secret Garden was the first book I tried to read in a day. The Nancy Drew series was an obsession for a while. I had a John Le Carre phase and a Solzenitsyn phase. I adored Dorothy L Sayers and will always be deeply in love with Lord Peter Wimsey – in which I know I’m not alone. But they’re the tip of the ‘favourite book’ iceberg. There are so many out there.

And then Luisa Plaja was interviewed by Bookbabblers today and she mentioned – in a much more incisive, coherent way, because she’s not as scared of this sort of thing as me – Masha, by Mara Kay.

And I thought, Of course. Masha is the perfect example of my relationship with books. I read it when I was eleven and I’m pretty sure I ripped through the series. I ADORED THAT BOOK. I wanted to call my daughter Masha and if I was remotely Russian and had given birth to a girl, the name would still have been high on my list. I remember loving every single thing about it and being transported into its world.

And that’s it. I don’t remember anything else about it at all. Who was Masha? Did she have a family? What sort of life did she lead that I loved so much? What happened in the end?

I have absolutely no idea. I consumed that book like a forest fire and all that stays with me is the heat of the moment and a name. It mattered to me a lot, and it still does. It does to a lot of people. I’ve since Googled it and it’s out of print – which is mad, because there are women my age all over the place who read it when they were about eleven and are desperate to get it for their daughters and would pay good money for it. But possibly not £200, which is what the single available copy I can find online is being sold for at the moment. There’s more about loving Masha here.

That is often the relationship I have with books. Read. Adore. Absorb. Forget most of, except the feeling it gave you. Move on. Not helpful, when you’re being asked about your reading experiences by people who can still remember every word of their favourite stories. So I talk about the ones I can still remember, the ones whose plots and characters are still as vivid as the feeling I got from reading about them. But this doesn’t mean that these are the ones I’m most grateful for. I’m grateful for all of them, including the ones that have sunk without a trace.

Hot legs

New York Fashion Week is coming to a close. Thanks to my lovely editor, Siobhan, I’ve been reading New York magazine and feeling – almost – as if I was there. A heatwave would have helped, but you can’t have everything.

However, Scott Schuman of The SartoriaList really was there, and he took his camera with him. If you want to see what you’ll be wearing in spring (if you’re a seriously leggy, stick-thin billionaire’s wife, Vogue editorial assistant or similar), scroll down the link and check out Scott’s photos of the Marc Jacobs show. And in case anyone’s wondering … I Want Legs Like That.

Nobody ever tells me anything

We have another cover to announce …..  Ta DAH! And just how pretty is this one, I ask you?

VERY PRETTY, that’s how pretty.

The nice lady who does my French covers is called Margaux Motin, and I love what she does with them.

I also love the way that Hachette are naming the books. It’s close to my original idea for Threads: to subtitle each book after the girl whose story features most. ‘Tome 3’ will be about Jenny and it will work perfectly. So much easier than the English editions, which require three alliterative, appropriate words each time. What was I thinking there? Go Hachette!

‘Tome 2’ comes out on 1 October which, if I’m not mistaken, is NEXT MONTH! NEXT MONTH! And I’ve only just found out about it, because I happened to look up ‘Tome 1’ on the Hachette website, to see if it had any more reviews (it hadn’t). Honestly. Sometimes the writer is the last one to know.

However, if it’s good news, the writer doesn’t really mind. The writer is looking forward to adding this fabulous cover to the collection on her shelves. The writer is smiling to herself right now. In French.