Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Alexandra Shulman's debut novel - and how my 80s began

Alexandra Shulman, the brilliant Vogue editor-in-chief, has just written her first novel. Can We Still Be Friends is set in the 1980s and relates the lives and loves of three female friends. I’ve ordered the book from Amazon and can’t wait to see how her memories of the decade compare with mine.

Shulman gave readers a vivid snapshot of her 80s in a first person piece for The Times Magazine at the weekend. “My 80s began in the summer of 1980 when I was dumped by my boyfriend,” she said. “He chucked me the day I learnt my university degree – a 2.2 – so I began my 80s walking the streets of London in floods of tears.”

The image Shulman conjured up was so striking that I got to thinking about how my own 80s began. In the summer of 1980, I’d just graduated too – with a degree in history and politics that I’ve never used to this day.

I spent the long summer holiday driving through France in a bright green (and very temperamental) 2CV with my boyfriend of the time and arrived back in September to start training as a journalist.

I nervously drove the highly-strung 2CV from my parents’ house in Dorset to Plymouth, where the Mirror Group Newspapers training scheme was based, and booked into the YMCA for the first few nights. After teaming up with fellow trainees Fiona Millar and Jenny Craddock, we looked for somewhere more permanent to live together and ended up in a tiny ground-floor flat in a place called Mutley. Within a couple of months, though, Fiona moved to the Tavistock Times with Alastair Campbell, while Jenny and I were dispatched to the Mid-Devon Advertiser in Newton Abbot. We moved to a house in the wilds of Dartmoor, where it rained so much I had to start the 2CV with a liberal dosing of WD40 every morning to stand the faintest chance of getting to work.

My starting salary was the princely sum of £3,300 and mostly went on rent, petrol, the pub and trips to London to catch up with university friends who I thought were leading more glamorous lives. My favourite clothes came from French Connection, In-Wear and a shop in York called Sarah Coggles. I whiled away lots of evenings playing Elvis Costello, The Pretenders and Carly Simon on my (oh dear) record player. It wasn’t quite a wind-up gramophone, but not far off…


  1. Really looking forward to reading this. You must post a review as soon as you've read it!

    1. I will do. Haven't started it yet though because SO much to read right now.

  2. My 80s started when I stumbled down from Cambridge and into London. I had been a Vogue Talent Contest finalist, and they eventually offered me a job in the Book dept in Jan 1981. I supported myself before that in a variety of receptionist/shop type jobs. I ended up working for Drusilla Beyfus in the Vogue features dept, and she would often say to me, 'How can we find Alex a job?' Ha! I moved on after a few years to deputy ed of The Magazine, where I gave her little brother Jason a job as art director - very glossy results on minimum budget! I loved the 80s, and One Apple Tasted has a chunk set then too if you remember.

  3. I loved reading your memories of the 80s, Josa - in your comment above and in One Apple Tasted. Have you read Alex Shulman's book yet by the way?


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