A writer imagines …

I have no idea if the following is true (at least from the editor’s perspective – it is from mine), but this is what I imagine happens after an author submits a rewrite. The imagining keeps me going, anyway, while I wait to find out what happens next …

Author: After two months of intensive work the story has changed shape, two of the characters have been merged the new ending is in place, and every comment in the margins is addressed. If I fiddle with my latest masterpiece-in-the-making any more, I’m more likely to do harm than good. It’s not perfect yet, but I hope it’s in a good enough place that my editor will be thrilled with what I’ve done, and will agree that a few minor tweaks will raise it to children’s classic status. Attach to email. Press send. Wait.

Editor: Oh look – 1 pm. Anyone going for lunch?

Author: I sent the manuscript off a full five minutes ago, so presumably she’s on page 20 by now, and completely gripped. I feel a bit guilty that she’s going to get home late to her family tonight because she’ll be so engrossed by the text. Can she see the makings of a children’s classic yet? Is she shouting round the office how fabulous it is? I hope she’s not disturbing too many people in her crazed excitement.

Editor: I see my inbox has gone up from 112 to 113 unread emails . Must check … when I get back from the sales meeting.

Author: She’s had the book for 4 hours! She’s a fast reader. Has she finished it yet, I wonder? What does she think?

Editor: Wow, this sales meeting is going on a bit today, isn’t it?

Author: She’s had it for nearly 18 hours. Or has she? Did she actually receive it? Maybe it got lost in the internet. Or – wait – maybe she’s trying to tell me something. Perhaps her silence means that she’s gently preparing me for the worst. Perhaps, instead of being a children’s classic in the making, it’s actually worse than it was before. Perhaps I’ve gone backwards. Perhaps she’s just trying to work out the kindest way of telling me.

Editor: Dear Sophia, just to let you know your MS arrived safely. Can’t wait to read it!

Author: Oh no! My editor has a life. She has other things to do and – I’ve just remembered – other people’s books to edit. Books with deadlines sooner than mine. But that’s fine. I can deal with this. I just have to do all those tasks that were piling up while I was madly finishing the rewrite and that will take my mind off things. Oh, and I must make a note about that change I want to make to chapter 43. And the shift in the main character’s motivation. And the ending. The ending is still wrong. Why can’t I sleep? Why is it four in the morning? Why is it Saturday? That means I have to wait until Monday for a reply. Unless she emails me over the weekend, of course. Editors work over the weekend, don’t they?

Editor: Thank god it’s the weekend.

Author: It’s 09.14 on Monday morning. The kids are safely at school. It’s not too early to check my emails yet, is it? Would she have replied to me first thing? Yes, she probably would.

Editor: Anyone want coffee?

Author: She hates it. I’ve done the whole thing wrong. I should have left out chapter 3 – that was my fatal mistake. They’re now having meetings round the office to work out who should let me down gently, and who will explain that actually, they can’t publish it after all. And now it’s 09.20! Unless they’re in those meetings what can she possibly be doing?

Editor: Three sets of line edits signed off. Goodness, that was intensive. Oh look – a gap in the diary. Might get round to starting some of those unread manuscripts today. I wonder what authors do after they’ve submitted a manuscript. Must be wonderful. All that shopping and cake …

And so on, until the editor finds time in her diary to give 80,000 carefully crafted words her full attention, and to compose a suitable reply.

Eventually the author learns to sit back, relax and take it all in her stride.

Doesn’t she?

(I’m having serious second thoughts about chapter 3.)

I’m in Italian!

Or rather, sono in italiano. I’m so excited about Threads coming out in Italy. In my teens and early twenties I spent many happy times there – in Florence, Rome, Milan, Venice, Trieste, Bologna, Sardinia, Puglia and lots of other equally lovely places. I actually probably know my way better around Italy than I do around England.

I discovered the joys of fine art there and, perhaps even more importantly, really, really good cooking. I went out with my first proper boyfriend there (and, come to think of it, my second). I met my female soulmate – a girl called Chiara, whose name I’m saving for a book one day. And did I mention the food? It was SO GOOD. Plus, I read Italian, naturalmente, so I’ll be able to see how Nonie sounds all’italiano. Which I imagine will be stupendo.

I’ve been dying to see what the cover would be, and finally I know. It’s this:

Look familiar? If so – wow! You’re a real fan of the series. This is the French cover – one of my favourites. Very happy to see it used again. The title is ‘Un sogno su misura’, which translates as ‘A dream made to measure’ (but it sounds better in Italian). It comes out next month. Auguri!

Roses

I discovered this rose at the Chelsea Flower Show last year. My mother-in-law gave me a baby bush of it for my birthday. I planted it, fed it, watered it and loved it, and now here it is. It’s very shy – it insists on growing away from the house and facing head-down into the flower bed – but it smells as good as it looks. I wish I hadn’t somehow lost the label and could remember what it’s called. The garden is a riot of roses at the moment, but this is my favourite and my best.

QE II

As anyone who’s read Sequins Stars & Spotlights will know, Jenny gets the chance to play the young Queen Elizabeth in a musical. Not that there is – yet – a musical about the Queen, but I wouldn’t be surprised if one day there was. She’s an extraordinary woman who has lived through some extraordinary times. And there was a whole film about her dad’s speech impediment, so, you know …

I’m a big fan of the Queen. In part because when I was 10 or 11 I was given a book about her clothes which remains one of the most in-depth examinations of a couture wardrobe I’ve ever read. Stunning illustrations. She may not be at the forefront of fashion, but there are reasons for that (she tried, and her dresses were copied in minutes – in the end she opted for looking stateswoman-like). However, her outfits are always rich with symbolism, in the embroidery or the jewellery. The fact that she wore green on her first day in Ireland is no coincidence. She dresses to honour her hosts, and to stand out, and she does.

But beyond what she wears, she’s very brave and steadfast, in an era where most people aren’t. Not necessarily the world’s most successful family woman, but brilliant at the job she does. Here she is, doing it in Ireland over the last couple of days. Watching Guinness being poured. Visiting the stadium where, in her family’s name, soldiers fired on the crowd. Making a speech in a white dress (reminiscent of her ancestral namesake?) and shed-loads of diamonds, that indicated her regret. Not something monarchs do very often. Giving no hint of the fact she knows that republican dissidents may well be plotting to try and kill her.

Brilliant. She’s 85. I don’t think we realise quite how much we’ll miss her when she’s gone.

Simply Books

Yesterday …

I FINISHED THE LATEST DRAFT OF THE NEW BOOK! *dances around the living room drinking champagne* (Actually, I was too tired to drink champagne. Also, by ‘finished’, I mean ‘got to the end of but still need to rewrite a couple of scenes’. So it’s not done yet. But it’s soooo close.)

Anyway, today I was in a good mood. A very good mood. So it was perfect that today I was off to Bramhall, near Manchester, as a guest (for the second time) of Simply Books. My job was to judge a fashion competition at Bramhall High School and talk to the girls about my books. My favourite kind of thing and the perfect way to celebrate.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The four finalists were Rebbeca, Verity, Rebekah and Leanne. All their dresses were wonderful, but the detailed workmanship of Leanne’s – the orange one – made her nudge ahead as the winner. They all had to use recycled materials. The necklace to go with the dress, for example, is made out of beads and little gold safety pins. Nonie would totally approve. And the skirt is made out of Sainsbury’s bags. Yes, really.

Big thanks to Sue, for asking me up, and Gwyn and Claire for organising the day. And to everyone who asked a question. It was a really good day for questions.

Happy sigh. Now off to finish finish the book. I’ve seen the new cover and it’s totally gorgeous, so I now the pressure’s on to write a story worthy of it. Nice pressure, though. And then I really might pour that glass of champagne.

Wishing I could be here right now

This happens to me every April/May.

If I had a LOT of money, no children to look after and no book deadline to meet, I’d be in New York, visiting the Met.

Readers may remember that the last time I did go there, when I was researching for Beads, Boys & Bangles, they didn’t have any costumes on show. I simply couldn’t believe it. They have one of the best collections in the world, but it was explained to me that as they’re so precious they’re only shown in special exhibitions, like this one: Savage Beauty, showcasing the work of Alexander McQueen. (How the V&A cope, showing dozens of pieces at a time from their permanent collection, I have no idea.)

Anyway, it turns out that autumn is a bad time to try and see costume at the Met, so one day I’ll have to go in spring.

This is the first time, actually, when I’m more interested in the exhibition itself than the Gala that launches it. (If you want to know all about the Gala – otherwise known as the Met Ball  – and you haven’t already checked it out on E!, then read Sequins, Stars & Spotlights. Jenny gets to go in a Crow dress and borrowed diamonds.)

Intriguingly (which is a polite fashion term for ‘weirdly’), Anna Wintour chose to wear sequinned Chanel for her role as host of the evening. Most of the guests, though, chose McQueen. (One is tempted to say ‘duh’, but nobody ever says ‘duh’ to Anna Wintour. Apparently you disappear in a puff of smoke if you do, and the smoke is used as a feature in Chanel’s next catwalk show.)

There are lots of pictures on various websites of who looked good (Sarah Jessica Parker) and who looked bad (really quite a lot of people, actually). But I have a feeling I’m not alone in suffering from fashion overload at the moment. There was only one McQueen dress we wanted to see recently, and we’ve seen it.

Pity Sarah Burton, the new chief designer. Having arranged her masterpiece – which is officially THE BEST FITTING DRESS IN HISTORY – on Kate Middleton, she had to dash across the Atlantic to help finalise the show at the Met.

I say ‘pity her’. There are of course worse ways to spend your weekend than dressing the most famous bride of the century and helping to open the Metropolitan Costume Institute’s latest show. But even so, I bet she was exhausted. Which may be why she showed up at the Gala dressed in something very bridal herself, bordering on ‘intriguing’. [She’s image 4 here.] However, we shall draw a veil over that (ha) and merely reflect on the fact that shy, modest fashion geniuses may be allowed to have the odd duff moment of personal taste when they have just totally delivered on the biggest gig of their careers.

To end, here is something also quite bridal (although Lee McQueen meant it for a ‘Widow of Culloden’), by the original man himself. It’s in ‘Savage Beauty’. If you get a chance to see it in person, give it my love.