January 2011

I’ve always liked Salman since we met at a Hatchard’s party some twenty five years ago, and recoiled in terror when Lynn Barber marched up and said we were two of the authors she most wanted to interview.
As usual Salman was accompanied by a beautiful woman. His charm, I think, lies in his beautiful hands, lovely voice and his sense of fun. Judith Kerr is heaven, she also has a lovely voice and spoke so beautifully and precisely and was so funny about her own capricious cat on whom Mog was based.

I was highly amused before the programme when the make-up artist, employed to tart up all the authors appearing, fell on me like a long-lost friend, saying she’d never had such a boring day in her life because none of the lady authors wanted any make-up. Her make-up was thankfully so good it lasted until I returned in the evening to the festival for an ‘In conversation with Libby Purves’ event. Libby, like Mariella, is such a pro, who does her homework thoroughly and is really interested in what you have to say. We had a laugh that many years ago her husband Paul Heiney had cut my hair in a programme called In at the Deep End.

The audience were terrific. One of the questioners from the floor asked whether I get upset by bad reviews. I replied: only for a few hours, then I suddenly remembered that a writer called Anne Chisholm had trashed my book Rivals in the Spectator twenty years ago, and I hadn’t minded that so much as the fact that she’d revealed how the book ended. Rather like the taxi driver dropping off a couple of theatre-goers outside The Mousetrap, telling them “It’s the gardener wot done it”. Anyway, I told the audience that as a gentle revenge some twenty years later in JUMP! I’d named Mrs Wilkinson’s goat friend, Chisolm.

Oh wow! This was immediately picked up by the Telegraph and then by the Independent who produced a splendid double page spread on Literary Revenge, which led to Anne Chisholm herself writing a very funny reply in the Daily Mail, saying her local bookshop had been flabbergasted when she’d bought something as downmarket as JUMP! to check on her new names sake.

Whereupon dear Janet Street Porter leapt to my defence in the same paper saying revenge was very healthy and should be applauded.

I should point out that Chisolm the goat is one of the nicest characters in the book, so in a way it was a compliment to Anne, so we exchanged jolly letters.

For the rest of the year I went to signing sessions. One of them included an authors’ night at Hatchard’s which was a riot! Lots of wine, Antonia Fraser and Michael Frayn at one table and me at another with Sebastian Faulks with whom I used to work at the Sunday Times, a very glamorous thriller writer called Philip Kerr and Howard Jacobson, still smiling slightly bemusedly over his Booker Prize win, who is a darling man, much more attractive in the flesh. So we had a ball swapping stories as we signed. I also had a lovely time signing books in between races at Kempton, twice at Cheltenham and Newbury, where another heroine Lucinda Green (née Prior-Palmer) an Olympic Eventing Gold Medallist, actually bought a copy of JUMP!

In addition I spoke at a jolly lunch and signed books to raise money for St Richard’s wonderful Hospice at Worcester racecourse. Sadly, signing at Ascot and Sandown were ruled out by the snow.

Meanwhile, I was wildly excited when JUMP! was nominated for the popular fiction slot at the British Book Awards which were held at Television Centre, and organised with great panache by Amanda Ross. The party beforehand convinced me once again what a lot of incredibly funny and glamorous people work in the book trade.

Although one never expects to win an award, there’s always a hope one might, particularly when the organisers rang me up beforehand wanting the jist of what I was going to say in my acceptance speech to put in their press release. Being superstitious I nearly refused, then muttered that I’d probably say something about at last knowing how my horse Mrs Wilkinson felt in the winner’s enclosure.

Michael Parkinson was presenting an award on the night, and beforehand Amanda Ross had asked if I could call out a question to him from where I was sitting high up in the gods. So I asked him if he missed interviewing people, as much as we all missed his marvellous interviews. Michael replied he didn’t miss it at all and that he was planning to write a sexy novel and could I give him any tips. I shouted down that he better come upstairs right now, which got a laugh.

Paul O’Grady presented another award and was achingly funny about what to wear if you riot in the street. Stephen Fry and Andrew Marr picked up awards but my spiel about the winner’s enclosure wasn’t needed because the popular fiction award went to One Day by David Nicholls. All very character-forming but after the initial kick in the solar plexus of disappointment, I was so delighted for David. We’d just met and I’d liked him so much and One Day is an absolutely fabulous novel which richly deserved to win.

Shortly after I was cheered up when my fantastic bank Hoare’s, who look after me so well, gave a dinner at their Fleet Street office to celebrate the publication of JUMP! One of the partners, Bella Hopewell, suggested I should invite eight friends. Very hard to decide but in the end they included Andrew Parker Bowles, Kathy Lette, Paul O’Grady, Caitlin Moran, Nicky Henderson, the lovely Eva Rice, who has written a musical based on my romantic novel Harriet, Bill Holland, who is the nicest man in classical music, and Richard Phillips, the funniest trainer in racing. My son Felix, who had helped me so much with JUMP! also joined us.

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