Visiting the Chickens

In these times of gloom and doom, every now and again a day glows out like a warm ember, and it’s enough to keep you going through the cold.

Saturday was one of those days. I went to visit the lovely Chicken House, to make a couple of quick videos for the launch of The Look next year. Now, most authors have to travel from the country to the metropolis to see their publishers. For me, it’s the other way around. But I love visiting Frome in Somerset. It feels like the centre of the craft and vintage universe, and you can’t get much better than that for me. (And yes, despite all the gloom and doom I bought a pink silk vintage tea dress, a necklace, a few Christmas presents and an amazing arrangement of narcissi in an old chamber pot. I came home weighed down with bags, but not having spent very much money – the perfect combination.)

The Chicken House offices are one of my favourite places. They’re very arty and bohemian and as soon as you step through the door you just know you’re in good hands. I hope they don’t mind me showing you a few pictures – of some chickens (there are, as you can imagine, several); the window, which they dressed up for the day to look like my own personal book window (thank you!); the table where THEY DECIDE WHETHER OR NOT TO BUY THAT MANUSCRIPT YOU JUST SLAVED OVER; and Barry’s famous hat.

I was videoed by a promising young film maker called Gulliver Moore, who made the trailer for The Look (which you can see on YouTube), and who I hope did a brilliant job of disguising my many chins. For those of you who have read Threads, think slightly Harry, but wearing proper shoes, and you’ll know how happy I was to meet him.

I thought we’d be there for days, with me doing trillions of takes, because I find it really, really HARD to talk about the book, and what it means to me, and what I was trying to do in a short and pithy way. However, with the help of Tina, who’s a bit of a wizz as a director among her many other talents, we were out in time for lunch. And we got to eat the table decorations – which were a selection of extremely yummy cupcakes.

Some days just make you smile.

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A few of my favourite things …

Today’s favourite things have come from recommendations on Twitter, Facebook and at the school gate. Let me share them with you.

The sweet ending to the new John Lewis ad (although I still can’t get my head around the idea of super-miserable and single-minded Morrissey from The Smiths letting a middle-class shop use his song for an advert. He must have agreed with a strong sense of irony, unless he’s finally going soft. And also, have you seen how many [SPOILER ALERT] presents Santa leaves by the bed? Way more than our kids get first thing in the morning, I can tell you. Maybe John Lewis wants Father Christmas to get more toys in their shop to distribute. That’s my theory, anyway.)

Another, simpler delight has been the truly fabulous imagery in the trailer of the new Snow White and the Huntsman movie that’s coming out next year with Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron. VERY VERY BEAUTIFUL. If you watch, I’m sure you’ll agree. (Excuse the link to the Daily Mail, but it’s got the best pictures I’ve seen.)

And finally, I heard about a new doll called Matilda (website here), who comes from Tudor times and who I would have killed for when I was ten. (Or, more accurately, begged one of my grannies for and then yearned for like the boy in the John Lewis ad and, in fact, probably not got even then because she’s really expensive and people were a bit more sensible with their cash in the 70s and even Father Christmas wasn’t that generous, but I would have imagined having).

She’s aimed at 8-12 year-olds, and comes with a book about her Tudor adventures, and lots of ideas for imaginative play. How many girls that age are there who like history and costume and adventure stories and things they can do with their friends? Oh yeah – LOADS. Despite her eye-watering price tag, I think she’s going to be a hit.

Where it all begins …

This has been a week of highs and lows.

The high was definitely Wednesday. It started with a big cappuccino (the size of a soup bowl, honestly) and a croissant in a cafe in Soho, talking about the launch of the new book next year. There were four of us round the table: me, Rachel, Mary and Tina, who are three of my most favourite people to work with. As business breakfasts go, you couldn’t get much better. They gave me lots of homework to do for the launch and I’m looking forward to all of it. Already, Rachel has turned my story into a very beautiful artifact that I can’t wait to share with everyone. The teamwork involved in publishing a book is one of my favourite things about it.

As it happened, we were just around the corner from where I set the opening scene of The Look, which is Carnaby Street. So afterwards, I took a picture to celebrate:

I used to work a street away from here, in my last job before I sat down to write Threads, and they were busy, happy times. It always gives me a bit of a thrill to come back. And it was extra lovely to do it with Tina, who’s the marketing lady for Chicken House and who, we then discovered, looks VERY GOOD INDEED in the posh new silk hairbands they’re selling in Liberty at the moment. I made her try several of them on, and they were all gorgeous. I really hope she gets one for Christmas.

Then it was on to lunch with my lovely publisher, Barry, and Elinor, who sells the foreign rights all over the world (Threads has lately gone to Spain, I discovered, and will be out in Japan quite soon – yay!). They were meeting two Dutch publishers and very kindly invited me along. As someone who writes about fashion, I was deeply impressed by the Chinese top and palazzo pants worn by the very elegant Heleen. We talked books for a couple of hours, and it was bliss.

So Wednesday was one of those pretty ideal days that don’t happen to a writer very often, and have to be tucked away and treasured so they can be appreciated later, when it’s all a lot more difficult and complicated.

Which is what the rest of the week has been like.

That lovely new story I was so looking forward to writing has hit a brick wall. It. Will. Not. Come. And now I’m thinking about another one, which originally occurred to me as a radio play, but might work as a book. But that’s no picnic either. I think I’m just going to have to read, and think, and wait until something clicks and a voice emerges and I can start again.

I love my job, but it’s not always easy. Actually, it’s not ever easy. If you’re reading this because you can’t decide what to write, I sympathise!