Monthly Archives: November 2010

On… Judy Blume covers

I just remembered Judy Blume.

‘Good Lord!’ I thought (I often start thoughts with little exclamations like that), ‘How could I have not thought about her for so long? I was obsessed with her books…’ And then I thought: ‘why, I wonder how her covers have changed over the years?’

Man, did I find some doozies.

My two favourite Judy Blume books, by the way, were probably ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT’S ME, MARGARET and STARRING SALLY J FRIEDMAN AS HERSELF (yah I read FOREVER, but I couldn’t really relate to the losing-one’s-virginity thing on account of my being about nine at the time – I didn’t get TIGER EYES as it was about a popular girl who had to wear a back brace, I think, and I was a geek so didn’t really get it – and I hated BLUBBER as any stories about kids being mean made me feel sick, on a account of my also being a wimp). I think I read all the Judy Blume books aged between eight and ten, at the same time that I was deeply obsessed with Ramona Quimby, Little Women, Enid Blyton (Famous Five and Malory Towers particularly), LM Montgomery (I had all of her books, including the short story anthologies, and could quote chunks of my two favourites – Anne Of Avonlea and Emily of New Moon – off by heart – see? Told you I was a geek) and the What Katy Did books. Then I got into the Babysitters Club, Sweet Valley High and Paula Danziger, and then one long, very hot summer in Hong Kong when I was 12, I was finally allowed access to my mother’s club’s no-kids-allowed library and got insanely into Mary Wesley, Georgette Heyer, Nancy Mitford, Jane Austen, the Brontes, etc, and grown-up life truly began.


I went back and read Little Women over the summer, and still loved it. What books did you love? I remember some other Alcott books, including one about a girl who obsessed about ‘ear-rings’ for chapter after chapter. I will Google the title later. Maybe it will come to me. (I’m scared Google is destroying my memory as I don’t have to remember things anymore. Another sign, by the way, that one is over 30, similar to an obsession with Farrow & Ball and two-day hangovers.)

Some of these covers are early experiments in clipart, others are just HIL – wait for it – ARIOUS. Book covers from the mid-to-late 80s are my favourites, I think. One day, I want my books to have a cover that is a full painting of a girl looking pensive, probably in a bedroom (flowery duvet cover!), maybe talking with her best friend (sleepover!) and perhaps with a phone on the bed (a phone in her bedroom? she’s obviously RAD).

Take a look. The French one is the coolest… Bien sur.

On… my little black book of London

This morning I woke up early, read some of the delicious THE HATING GAME by Talli Roland, then lost Stone-Paper-Scissors with Fox and was forced to tramp down to the Coffee Plant on Portobello. And now, as I am back in bed slurping in a deliberately-annoying-but-hopefully-endearing way, all I can think is ‘this is the best coffee in the world. I should blog about it’.

And then I thought, fuck it, what about my favourite, essential places in London?


There’s a lot of coffee in the world. And there’s a LOT of bad coffee. I don’t see the point in going to a CostaNeroBucks* when the result is bitter, watery and burnt. (Similarly I really, really don’t see the point in going to a chain bar like All Bar Shit when there’s probably something tiny and unique around the corner, and I’m confounded by the allure of Pizza Express.) I like my coffee rich and full and flavoursome, and those places just can’t offer that.

Anyway, the Coffee Plant is on Portobello Road, about 65 steps from our place, and the coffee is exceptional. The service is middling and the guy who owns it seems to have self-published a book about the 9/11 conspiracy, but it’s all part of the experience. And they sell very nice chocolate-covered cherries.

*Except in summer when it was veh hot and I discovered a love for Frappucinos: icy caffeinated goodness so sweet you can’t even tell how bad the coffee is! Then I discovered the amount of sugar in those fuckers and immediately stopped.


The Grocer On Elgin. I could not have written A GIRL LIKE YOU without this place: I tripped down at about 6pm every night for one of their freshly-made meals (soups, salads, stews, curries…).

The Grocer On Elgin
6 Elgin Crescent
W11 2HX

It also sells very good coffee, but the cups are too small, so Coffee Plant wins.


On the corner of Blenheim and Portobello, on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, two delightful women sell flowers at astonishingly low prices.

Now, I never saw the point of buying flowers before, when there seemed no middle ground between a £3.99 bunch of date-raped carnations from Tesco or a £89.99 posy of hand-reared, Oxbridge-educated blooms from a shop called something like ‘Blooming Marvellous’ (sigh). But you can buy 20 huge fat roses, a big bunch of lilies and several hydrangeas from this stall, and still get change from £25, and they last at least a week.

I have no idea what I’m doing with the arranging but I love it.


Books! Those beautiful bastards. I love reading. When I was little, we belonged to three libraries, so I could get the 18 books out a week it took to occupy me. I wanted to be a librarian when I grew up. I think if I’d seen Lutyens & Rubinstein, I’d have wanted to work in it instead.

So, most of you probably buy on Amazon, and one has to admit that the prices are afuckingstonishingly cheap. But if you’re after a good, soul-cheering book browse and genuinely personalised recommendations by people who truly love books – and who isn’t? – you can’t beat Lutyens & Rubinstein. Started by two literary agents about a year ago, I believe the intention was to stock the books they and their friends loved the most in the world… and wow, it works.

As I browse L&R;, I tend to make little gasping sounds of joy when I find the books that have permanently invaded my brain and heart – from Jilly Cooper to Kingsley Amis to Stella Gibbons to Leo Tolstoy to Evelyn Waugh to Nora Ephron to Dodie Smith… all in one delightful, beautiful space. It’s a bit like going to a party with all your best friends from your entire life.

Lutyens & Rubinstein
21 Kensington Park Road
W11 2EU

Daunt is, of course, also a lovely independent bookshop, but they do seem to be dreadful book snobs. Terribly worthy, with less of the joy of reading than the joy of ‘yarse I DO prefer the xx translation, you know, when I went up to Cambridge -’ blahblahblahzzz.


Fine, laugh at me. Call me a princess. But I’m the one that has to look at my hands for about 15 hours a day as I type: I like having good nails. I can do my own, if I must, but for £10 one of the gifted and delightful Nail Spa ladies can do an absolutely amazing file-and-polish. Every now and again I get a manipedi for £40. They’re in Marylebone, Maida Vale and South Kensington, and it’s amazing how, once a week, I manage to have an errand near one of the three.

My colour de jour, and the one that is on the nails taptaptapping away to you right now, is Essie Velvet Voyeur. I also like Gladioli, Hot Coco, Lapis of Luxury, Chinchilly and Sugar Daddy. For my wedding I had Berry Hard on my hands and Mink Muffs on my toes. Yes. Aren’t my conversational skills fascinating? “Do go on,” I can hear you saying, head tilted thoughtfully to the side. “Tell me more about your fingernails.”

The point is: there are a lot of cheap-n-not-that-cheerful places popping up in London these days – Julie’s Nails, I’m talking to you – but they’re pretty dreadful. Nail Spa is dependably great.

Nail Spa

5 Paddington Street
London, W1U 5QF
020 7935 3322

7 Clifton Road
London, W9 1SZ
020 7266 5588

20 Bute Street
London, SW7 3EX
020 7225 2233

Hmm I have been typing for an hour. Let’s see: coffee, food, flowers, nails, books… what else is there that I can recommend?

Clothes? I shop on the high street (Topshop, Zara and ASOS almost entirely, though I do have a penchant for J Brand jeans and dresses from Carven, Maje and Paul & Joe Sister). I get a lot of things altered to fit better, and an old pencil dress can get a new lease of life if you cut six inches off it (I cut six inches off a lot of dresses, come to think of it, I’m quite slutty like that). The place I go for alterations is always, always, always First Tailored. They’re expensive, but worth it. From Zara trousers to my wedding dress to Paul’s wedding suit, the results are consistently exceptional.

They don’t have a website, but it’s
First Tailored Alterations
85 Lower Sloane Street,
SW1W 8DA (7730 1400).
Sloane Square tube. 9am-6pm Mon-Sat.


On…. dialogue

I’ve been thinking about dialogue. I really LOVE writing dialogue. If I ever feel stuck, I just start writing conversations between my characters. It’s like a creative enema: it unblocks everything. I love working out how characters speak; their attitude and humour and syntax and slang; how the structure of a sentence can change the entire meaning behind it… And so on.

In fact, when I’m writing – or, rather, when I’m writing easily – I can hear their voices in my head. Like a play.

Then the other day I couldn’t find my iPod. I hadn’t seen it in weeks. I think I had it on holiday, but now – vamoosed. ‘Oh, well,’ I thought. ‘C’est perdu. I guess I should get another one, though it’s funny how I never listen to it when I’m out and about anymore.’

And then I realised: it’s because I eavesdrop instead.

I do. All day. I’m a conversation scavenger, a tidbit collector, a little magpie for bon mots. I don’t know when I started, but it’s been at least a year. And in the past 12 months, I’ve hit a creative purple patch. (I’ll tell you more about all the things I’ve been growing in said purple patch if they ever flower.) And I think the two are directly related.

I think listening to an iPod essentially puts the pause button on my engagement with the outside world. No daydreaming, no idle observations and ponderings and wonderings… those are the times when I get ideas. And eavesdropping is part of that.
I listen to people on phones (“And then she said you obviously deserved it, and I said, that is completely unfair,”). I listen to conversations on buses (“I’m going to text him at like, 9 o’clock and say, hi, in case you lost my number, this is Janey from Saturday. Just casual, you know?” “Yeah… or, don’t”). I LOVE IT.

Eavesdropping gives tiny glimpses into people’s lives and relationships… it makes me think about human nature, and(apologies, cockeyed-optimist-type comment incoming) it really makes me love humanity. People are so funny and genuine and warm. Except, of course, those exceptionally annoying people who speak with the deliberate intention of being overheard (“We don’t talk with our mouth full, do we Andrew? Andrew! Listen to mummy, please! People will think we were dragged up!”).

Most of all, eavesdropping makes me think about how character can be revealed through dialogue.

One day last week, in the French Connection commission at Selfridges, I heard this very intense conversation take place between three girls, aged about 24.

Girl 1: The black dress. With the shoulders. But dressed up.
Girl 2: Really? Dressed up? With what?
Girl 1: You know… spangles.
Girl 2: Or the sequined skirt? Maybe?
Girl 1. Yeah, that would look amazing on you.
Girl 3: Sequins will cut your arse when you sit down.

And then they moved on and I snickered to myself, looking like quite the mad old bat. If I wrote that word-for-word, it’s funny. But if I was to transcribe it into a story, I might tweak it a bit to communicate character/intonation a bit more. I’d add ‘Trust me’ to Girl 3, as she really sounded experienced in the sequin-arse matter. And I might add ‘ooo yes’ to preface both of Girl 2’s lines, as it helps to establish how naive and excited she sounded (what event were they shopping for? Who knows. Hopefully something awesome).

Did you know that writing guides – for books and screenplays, ackshuary – say you should use adverbs (ie words that describe how people are saying what they’re saying – or doing, for that matter, but let’s stick with saying for the time being) as rarely as possible? Interesting, huh. Apparently it’s amateurish. Every now and again it’s probably necessary, but when a character is described as, for example, saying something ‘goofily’ then ‘merrily’ then ‘jokingly’ then ‘impishly’ on the same page, it’s overegging the dialogue pudding.

I guess their point is that the content, ie WHAT they’re saying, should be goofy/merry/joking/impish. That’s also, when you think about it, a sign of strong characters and story (if you already know the person is merry and in a merry mood, which you should, they’ll obviously speak merrily). I’m not sure if it’s something one should never do, though. After all, Jilly Cooper does it now and again, and she is awesome.

I worry that I probably overegged the dialogue pudding in THE DATING DETOX, but I can’t bear to open the darn thing and check. The dialogue in A GIRL LIKE YOU (out in six weeks! woo) is better, I hope, or at least it should be: I was a bit obsessed with dialogue by then, and checked every line a thousand times.

Anyway, I must dash. I have eavesdropping to do.

EDIT: I started reading Stephen King’s On Writing yesterday, which is brilliant, and this morning on the bus read the chapter where he talks about this very same issue. He says ‘the road to hell is paved with adverbs’. Which is veh amusing.

On… getting away from it all

I’m back from a break with Fox (aka my husband) in New York and Turks & Caicos. It was [insert your favourite positive superlative HERE], particularly since we haven’t spent more than three nights in a row together since we got married in April (he’s been working in Zurich from Monday to Friday, and I’m still in London. So it’s been fun, because every weekend I get really excited about seeing him. But it also sucks because, well, you know, it sucks). Anyway, rather than bore you senseless with a rundown of exactly what it was like (you’ve had holidays, you know they rock), here are the top ten best things about the last three weeks.

1. Swimming in the sea on Turks & Caicos. That isn’t exactly an original thing to say about a holiday, and I swear I don’t mean to be one of those appalling holiday show-offs (I have zero interest in seeing someone else’s holiday photos – show me a pic of your crap tube ride into work, and I’ll take a look, you know?), but you need to see this beach to understand. It’s the shit.

2. Beating Foxy at pool whilst drinking margaritas at a barefoot local bar called Sharkbite. (Every element of that sentence works for me.)

3. Sleeping. I am boringly ferocious about sleep, probably due to this pesky waking-early-to-write habit; I can get tearful if I’m up past 11 on a school night. I binged on sleep like a fat kid on Snickers at Hallowe’en.

4. Deadwood. Brilliant. Buy it, watch it, love it, fall seriously in lust for Timothy Olyphant. Next on my list of things to watch is In Treatment, and if you have any other recommendations, bring ‘em on. I also read a suitcaseload of books, and in fact was forced to visit the Unicorn Bookshop on Turks twice, but more about that in another post.

5. Browsing New York bookshops, especially McNally Jackson in Soho. US book covers are infinitely superior to UK covers: discuss. (I may do a compare and contrast blog in a few days to demonstrate my point.)

6. The Black Label burger at the Minetta Tavern in Manhattan. Perfect pattie, slightly sweet bun, crunchy-salty fries.

7. The martinis at Raouls. This French restaurant is deliciously, iconically New Yorkified, and the martinis were particularly good. That’s why I decided to have three, with predictably disastrous results.

8. The entire meal at Locanda Verde, which started with crostini and sheep’s milk ricotta and ended with near-tears when I realised I had no room for dessert. (I ALWAYS regret not having room for dessert. I still regret not having room for peanut butter and jelly chocolate cake at DBGB last time we ate there. Even thinking about it makes me wince with sadness / greed.)

9. The wedding we attended last Saturday, at the very end of our holiday, when Fox – who never, ever dances – went bananas to a 90s tribute band. He put his tie around his head and jumped around ecstatically like a teen at a school dance, screamed ‘This is my SONG! I KNOW ALL THE WORDS!’ when House Of Pain came on and then – inspired by memories of the 90s, I assume, or confused by my encouraging cries of ‘Nobody puts Foxy in the corner!’ – sat on my lap pretending to be Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze in Ghost, using an ice bucket in place of a clay urn. And yes, by the way, that was Fox as Demi and me as Patrick.

10. Being with the Fox. I really do like his company more than anyone in the whole entire world. Which is fortunate, given the whole till-death-do-us-part thing… And I don’t really talk about him on this blog much as, well you know, he probably doesn’t want the attention (admittedly, point 9 belies that statement) and it’s pretty boring for you guys, but let me just say it once and for all: he rocks.

PS. It occured to me, with mild horror, that the last point might come across a bit, what’s that phrase again? Oh yes. Smug bitch. I hope it doesn’t. I wrote The Dating Detox from personal experience. I had my heart broken, mildly bruised, and thrown away like a worn-out shoe more often than you can say ‘I don’t think we should do this anymore’. And le Fox and I can fight with the best of them (you haven’t had a shouting match till you’ve had it with an Irishman) and we’re not lovey-dovey all the time. But hey, it was a dang nice holiday. And I was feeling very loving when I wrote it. Nuff said.