Dear Jennifer

Dear Jennifer Aniston

You don’t know me. We’ve never met. In fact, I might go so far as to say that I don’t know you either, although of course I feel I do. I’ve lived every step of your love life – the real and the imagined – for years, and you are the biggest example Hollywood has of A Woman Who Looks Like She Needs Advice.

We live our romantic ups and downs through you. You hook up with love rats and … other love rats … and go on holiday to Mexico and have unbelievable hair. You’re a walking illustration of our best and worst moments, but in Armani, and in Malibu, and in public. It’s not really you we’re looking at and writing about, of course, it’s us.

Right now you have a new man, your picture is everywhere and you’re obviously happy. According to Grazia you’ve had a makeover (new dress, beaming smile) and he’s had a makeover (shave) and an unnamed source who may or may not have met you says that he has a house in Hawaii and they ‘wouldn’t be surprised’ if you had a ‘surprise’ wedding there soon. Which, of course, means you’re going to do exactly that, however premature and crazy it sounds, because 1. – you’re A Woman Who Looks Like She Needs Advice (which, in retrospect, would be ‘don’t, just don’t’) and 2. – it all sounds so nice and bubbly and cute for a summer headline and it would give all the copywriters so much to write about and the paparazzi so much to intrude on that they are willing you to go ahead. That way, they get the ‘casual Hawaii wedding dress’ pictures now, and the ‘oh my god why did you?’ headlines later: a double-whammy of Jenifer Aniston celebrity gossip perfection.

Now, Jennifer, I’ve never met you, as I say, but you strike me as an intelligent woman with a lot of good friends. If you require advice, you probably get the hard stuff from people you trust, not whatever sounds fun at the time from people making money out of using your picture. (Which works, I admit, because I just bought a magazine with you on the cover, and it’s not the first time. And oh, while we’re on the subject, reconsider that Prada dress and go back to your usual wardrobe. You do ‘slim minimalism’ better than anyone and the dress made you look … vaguely normal … which on you looks mumsy. I’m sorry, but there it is.)

Where was I? Oh yes, you don’t need advice from strangers, and you probably have a much better handle on this whole ‘new love’ thing than people give you credit for, so you don’t need to read this next bit, but somewhere, there is a woman just like we think you are, who really has just fallen head over heels in love with someone gorgeous, after years of mistakes and heartbreak, and they’ve done the mutual makeovers and she feels fabulous, and she’s seriously contemplating running off to Hawaii with him to make it official. Or similar. And to that woman, wherever she may be, can I say from the bottom of my heart …


Just don’t.

If you have friends like Grazia who think it’s all cute and adorable, this whole ‘sudden marriage’ thing, ignore them. You may have found the love of your life. (Quite possibly you have. I did.) But you can’t possibly know it yet because right now you’re sloshing with hormones, and so is he, and everything really IS different. You need to check you’re still in love when it all settles down.

It’s not that what you’re going through right now is wrong. It isn’t at all – it’s right. It’s one of the best feelings you’ll ever have and you’ll look back on it fondly in your nineties. It’s not even that it’s not real – it is real. You really are flooded with testosterone, that makes you feel strong and powerful and invincible. He’s got more oestrogen than usual, making him more than normally attentive to your needs. You’re both desperate to change yourselves for each other, and to be the best you can be. Great! You’ve stepped out of your normal lives and you’ve started to do all the things you really wanted to do. All the colours in the world are brighter. The birds trill louder. Everyone tells you how well you’re looking. Your appetite has gone, so you can get into your favourite pair of jeans. Nobody else on the planet has quite felt the same sense of wellbeing (and incredible bedroom satisfaction) that you do.

Basically, you’re on drugs. Perfectly safe, natural drugs. But drugs. If only this state of being could go on forever. But the thing the headline writers don’t tell you at this point is that it never does. Your body is the dealer and at some point, your body runs out of supplies. You would have to start a new relationship to keep them going and then you would be Michael Douglas before he met Catherine Zeta Jones, and then where would we be?

After a few months or a year, things will start to settle down. Your body chemicals will rebalance themselves to their normal levels. You’ll start to miss some of the things you gave up in your quest for your new self (like cake, or your old friends, or possibly your children). You’ll catch him snoring, open mouthed, on the sofa in the middle of a football game, and for the first time, it won’t be so cute. You’ll look at your recent, knock-em-dead haircut and crotch-skimming skirts and feel a bit silly. You’re coming down from the high. I wish you didn’t need to know this, but, woman-who’s-contemplating-Hawaii-next-week, you do.


And the question is, a year down the line, how will you feel about this man? Is he still your soulmate? Will normal-him still be deeply in love with normal-you? Or is he starting to regrow his beard and hooking up with some of his old movie pals and, frankly, driving you crazy?


It’s impossible to predict which way it will go. Well, there are clues – like the way you treat your families, and your children, if you have any, and the sacrifices you’re both prepared to make when things are good, and your fundamental moral values and stuff like that. But basically, you just have to wait and see. Maybe, when the flood of instant love has subsided, you’ll both be sitting there, thrilled you’ve still got each other. Maybe you’ll be desperate to abandon the wreckage as fast as you can. It doesn’t really matter, as long as you don’t happen to be married at the time.

(The same, by the way, goes for divorce. If you still love him, don’t get lost in the moment because all your friends are offended by his behaviour on your behalf. Wait. Tearing a marriage apart doesn’t have to be instantaneous either.)

So save it, lady-who-isn’t-Jennifer-but-does-need-advice. Wait and see.

Don’t marry him because you’re worried you might not love each other so much in a year. Being married to him at that point won’t make things any better.

Marry him because you waited, and even when it wasn’t perfect any more it was still the most uplifting, mutually satisfying relationship you could ever have. Marry him then and live happily ever after.

Oh, and Jennifer, if you are reading, please … ditch that Prada dress.

Goodbye, and thanks for all the magic

It was early 1997. I was thinking of giving up my increasingly well-paid and interesting job, with an office overlooking Piccadilly Circus, a gym, great friends and lots of international travel for another job that paid … nothing and had … no benefits and couldn’t guarantee any friends. Occasionally I would sneak off to a local cafe and read the paper and ponder.

One day I was reading the arts pages of the Financial Times. There was a little article about a children’s book that was due to come out in the summer. Nobody had heard of it outside the publishing trade, because nobody ever talked about children’s books, but it had received a massive US advance after the Frankfurt Book Fair, there was talk of a possible film deal, and it was one to look out for.

So I looked out for it. It came out in late June of that year – the wait seemed endless, even then. I read it and it was brilliant. Funny and clever and playful and beautifully told and just … brilliant. There was a bit of a buzz among those of us who knew, but I promise that back then, we were a bit of a secret cult.

The book, and the publishing buzz around it, contributed strongly to giving me the courage to give up my job as a management consultant for McKinsey and become a writer. My plan was to spend up to a year writing something amazing, sell it for a fortune and be as good as JK Rowling. If she could do it, I could, surely? Couldn’t we all?

Even when the second book came out (still 3 years before the first film), I remember recommending it to adult friends, who thought I was mad. How could a children’s book possibly be that interesting? What was all the fuss about? Why was I lending them my chunky hardback edition? Had resigning from McKinsey sent me a little doolally? Then they read it and joined the cult.

And so we went on our merry way. I wrote my book, and it didn’t get published after all. So I wrote another, and another. I went back to work. JK Rowling got more famous. More and more people understood what the fuss was about. I had a baby. I’m pretty sure the first Harry Potter was the first film he watched all the way through on DVD. He was a toddler at the time. He was entranced.

JK got married and had a new baby of her own. I acquired some stepdaughters. They introduced me to the non-pareil performances of Stephen Fry on the audiobooks. His Hermione is still definitive to me. JK went stratospheric and overtook The Queen as the richest woman in the country. I wrote another book. This one got published – by the same man who’d originally found and published JK. I needed an agent. Barry, my publisher, suggested hers. It seemed a nice idea to keep it in the family.

My toddler grew old enough to read all the Harry Potters, back to back, in the first term of Year 4 at school (I think it was). I gave him all my old copies – the ones I’d managed to rescue from the friends I’d lent them to – and we arranged them side by side on his bookshelf. He got the wand and the cloak for Christmas. They were rubbish. He got into the Harry Potter Lego, though. So did his little brother. The four year-old now plays Harry Potter Lego on the X-box, while I write stories about brave children who stick together and stand up for what they believe in. I occasionally sneak in references to Hermione’s Time-Turner or the Horcruxes. It’s hard not to, and everyone will know what I mean.

And now I’ve just taken my older boy, now 10, to the final film. I’d seen a video clip of Daniel Radcliffe bravely saying it’s the first one he’s proud of, and I’d heard general consensus that it was by far the best. So our expectations were high, and they were met. It is by far the best. Dare I say it? – I think this movie is better than the book. And now – short of Pottermore – it’s all over.

David Yates has kindly put in a couple of lingering longshots of the three of them – Harry, Hermione and Ron – (SPOILER ALERT) looking up at ruined Hogwarts, after the battle is won. Emma Watson looks in pieces. She’s just channeling the emotion we all feel. Of course I cried.

I didn’t exactly grow up with them, the way a generation of young readers did, but I grew into myself as a creative person with them, and they are just as much a part of me as The Secret Garden, or Ballet Shoes, or The Railway Children. More so, because for years they used to be published around my birthday, which was something extra to look forward to. And because I’ve shared them with my children, and the world. We know what they mean and why they’re important. We’re all going to miss them, even though they’re there on every bookshelf, in every toy box, in every DVD collection, and JK is on every rich list …

So it’s been a 14-year journey. Hard to believe it’s over. But thrilled that for my favourite trio, it ended so well.

Thank you, Jo.

Grazia’s Fash Factor


Are you the next Karl Lagerfeld or Sarah Burton? The new Philip Treacy? This generation’s Christian Louboutin? If so, next Tuesday you could win the opportunity to have your designs featured in a double page spread in the next issue of Grazia magazine!

Grazia is on the hunt for new fashion talent. Go Grazia!

I sort of feel cross that Crow won’t be there tomorrow, to be spotted as by the buying director of ASOS, or Matches, or Whistles, or Topshop … It always takes me a little while to remember – *whisper it* – she’s not real.

But if she was, she’d totally be there. Good luck, Crow!

*smacks head, reminds self she’s not real, sits down in darkened room*

Glastonbury chic

Some of the people who saw my Girlsheartbooks post wanted to know what I wore to Glastonbury on Sunday. It’s not often you get to wear wellies, a sundress and a cowboy hat, so I took full advantage.

The ‘flag’ in the middle of the first picture is actually a Womble. They were performing that day – the full-size versions, anyway. One of the many things I love about Glastonbury, now that it has phone coverage, is you find yourself saying ‘I’m near the front of the crowd, between the Womble and the pink flamingo’.

And not a single drug is required to achieve this effect. The strongest thing I had all day was a frozen yoghurt smoothie.