Saturday, 30 June 2012

The long-lost days of City Wife and Country Wife

The best bit of BritMums Live last weekend was meeting writer Kate Morris for the first time.

Actually, I felt I already knew her, because five years ago Easy Living magazine asked us to write a pair of blogs. Kate, a sassy journalist living in trendy west London, was City Wife, while I, then living in the depths of Oxfordshire, was Country Wife. I was a bit of a fraud because I didn’t keep hens or grow my own vegetables or do any of the things you’re supposed to do in the country, but for the next two years we posted our blogs a couple of times a week.

I really looked forward to reading Kate’s accounts of life with her two young children and photographer husband.

As she described trips to the park, children’s birthday parties and dressing up for book days at school, I felt a wave of nostalgia for the past. My children were teenagers by then and I seemed to spend most of my time watching my son doing scary bike stunts at the skate park and marvelling at my daughter’s newfound passion for black nail varnish, make-up and Topshop. Every time I read Kate’s blog I marvelled at how the years had whizzed by in a flash.

Fast forward a couple of years and Kate has written her third novel, the insightful Seven Days One Summer, and started a new blog. We’ve stayed in touch by email and on Twitter over the years but we’d never actually met in person. Then last weekend, a dark-haired woman I didn't know tapped me on the shoulder and said tentatively “Emma?” It was Kate!

We both grabbed a cup of tea and didn’t stop talking for the next 45 minutes. Our City Wife and Country Wife days may be over but there was an awful lot to catch up on.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Friday book review - Black Heart Blue by Louisa Reid

From the first haunting line – “They tried to make me go to my sister’s funeral today” – to the shocking denouement, Black Heart Blue is one of those books that you simply have to keep reading.

I tore through Louisa Reid’s debut novel in one sitting, horrified by the cruelty that twin sisters Hephzibah and Rebecca are forced to endure at the hands of their parents, and moved by their brave attempts to find freedom.

Black Heart Blue is billed as a young adult (YA) novel but I reckon teenagers and adults alike will be gripped by the story. Reid, an English teacher at a girls’ school in Cambridge, wrote it in five months and has produced an absorbing, pacy tale about horrific family secrets and what really goes on behind closed doors.

Hephzi and Rebecca are 16 when the novel begins. After a lifetime of being educated at home and not allowed to mix with other children, they’ve persuaded their father, an outwardly respectable vicar, to let them go to sixth-form college.  But while Hephzi is beautiful, daring and determined to lead a normal life with her friends, Rebecca, who’s been disfigured since birth, is very much in her shadow. Until, that is, Rebecca loses her twin in terrible circumstances and starts fighting back.   

The novel shifts back and forth in time as the two girls take it in turns to tell their stories, buttit’s so skilfully done that the narrative never loses its way. This gritty, dark tale isn’t for the faint-hearted but it’s astonishingly, breathtakingly good.

Black Heart Blue by Louisa Reid (Penguin, £6.99)

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Hankering after my old job...

Tony Blair reckons he’s better equipped to be PM now than he was during his Downing Street years. He says he’s learned “an immense amount” and would love to have another go, even though it’s unlikely to ever happen.

I was never a Blair devotee, but his words – during an interview with Evening Standard editor Sarah Sands – made me think. 

In my 20s I worked as a news reporter in Fleet Street, haring around on the stories of the moment. I could be covering a grim murder trial at the Old Bailey one week (they often gave me nightmares) and sitting in a Bedouin tent in the middle of the Saudi desert with Prince Charles and Princess Diana the next. The deadlines were eye-wateringly tight, the bosses scary and the pressure intense, but life was never boring.

A quarter of a century on, I wouldn’t stand a chance in hell of being hired as a news reporter (in a profession that’s getting younger by the minute, I’m far too old).

But the ridiculous thing is that I’d actually be a far better reporter now than I was then. I’ve lived a hell of a lot more, had children, lost people I love – and understand so much more about everything (well, except for polymers, the offside rule and the ins and outs of the West Lothian question. Deadlines don’t scare me  and nor do tough news editors. When I’m working I focus 100 per cent on what I’m doing, rather than planning nights out with my pals or worrying about my love life. My children are almost grown-ups themselves so I don’t even have to fix childcare.

So, yes, like Tony Blair, I’d love to have a go at my old job. And yes, like him, I know it’s unlikely to ever happen.

PS. The picture shows a cutting from my reporting days. My writer friend Jane Gordon-Cumming found it in a pile of papers when she was moving house. We only met two years ago so she was stunned to find she had an article of mine dating back to the 1980s!

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Viva Forever! - Reliving the Spice Girls years

Seeing the Spice Girls reunited to promote the new musical based on their songs was like stepping back in time.

In the mid-1990s, when Posh, Scary, Sporty, Ginger and Baby were at the height of their fame, my daughter and her friends were captivated by them. No party was complete without Wannabe and Spice Up Your Life belting out of the CD player (I know, it was a long time ago) and the primary school playground was full of little girls discussing which Spice Girl was their favourite. Sadly, Melanie Chisholm (aka Sporty) never featured because she wore boring tracksuits whereas the others all got glitter, sparkles and Union Jack dresses.

But when the Spice Girls assembled yesterday I reckoned Melanie C and Emma Bunton looked the happiest by a long chalk. Melanie Brown and Geri Halliwell were still trying to be the stars of the show, while Victoria Beckham, now a hot-shot fashion designer who counts Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes among her best pals, looked like she didn’t want to be there at all. Once the launch was over she headed straight back to LA to tuck her baby daughter Harper in. “I’d love to stay and hang out with the girls but I’m desperate to see her before she goes to bed,” she said. 

The Spice Girls are all in their late 30s now and won’t actually feature in Viva Forever!, the musical that’s been created by producer Judy Craymer and written by comedienne Jennifer Saunders. The show, which Saunders wanted to do because her three daughters loved the Spice Girls when they were growing up, weaves the band’s songs into a drama about a girl called Viva who is swept into the world of instant celebrity.

Actually, if I got my way I’d give Melanie C a part in it straight away. I saw her in Blood Brothers a few years ago and she was sensational. Aside from her sporty tracksuits, jaunty pony-tail and onstage back flips, Melanie C was best known for being the only Spice Girl who could actually sing. Well, she can act too. She grew up on Merseyside and was utterly compelling as Mrs Johnstone, the hard-pressed Liverpudlian mum who agrees to give one of her twin sons away.

I’ve seen Willy Russell’s wonderful play several times during its 29-year history but Melanie C knocked spots off the other actresses I’ve seen in the part. Her voice was stunning and she had exactly the right blend of toughness and vulnerability to make the character believable.

Viva Forever! opens in London in December and is set to be a smash hit. I’m definitely going to book tickets and take my daughter with me…

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Fifty Shades trilogy sells more than a million on Kindle in the UK

My first romantic novella, Olympic Flames, has just been published as an ebook and like every writer I know, I check every other hour to see how many copies it has sold.

But my jaw dropped this morning when a press release from Amazon dropped into my in-box. EL James, the London-based mother-of-two who created the hit Fifty Shades trilogy, has just become the first author to sell more than one million books at the Kindle store.

Gulp. The trilogy only came out in March and the first of the three, Fifty Shades of Grey, is now the best-selling Kindle book of all time on The movie rights have been sold and the Kindle edition is outselling the print book at a rate of more than two to one (call me a cynic but it could be because when you’re sitting on a jam-packed train into work, your fellow passengers can’t spot you’re reading a steamy bestseller on a Kindle).

“EL James’s books have become the fastest-selling and the best-selling series ever on Kindle,” says Gordon Willoughby, director of EU Kindle. “That’s an exceptional achievement for a debut novelist and we’re excited to see her pass the one million sales milestone.”

In gloomy times, when the publishing business is tougher than ever, EL James’s story is certainly an inspiring one. For debut novelists and old-timers alike…

Hopelessly addicted to tea - and my own special Teapigs blend

From PG Tips to M&S’s Empress Grey, I’m hopelessly addicted to tea.

I drink about eight cups a day, and very often have two on the go at once. When we cross the Channel to France I make sure I’ve got a few packets of tea stashed in my luggage because French tea just doesn’t taste the same at all. And when I gave up alcohol in the New Year, the only drink I didn’t get sick of was tea.

So you can imagine my excitement last week when I got an email from a fantastic tea company called Teapigs. I’d entered a competition to write a 60-word paragraph about my passion for tea and guess what? I was one of the lucky winners. The prize? My very own special blend created by tea taster Louise (above).

And sure enough, on Saturday morning a packet of “Emma’s special blend” arrived in the post. It’s called Super Power Earl Grey and it’s delicious. I’m rationing myself to one pot a day – and when I get to the end of the packet I’m going to be utterly bereft. Forget haute couture fashion, I’m now a devotee of haute couture tea…

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...