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What’s the big idea?

People often ask me what the hardest part of writing a book is. My answer is always the same. The writing part is relatively easy, it’s coming up with what you want to write about that can prove tricky. That bit can be as drawn out and protracted (though thankfully not as painful) as giving birth. Only with no free drugs on the NHS to help you through it.

So far I’ve written three novels. The first was inspired by personal experience and had a very long labour (first ones often do). It started as diary entries, developed into short stories and only became a fully- fledged novel after a lot of self- doubt, false starts and rewrites.

Continuing the ‘birth’ analogy, the idea for my second book required a fair bit of intervention in order to arrive. My publisher wanted to know what I was going to write next. I didn’t know. For a while I got away with smiling enigmatically whilst raising one eyebrow whenever the subject of book two was raised. But I suspected there was only so long I could get away with this before they’d start thinking I had a facial tic as opposed to an intriguing idea brewing. It was a worry because, in truth, despite trying really hard, I couldn’t get it out (Is this analogy actually helpful or just plain weird?)

It was terrifying. My creative mind had gone blank. It got to the point where the more I strained to think of something, the more I was coming up with ideas that were the literary equivalent of Alan Partridge shouting ‘Monkey Tennis?’ Eventually however, after many long walks, many sessions of lying down on the bed hoping music would inspire me, a few casual panic attacks and some gin, the idea arrived. Safe and sound. And suddenly it was all worth it.

With my next book If You’re Not the One I got lucky. The idea to write about a woman who finds out what life would be like had she stayed with three different men from her past, seemed to arrive fully formed and gift wrapped with a beautiful shiny bow on it. The equivalent, if you like, of a natural, smooth delivery. Like one in a film, where it only takes about five minutes, you haven’t aggressively sworn at anyone even once, and there’s nothing to show for your exertions other than an attractive sheen of perspiration on your forehead.

I couldn’t wait to start writing. Apart from anything else, I felt it was a concept most people would be able to relate to. We all have to make decisions sometimes that impact on our lives in a number of ways, sometimes entirely unwittingly. Accepting or turning down a job for instance, saying yes to a date you’re not sure about, or simply not going to a party could all mean not meeting, or meeting different people.  And who you choose to share your life with is surely the biggest decision of all? Your partner affects, not just how your relationship is, but where you live, your extended family, finances, social circle… the list is endless. And so there it was, my idea, and the result is If You’re not the One. A book I’ve thoroughly enjoyed rearing (OK, enough now) and is finally making it’s debut into society on 7th February. When it does I hope it makes me proud. I want it to make people laugh, hope it might make people cry, but most of all, really hope it makes the reader think. And yes, I know I’m horribly bias and that you’re not supposed to have favourites, but secretly I think this one might be mine.

If-You're-Not-The-One-Front-cover

Why a deal with Working Title Films was a destiny day for me.

Francesca, the protagonist in my first book, Me and Miss M, believed and spoke often of ‘destiny days.’ She said, and I quote…

In life there are a handful of days when we experience key moments that either determine or fulfil our destiny, depending on what you believe in. These days have two things in common. One is that at the time they seem utterly ordinary and it’s only ever with the luxury of hindsight that you realise you’ve had one. The other is that you never, ever forget them.’

Looking back at 2013 I realise Francesca may have been onto something, for I believe I had two destiny days last year and I certainly won’t ever forget either of them.

The first took place on a colder than it should have been, slightly drab, English Summer’s Friday.  My boyfriend and I both had a day off. Actually stop. That is a bare faced LIE. He had a day off. I was out of work. Every day was a day off. Prior to this period of nothingness I had been working at a shopping channel selling items ranging from window vacs to blenders. Not exactly the dream for someone who had many moons ago presented on proper telly, but it had been a job nonetheless and one that had become all the more precious when I’d split up with my husband and become to all intents and purposes a single mum.

Sadly for everyone who worked there, the channel had gone down the spout a couple of months before and to make matters worse/ more stressful, to date I had received nothing but rejections for my latest novel, which I strongly believed to be my best yet. Not that my opinion would equate to anything financially unless someone in publishing agreed.

Basically things weren’t looking all that fantastic (huuuuuuge understatement, things were SHIT) but I was determined to remain positive in a Butlin’s redcoat kind of way. The other option was giving into the terror which was creeping up on me which in turn might lead to me doing something drastic I’d regret forever, such as marching into various publishing houses and refusing to let go of editor’s ankles until they gave me a deal.

So for now I was being fake cheery and had decreed to my boyfriend that we should go swimming. To the public baths. It would be cheap, fun, healthy and according to the forecast hot, so we could chill out in the sun. If we shut our eyes we might even feel like we were on holiday. I met him at the station. He didn’t look convinced. Probably because it was actually raining.

‘It’s nothing,’ I said manically. ‘It’s going to clear up any second.’

He sighed and by way of reply gazed up at the ominous, thick blanket of grey cloud cover.

I was having none of it though. ‘Come on,’ I said ‘Only I just need to pop in here first to get some suntan lotion.’

‘Why? Can you get burnt by rain?’

I ignored him. Things had been so rubbish lately. I had been so worried about everything that frankly I was at a stage where I thought that if I just willed it to, the sun would come out, bathing everything in its optimistic light and warming my tense bones with its rays which in turn would put everything in perspective.

With hindsight there’s a definite possibility I’d gone a bit mad.

One hour later and my boyfriend and I were sat sheltered under a tree with our jackets on over our swimming costumes. We were the only two human beings at the vast outdoor pool apart from one lifeguard who was wearing a coat. He was sat glowering at us from the other side of the pool probably because we were the only two things standing between him and a hot shower and a nice cup of tea.

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‘This is shit isn’t it?’ I finally admitted.

‘Yes,’ said my boyfriend ‘can we go to the pub please?’

‘Yes,’ I shivered, getting up to wring out my towel. For a fleeting moment I thought I might cry and then my phone rang.

It was my book agent. Ringing to tell me that Mira books at Harlequin wanted to offer me a two book deal.

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There might as well have been fireworks. As I said goodbye to my agent, having thanked her a million times, I realised my heart was pounding and that my whole body was shaking with adrenaline, with relief and with happiness.

That phone call changed everything.

Suddenly the rain was romantic. Suddenly, my boyfriend who had managed to glean what was happening, picked me up and swung me about, feeling far far less inclined to kill me.

‘Pub?’ I squealed.

‘Yeah, let’s get out of here now,’ he agreed, giving the life guard an apologetic thumbs up, and off we went, only not to drown our sorrows but to celebrate.

And that was my first destiny day of 2013. The second was to arrive just before Christmas.

By now, my agent had been to the Frankfurt Book Fair with my book, If You’re Not the One, and there was a bit of interest from various film scouts. Previous experience told me that in reality, although this was encouraging, it didn’t really mean much, as getting past the ‘ooh there’s a good idea in here’ stage is nigh on impossible unless you’re a huge name writer.

If-You're-Not-The-One-Front-cover

However,  a while later I found myself visiting the offices of Working Title Films for a meeting with a development producer who I hit it off with instantly. She was dynamic, bright, nice, and best of all loved my book. Hooray. This was all lovely and flattering but I knew there were many more hurdles to get over before anything would actually happen. And so the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months and all the while we were getting closer.

I started to feel a bit mad again because  I could feel the hint of a possibility turning into genuine interest. Then interest was coupled with some action at which point I began to realise it could actually happen and how absolutely brilliant that would be. And yet nothing could be said or celebrated until that offer came in in writing.

And then, one day (December 12th at 19.37, ha, told you you never forget) it did.

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It was finally real and I am so happy and proud and excited that Working Title Films have liked my book enough to option the film rights. That in itself feels like a huge accomplishment especially given that I am such a massive fan of so many of the downright brilliant films they’ve made.  Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral,  Bridget Jones and Elizabeth are all firm favourites and that’s just the tip of their production iceberg.

And now I wait. But in a happy, non- tense way, content to let things take their natural course. I know only too well that these things can take years and the most important/ exciting thing now will be to see what people make of the book come 7th February, when it’s out.

But whatever happens, what 2013 taught me is that if you stick at things long enough, keep the faith and don’t give up, things can change in a heartbeat and so undoubtedly there will be a few more destiny days in store. For us all.

Oh…. it taught me something else as well. Don’t go swimming in the rain in England. Because it’s cold and shit and your boyfriend (and the lifeguards) won’t thank you for it.

 

 

That classic December feeling…….knackered, toxic, overwhelmed…oh… and festive!

On the first day of Christmas my daughter gave to me – not enough notice to knock up a costume for the school Nativity (she’s a Nazarene…?!)

On the second day of Christmas my mother gave to me – a long phone call about who was going to cook what, give what, buy what. She also became the eighty fifth person to ask me what the kids wanted so I scraped the barrel. Some……pens..?

On the third day of Christmas the postman gave to me – red and white cards which indicated I needed to go to the post office to collect my ‘home deliveries’. Again.

On the fourth day of Christmas the school gave to me – an extended shift at the fair on the tombola

On the fifth day of Christmas the school fair gave to me – not five gold rings but a nice virus that’s been going round and apparently is more contagious than the plague.

On the sixth day of Christmas my back gave to me a slipped disc – bought on by trying to simultaneously push two supermarket trolleys, both of which were filled with enough food to feed eight hundred giants for three weeks. Have we got enough crackers/dates? ‘No one likes dates.’ ‘It doesn’t matter. Grab three packs. Just make sure we’ve got all the random stuff we’ll be too full to eat. Have we got enough? HAVE WE?’

On the seventh day of Christmas my diary gave to me – three nights out in a row which I faced with steely, grim determination.

On the eighth day of Christmas I gave to myself – such a big hangover it nearly caused me to pass out in the aisles of Sainsbury’s where I’d popped back for ‘a few bits I’d missed.’

On the ninth day of Christmas my son gave to me – a weepy moment after I’d put him to bed and heard him singing Little Donkey to himself in the dark. It’s the unexpected moments that get you.

On the tenth day of Christmas my credit card gave to me – a minor heart attack when I realised that yet again I’d gone over budget by several hundred quid.

On the tenth day of Christmas my home gave to me the problem of where to actually hide all the crap I’d bought for the children. Should I sew it into my duvet? Bury it in the garden? I have no more space. Perhaps I’ll hide it in the kitchen cupboards and sellotape said cupboards shut.

On the eleventh day of Christmas my greed gave to me – cellulite and a complexion resembling suet.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my partner gave to me an argument about what it was exactly he was doing to help with project Christmas apart from buy his Dad some socks.

And then it was here and my family gave to me – a day to remember. And suddenly, it all seemed worth it. Merry Christmas everyone

Wedding Reading…… with a Twist

My sister, Isabel, and her brilliant husband, Paddy, were married at Rise Hall back in July. A while ago they asked if I’d do a reading but left what I did entirely up to me. Now, Isy and Paddy are two of the funniest, most creative and unique people I know so reading a dull passage no one would remember would never have done. Plus, the amount of organising they did to pull off what was ultimately the best wedding I’ll ever go to, meant they were so on top of every tiny detail, I thought they’d appreciate a surprise. And so it was that this white, middle class, middle aged, mother of two decided to do a rap. See what you think………….Wedding Rap

Pippa Blog

Sometimes in life a job can come along that turns out to be such a pleasure. A while back I was approached to write a blog for a huge, fairly heavyweight recruitment agency called Tate. They wanted a blog to feature on their website which might increase traffic and ultimately help them to recruit more great PA’s for the company. And so it was that Pippa Allbright was born! |See what I’ve done there? Pippa Allbright…..Aaanyway, Pippa has moved down to London from the North and is working as a PA thanks to Tate. Fortunately I’ve been given free rein with regard to what I can write so, as a result, she’s totally normal in as much as her love life is a mess, she suffers sporadically from terrible hangovers and lives with a flatmate from hell.

I’d love you to have  a read so here’s a link to it http://www.tate.co.uk/pippablog/Pages/default.aspx

Enjoy!  Oh…….and book news coming soon!! xx

Episode 9 of Super Busy Chicks

It’s been a while since I posted an episode so here’s the latest. You can find the whole series on you tube of course. In this one we chat 14 day manis, a movie to look out for while enjoying a home made version of banana ice cream that would go down a treat at any dinner party. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EnIhvXgVjJ0&list=UUV3HgcU7v84r2oJM-NvNUKA&feature=plcp

Episode 2 of Super Busy Chicks

Here is the second episode of my new web based show SUPER BUSY CHICKS. Each week me and a couple of friends  give a few tips on food, fashion and fun. I’d love you to have a look and if you like it please spread the word!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3pY1Y6c8FvI&list=UUV3HgcU7v84r2oJM-NvNUKA&feature=plcp

First Episode of Super Busy Chicks

Hi Y’all,

So, here is the first ever episode of Super Busy Chicks, an online show I’ve been working on with Caroline Mili Artiss, who’s an amazing chef and Claire Stuart, a gorgeous fashionista and presenter. Each show is designed to be watched whenever you have a ten/fifteen minute break in your day and simply fancy getting a few tips on food, fashion and culture. I really hope you enjoy it and if you do then please spread the word!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzWL2iSsRIw

New online show.

Here’s a link to the promo for my new online show ‘Superbusy Chicks’. It’s the brainchild of Caroline Mi li Artiss who is an incredible chef and who I met at a shopping channel where I present. She’s the resident kitchen expert at Argos TV.

The show is a short sharp burst of around ten to fifteen minutes, so designed for people who are busy to watch in their lunch breaks.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtbzNojMofM

Each episode will consist of Caroline doing a fabulous but quick recipe, Claire Stuart doing a segment on fashion or beauty, and I’m in charge of culture and might be recommending a book, film, band, whatever takes my fancy that week. The show will be uploaded to Caroline’s youtube channel every Wednesday and the first one airs this week. I’m really excited about it and can’t wait to hear what people think!

My Starry Starry Night

 My sister, Isabel, is a TV producer and recently landed her biggest gig yet, to produce The Baftas. A few weeks ago she idly mentioned that they would need a hostess to go on stage after every award, to make sure the winners and presenters exited the right way.

‘I thought you’d be perfect,’ she said, referring to the fact that A/ I’ve done lots of presenting and B/ I’m up for anything. (Within reason of course. I point blank refused to go to an audition for a Dulcoease advert once. I mean, you’ve got to draw the line somewhere and I think advertising a product that softens your stools is probably it.)

Anyway, I was just about to scream ‘YES, I’LL DO IT, BOOK ME,’ loudly in her face, when she added ‘But the girl who did it last year has already been asked.’

However, luck was on my side, because for some reason, which I can only be eternally grateful for, the girl decided last minute not to do it, leaving me to leap in enthusiastically, from stage left. Anyone who knows me will know I was also doing jazz hands at the time. Anyone who doesn’t know me but who has read ‘Me and Miss M’, my first novel, will also probably be able to imagine how high (for that read scary) my excitement levels were.

After all, they say a first novel often contains a lot of the author and ‘Me and Miss M’ is about a starry eyed girl called Francesca who has had a love affair with the stars of the silver screen since she was little. Her biggest dream is to go to The Oscars and it’s only by working as a personal assistant to a nightmare Hollywood actress that she comes to realise ‘being famous’ isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be.

So, in a nutshell, this job was right up my showbiz street. The Baftas promised proper, old school, Hollywood glamour, a rarity these days, which is ironic given that more people than ever are labelled ‘celebrities’ by the media, partly due to our own unending appetite for them. In fact I would say that you can now categorise celebs not just as A, B, C and Z list but right through the alphabet spectrum. ‘That bloke Bubble who was in Big Brother years ago’ scoring around an N. And when the latest supposedly celeb filled reality shows are launched, I always like to imagine millions of people on sofas around the country, turning to each other, brows furrowed saying ‘Who’s that?’

At the Baftas however I knew the cream of the film industry would be there, all the talented writers, directors, costume people, cinematographers etc, along with the A list stars who we all recognise from the big screen. I was in.

‘What do I wear?’ I asked my sister, day dreaming about red satin, or maybe an acid yellow, to ensure I’d be spotted. (Shy and retiring wallflower that I am.)

‘Black,’ she said firmly ‘Black, long and glam.’

It didn’t take long to find my dress. One trip to gorgeous, vintage shop Mela Mela in Teddington and I’d found the perfect frock.  It was by Frank Usher, long, with amazing diamante straps; it fitted like a glove and was just the right side of sexy. However, in order to avoid looking like I’d been dug up I booked in for a spray tan the day before, and a blow-dry.

‘Go big,’ I instructed my hairdresser. ‘I’m talking massive because I’ve got to sleep on it and it’s got to last the entire day tomorrow.’

She did as instructed and I walked home looking like a mahogany version of Maurice Gibb from The Bee Gees. (Always a joy I find when you arrive home and one of your children collapses on the floor in hysterical laughter and the other is visibly frightened).

‘Why did you do that Mummy?’ my five year old boy asked, looking genuinely bewildered.

‘Trust me,’ I said, sounding more confident than I probably felt ‘I know what I’m doing. After a shower and twelve hours or so of dropping time, I’ll look perfectly normal.’

Of course he had no idea what I was talking about so I backed out of the room with him staring at me blankly.

The next day, smelling of biscuits, I bounded out of bed, deciding to deal with my orange sheets another time. I had bigger fish to fry. I had to shower, (I mean literally, I HAD to shower in order to take my skin tone down a few notches,) I needed to pack a bag and get myself to Covent Garden.

My call time was 11.30 at The Royal Opera House. Upon arriving I was shown to a dressing room which I shared along with all the many chaperones. Every single person who was presenting an award had an allocated person to make sure they got out of their seat and onto the stage on time and happy. You can imagine what a lottery that must have been in terms of ‘who you got.’ The girls who got Brad Pitt and Jon Hamm felt like the chosen ones.

Rehearsals began at midday. Watching Stephen Fry go through his paces from the wings was fascinating. He was just as professional, witty, and charming as one would hope him to be. He also seemed abnormally unfazed by the enormity of the event he was about to present and rehearsals went like clockwork, with crew members standing in for presenters and pretending to be the winners, the identity of whom was still only known by an elite few at Bafta.

I had a long break between rehearsals ending at three and needing to be ready and standing by at 6.30, so I ventured out of the building for some fresh air and also to see if I could find a few people I knew who were working on the red carpet.

It was a freezing cold day yet the fans were already gathering in their hundreds, standing behind the barriers, eager to catch a glimpse of their favourite stars and prepared to risk getting hyperthermia in order to do so. I soon located my friend, Stroma, a celebrity booker, who was working for E Entertainment, one of the many broadcasters who had pitched up and were transmitting from the red carpet that day. Her job was to grab the celebs so that Dermot O Leary and Fearne Cotton could interview them. Despite having a layer of thermals under her obligatory black dress, she was freezing.

Then I went to find Anna Williamson, who I used to present with at Disney Channel years ago. These days she presents for Daybreak and has also just starred in a panto with Dame Edna Everage. Today however she was doing interviews for Bafta and when I found her she was interviewing Miss Piggy. It’s funny how excited all the surrounding adults were about seeing Miss Piggy in the flesh, myself included. After all, she is essentially just a puppet, a fact even the most intelligent person seems to forget when faced with the hammy icon of the stage and screen. Brilliant.

Once I’d soaked up a bit of the atmosphere I ventured back into the warmth, at which point another sister of mine, Imogen, arrived to do her job of seat filling. For the purposes of the TV show they never want to see an empty seat in shot so the minute anyone leaves theirs, whether it be to go to the loo, or to go on stage, either to receive or give an award, the seat fillers dart in and take up the space. At one point during the show my sister found herself sat next to Christina Ricci.  

This is Imogen, the youngest Forte sis

Imogen and I got changed together (in the toilet. The dressing room was so full. This bit was not at all glamorous)

 and a lot of make up later, I was ready to go and was standing by at the side of the stage.

 

                                                 

 

 

 

At this point the curtain was still down but you could hear the buzz of the by now full auditorium behind it and I felt a frisson of excitement as Tom Jones’ band gathered with their instruments, ready to start the show.

The old Welsh dragon kicked off proceedings with a tribute to James Bond and I honestly felt like I had the best seat in the house. Watching from the wings was thrilling and I felt privileged and lucky to be there.

Stephen Fry got proceedings underway and finally the awards started being given out. The only slightly tricky bit of my job was anticipating when the winners had finished speaking as sometimes it wasn’t totally obvious. One didn’t want to do a false start, sort of shuffling nervously on and off stage like Mrs Overall from Acorn Antiques and I soon figured out it was best to be bold and decisive. That way, even if I got it wrong and they hadn’t finished, I could stand there looking confident until they had, without looking like I’d made a mistake. There was simply no room for hesitancy but as I looked out for the first time into a sea of faces which included Martin Scorcese, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Penelope Cruz it was surreal to say the least.

Going back to my earlier point about the difference between minor celebrities and true stars, what was interesting to observe was quite how otherworldly some of the truly beautiful people looked. We have probably almost grown used to the sight of people like Brad Pitt and Penelope Cruz in magazines but seeing them up close and in the flesh their extraordinary looks really are unbelievable. Gillian Anderson was like the most delicate porcelain doll you’d ever seen, her bone structure exquisite, her skin like milk. Naomie Harris, one of the new Bond girls also has a pretty much perfect face, its symmetry being totally exact.

In reality the show ran for around three hours but was edited down to two and a half for TV purposes. I have to say there was one bit I knew at the time would definitely not be making it to the final broadcast.

Kristen Wiig and Chris O Dowd, two of the stars of Bridesmaids, came on to present an award. They were having a whale of a time, giggling and thoroughly enjoying themselves. Probably as a result of this, they ended up standing on totally the wrong side of the stage during the VT.  Not a problem in itself, except that when it came to ushering off the winner it meant that they ended up taking the lead and going on ahead of me. As they did so, Kristen turned to say something to Chris O Dowd, over her shoulder but failed to see a rather large spotlight. And so it was that with a small shriek of surprise she did a comedy trip worthy of its own scene in Bridesmaids and ended up on all fours on the side of the stage. Fortunately, the only thing that was hurt was her pride and she soon picked herself up and fled into the wings to have a quick ‘dying of mortification’ session. And so it was that I ended up with one of Hollywood’s leading ladies, her face hot with embarrassment, clutching my arms, pleading with me to tell her if anyone had seen.

I was flummoxed.

Had anybody seen? What should I do I wondered? How should I answer?

For clearly there was a massive difference between the truth of the matter and what she wanted to hear. Had anybody seen?

In the end I decided against saying ‘Well, only the entire audience saw. That is to say the majority of the British and American film industries put together.’

Instead I went for a more diplomatic ‘No one will see it, they’ll cut it out and besides, you did far funnier things in Bridesmaids….’

I know……. but it was the best I could come up with at the time.

I have to say though; I now loved this actress even more than I had before. It was as if she was her character in Bridesmaids. She was totally human and had just done the sort of thing I only usually do in nightmares, naked.

After the event we headed to the party which was at The Grosvenor and was sponsored by Di Saronno. I was so proud of my sister as everyone came up to tell her what a brilliant job she’d done and was even more proud to note that it wasn’t just her bosses that loved her but also the runners and other members of the team. Always telling I find.

This is my clever producer sis, weary after a full on day!

Emili Sande performed at the party and Cuba Gooding Jr moon walked into it (Not many parties you can say that about). We flung ourselves about on the dance floor until the early hours and drunk more amaretto than was probably sensible (I’m talking litres). At a certain point hunger pangs kicked in and Imogen and I started craving carbohydrate. We headed for the food table only to find some melon balls, grapes and strawberries. Not a sausage roll in sight. No wonder all the actresses are so bloody thin.

Still, the party was the perfect end to the perfect day, one which if I had to compare it to a movie, would be something cool and glam like The Player yet with the colour and drama of Moulin Rouge.

The day after was a different kettle of fish however. I came to, as opposed to woke up. My head was pounding as if it had an axe wedged in it and as I slowly opened one eye, (which felt like it had been bread-crumbed) after a measly two hours sleep, a terrifying thought occurred to me. It was the first day of half term.

A few hours later as I sat jibbering in the corner of a soft play centre, looking wretched, it didn’t take long to come up with today’s analogy. If yesterday had been ‘The Player’ and ‘Moulin Rouge’ today was most certainly The Hangover. Parts 1 and 2.