Monday, June 30, 2008

Doing lunch

Am stressed to point of insanity by imminent publication of the book. This has shown itself in spots, the fact I counted them (there are 15), a chronic inability to make a decision about anything at all, insomnia and the conviction something really bad is about to happen. Why would I feel like that when in reality something really good is about to happen? I am trying not to let the insanity show, but I am not sure I am doing a very good job. Apparently, there is now "interest" from TV. I had lunch with "my agent" and "someone from TV". As you do. In Soho. As you do. I had thought about getting my hair blowdried for the lunch but since I am now a registered lunatic, I decided I could not do that in case the hairdresser found nits. I did get rid of the nits (which also meant I could not get my hair cut for the recent photo shoots). But when you are insane, if you think about the fact you had nits not long ago, your head starts to itch.

The girl from TV said she loved the book. I thought: "I wonder if she can see my spots." She said: "I think it should be post-watershed." I thought: "I'm sure I just felt something crawl across my head. " She said: "It has some really big issues." I thought: "Maybe I shouldn't have ordered the spaghetti. I'm so tired I'm not sure I have the energy to keep twirling the fork round and round." She said: "Do you have any ideas who might play you?" Suddenly, I woke up. My ideas were as follows: Dawn French, Helena Bonham-Carter and Emma Thompson. Of course, the latter two are film actresses not TV actresses so the girl from TV nodded politely and started lobbing names across the table - Sarah Parish (from Mistresses and Cutting It, haven't seen them, couldn't comment); Lesley Sharp from Afterlife (in which she plays a medium who points her finger a lot and shrieks "dead person" - a programme so scary I had to stop watching it); finally, Hermione Norris, the blonde girl from Cold Feet and Spooks. She was an alcoholic in Cold Feet - experience-wise, I don't think that's relevant.

We had to grope around quite a bit over who might play my husband because I liked the idea of the guy who played Soames in the Forsyte Saga. But if he was interested, we would have to beef up the part because he is a big star and my husband was away a lot. She went on: "I love your mother." I said: "I love my mother too." She said: "I love your mother's character - any actress would want that part." (I told my mother later - she wants Dame Judy Dench.) The thing with having lunch with "someone from TV" is that you basically get to play that game you play with friends over dinner when you are drunk, but you play it sober and nobody laughs.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Spent much of yesterday with a journalist from the Daily Telegraph. I picked her up from the station at 12.31 and dropped her back around five hours later. OK, there was a bit of driving around, but that's a lot of talking. It is very disconcerting to think what you are saying is being taken down and held as evidence. You can see across from you on the kitchen table, a small black box sucking in all your thoughts and feelings ready to spit them back at you later. The real problem though came at the end (by which time even I was getting bored of hearing myself witter on). The journalist went up to the bathroom and did seem to be a long time up there. The nice PR girl from Penguin had also come up from London for the day. She realised before I did that the journalist was in fact locked in the bathroom. The door does not quite shut. Well, it does shut with a protesting shriek but there are no door handles either side. Once we had realised she was effectively locked in, I thought briefly about whether to keep her there, tell her that I was her number one fan and feed her spaghetti through the hole in the door where the shaft of the door handle should be - not forever, just until she wrote and filed the feature. Unfortunately, she had her mobile phone with her which she was using to rap on the door. I did not think she could break her way out with it, but I did think there was an outside chance she might call the police to report me. There was also the small matter of the PR girl or "crucial prosecution witness" as I began to think of her. I did not know where holding a journalist hostage came in her media handling file but I doubted it was in her list of "Wife in the North- Immediate Priorities". I do have a large suitcase I could have bundled the PR girl into, but it all seemed to be getting a bit complicated. Eventually, I let the journalist out.

Monday, June 23, 2008


In between the whole book thing, I have been making cakes. That is to say, I helped to make a parsnip, lime and ginger cake. I do not do a lot of baking - well, I can manage buns and once tried a Victoria sponge. (Then there were the choux fingers, but I try not to talk about the choux fingers.) I realise that many other women up here bake a lot. It is not that I do not want to bake - I do. The Aga sits there burning up the environment; I only wish I was the sort of woman who could "throw something together". But I am not. I buy my cake. Friends of a friend had me round to show me what to do - hence the parsnip cake. Since I do not bake, I did not feel I could point out the fact that maybe parsnip was not what you usually put in a cake, especially since their alternative recipes were for chocolate and beetroot, and sweet potato, coconut and honey. I was glad I didn't put them right, because actually they taste rather yummy. They certainly leave a better aftertaste than the kind offer I had yesterday from Take a Break to run the piece that appeared in The Sunday Times. The message was passed on from my publishers through my agent, offering £500 for an 800-word extract from the book - the thing is, they would like a photograph of me holding my stillborn son. Apparently, the journalist who made the offer is happy to ask me for it herself.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Watch the Book

Have pulled together a promo for the book with the help of a friend who used to be in advertising and is now a farmer's wife, and a fantastic design company who do a lot of work branding cheese, honey and local attractions. The company is based in converted farm buildings outside a market town which has its own taxidermist, complete with animal skulls in the window, as well as a podiatrist. (Both occupations with their own charms, I always think.) I do not know if they are what attracted the design agency to the area or whether they just like the fresh air. My friend and I drew up a script at the kitchen table, and the graphics guys did whizz-bang things with their electronic crayons and here it is. For anyone who wants to watch the book. Obviously reading the book would take a lot longer than watching the promo but a lot of people do not have time to read books anymore and like to cheat. So the promo will be good for anyone with a really bad case of time poverty. The nice people at New Writing North gave me money towards making it, and I am paying my friend for her time. I do not know if it will help with sales of the book or not, but what is the point of having a book deal if you do not have fun with it? I do not think they made me look too much like a cheese.

(Anyone wanting to run it on their site just needs to copy and paste the "Embed" code which should bring up the player; for an-e-mail, just copy and paste the html link to the YouTube page.)

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Pretender

Had to have more photographs taken. This makes me feel as if I was a small girl again when my mother used to stand me in the corner of our living room for photographs. "This is me behind the sofa". "This is me in front of the sofa." "This is me on the sofa" sort of thing. This went on for years - you have to be an only child to fully appreciate how tense a camera can make me.

As an adult though, I have been allowed out from the corner of the living room. Now it is a case of: "This is me in front of Bamburgh Castle." "This is me on the beach" sort of thing. We went to Alnwick Garden. I wore a red and pink flowed silk dress, empire line, three-quarter sleeves and lipstick. I marvelled at the spurting fountains and leant closer to admire them - across from me, the photographer snapped away. When she had got what she wanted, I tripped up the stone steps to the ornamental garden at the top watched by a band of happy pensioners. I smiled in that way you do when you have been making a spectacle of yourself but had been hoping no one had noticed. The girl I was with informed me one of them had come up to her to say: "That's the Duchess of Northumberland isn't it?" She told him I was no such thing. Why did she do that? What harm would it have done? Those pensioners would have had a much better day out if they thought they had seen the Duchess of Northumberland in the flesh.

I actually met the real thing last month. I was invited along as part of a tour for eight people, which was a prize bought by a friend at an auction at a Conservative ball. The staff at the garden are very efficient. When I arrived, they started talking to each other on walkie talkies because they were expecting us. I felt like telling every gardener and guide we met, “Look, I’m not really a Tory you know.” I felt like telling the Duchess that too, because she immediately informed us that the creation of the garden was only possible under a Labour government and could never have been backed by a Conservative government because it would have looked bad.The genuine Conservatives I was with, smiled politely and tried to look non-committal. I had wondered if she would be “frightfully, frightfully” and expect us to curtsey regularly. I just about managed to stop myself calling her “Your Majesty” when she introduced herself. I also had to tamp down those feelings of acute resentment I harbour towards any woman married to a man whose personal fortune is estimated at £300m according to The Sunday Times Rich List. Where do you meet a man with a personal fortune of £300m I want to know. And why didn’t I meet one before my husband-to-be ambled along dragging behind him several mortgages and a walloping great overdraft? She told us that at one point, the Duke had not visited the garden for two years. I wondered whether he plugged his fingers into his ears and sang “La-la-la-la…I can’t hear you…la-la!” when she strikes up about her latest whiz-bang wheeze of an ice-skating rink or an adventure playground. He doesn’t - she said they don’t talk about it. He may be curdled with debt, but at least my husband encourages me to talk about my work – mind you, the conversations don’t end with "…so is it alright if I spend another £10million then?” Anyway, I am thinking of offering myself as a body-double. I will waft round dressed in something floral and pose for pictures with trippers, and she can concentrate on bringing in the extra £28m she needs for the next stage of the garden.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Tea and sympathy

I went round to my little old lady friend for tea. I told her and the neighbour who was with her about the shock I felt at my former colleague's suicide. Well, they had their own death toll harvested over the years - the woman who walked up from the village to a particularly pretty, stone bridge across the railway line, cut down a grassy path to the track and threw herself infront of a train, and the young girl who did the same. Two men who shot themselves - one of them "cleaning the gun" and the other with money troubles. A lost soul who tied a plastic bag over his head, and another who walked into a pond. I felt like saying: "I'll have another shortbread, but enough with the dead already."

I might not mention the rural death toll to Northumberland Tourism who are backing my book. They are planning a downloadable map with excerpts which highlight tourist atractions such as Bamburgh Castle or Alnwick Garden. Disturbingly, the map will also include photographs of me. This cyber-map on a proposed "micro-site", required a day trailing round with a photographer and a nice woman from Northumberland Tourism looking for sunshine. Obviously, there was lots - Northumberland and sunshine are synonymous and we certainly did not abandon the shoot several hours early because of the sea fret that came in from the North Sea, nor did we delay the second day of the shoot for a week. Certainly not. (At least though, the photographer did not tell me to "relax your forehead" like the make-up girl did when I had my photograph taken for Marie Claire a few weeks ago when I had to tell her: "My forehead is relaxed.") All in all though, I do not think I was looking at my best what with the corrugated forehead, the extra weight I am carrying at the moment (I so wish I had thought of a gastric band) and "the nit situation". (When my daughter came home from nursery with nits and lovingly shared them with me, I had to abandon plans for the pre-shoot cut and blow-dry.)If tourism goes through the floor in the next year or two, I am moving to Kansas.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The man that got away

Had this really funny post I was going to write - ho hum half term-horrors sort of thing. Two days travelling to West Wales with three children; three days there; two days back again - I might have threatened divorce somewhere around the Lake District. It would have been a really funny blog. I would have mentioned "that hotel" where they told us we could have interconnecting rooms but when we arrived they didn't have any. That was funny. Then the snippy receptionist informed us that we could still have two rooms across the corridor from each other, but that I was not allowed to put the seven, five and two-year-old in one room while my husband and I slept in the other. Which was obviously just what I was thinking of doing. That was funny. It was funny too when we ordered sausages for the children's lunch and they arrived pink and I sent them back to be cooked for longer and the waiter brought the three plates right back out again and told me the chef had told him to say: "That's how they come from the butcher." That was funny. It is funny too how much it rains in Wales. Oh yes and I discovered my daughter had nits, and had passed them on. To me. Getting back home would have been such a funny story what with more rain and the fact another hotel told us the children were not allowed to "run round the restaurant" if we brought them down after 7pm. Which is obviously what I encourage them to do when we are out. It would have been such a funny blog. Probably a classic. Then what happens? If someone didn't go and send me some story about someone I used to know - a colleague I used to sit next to on The Sunday Times - going out and killing himself. Clinical depression. I had heard he was depressed last year. I got his address and everything. I meant to write. You know the way you do.