Tuesday, 11 December 2012

New York, New York...

And yes, I’ve just been there, lucky me, only for a few days and no time at all for shopping, (well hardly, only for presents)  but still, it was wonderful. As always.
I was there to research the new book; which involved a lot of pavement pounding, a lot of wandering through the cosmetic departments of the big stores, a lot of visiting bars and restaurants—you must be feeling seriously sorry for me by now.

I arrived at about ten thirty at night, and got through Immigration by about one in the morning.  (Maybe you might be feeling just a little sorry for me at this point.)
And then the drive into the city. New York at one in the morning is really very like New York at lunch time: noisy, heavily trafficked, brilliantly lit, shops open everywhere – well certainly downtown – food shops, flower stalls, delis, dry cleaners, even one or two bookshops. Yes, bookshops. Can you imagine? I really felt like getting out of the cab and having a browse. Only I didn’t, I decided on balance I’d rather get to my hotel.

And the highlights were:

Staying at the Algonquin.  Which is a wonderful hotel for a writer; it was where Dorothy Parker held her Round Table lunches for al the great writers of her day: Robert Benchley , Alexander Woolcott, Art Samuels, even Harpo Marx. (No, I didn’t know he was a writer either) The round table is still there, in the Round Table bar and so is Matilda, the hotel cat, who has been there ever since the hotel was opened in 1902.  Well, her descendants, obviously. As I walked in, she was sitting on the reception counter and looked at me very coolly. She is blonde, fluffy and beautiful.

A walk: I woke up to one of those days New York is best at; brilliant blue sky, sunshine – and a freezing wind, howling down all those great avenues. I headed for the Meatpacking district, which was exactly what it said, the district where the meat came off the boats to be packed, cobbled streets, huge warehouses and about as unfashionable then as it is fashionable now.

And I walked not down the wind-y streets, but along the old Highline Railway  which has been turned into a sort of park, or rather walkway, high high above the streets, with shrubs and trees and grassland: totally enchanting. It stops at a sort of viewing place, where you can look all the way uptown to Central Park;

A sign: New York is good on signs; it was there I first saw “Don’t even think of parking here”. This one said, “Stop praying… God’s too busy to find you a parking space".

The Magnolia Bakery, much featured in Sex and the City: tiny it is, but filled with cup cake-y treasures; people stood outside in the biting wind drinking hot chocolate and munching on things like Red Velvet cheesecake.

A martini in the Algonquin bar, the biggest I’ve ever seen, which completely knocked me out; I could hardly make the lift.

Breakfast at Penelope’s on Lexington Street, oh my goodness, that was a breakfast: eggs, bacon, and hash browns, and then waffles with maple syrup, and raisins and cinnamon apples and the best coffee ever. They’re good at the best coffee ever there. Many more hours walking required after that.

The shop windows generally but raising the game to another level entirely, Bergdorf Goodmans at  the top of Fifth Avenue—all scenes from the Ziegfield follies. Literally stopped the traffic—well the pedestrian kind anyway.

The cosmetic departments —Bloomies has a vast tank of tropical fish, Saks is a sort of enchanted wood, Bergdorfs a glittering white underworld. Only annoying thing is if you stop for an instant, you’re set upon by extremely overzealous sales people. Counter productive really, so you daren’t.

The real-life toy soldier outside FAO Schwarz, at the top of Fifth, who said “I like your coat young lady”…I went in and bought up the shop…which was full of brilliant conjurers.

The 18th floor bar at the incredibly trendy Standard Hotel, (also in the  Meatpacking District. ) 360 degree views up town and out across the Seaboard—incredible. In the summer they have a plunge pool up there; in winter they have an ice rink at ground level. Helicopters whirling by would have a great view of you in the loos which have floor to ceiling windows…oh yes.

Balthazars, a bar in SoHo, very very cool and French—yes, French. Menus, signs on doors, d├ęcor – everything. I decided there was only one thing to drink at the bar: a nice glass of Taittinger champagne. It wasn’t too much of a hardship.

One horrid sight: kittens and guinea pigs being sold on the corner of Sixth Avenue. How can that be allowed?

The Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Centre, on the edge of the skating rink, and like the rest of New York, reaching for the sky.  The lights being turned on the last night I was there really did stop the traffic: the jewel in the crown that is New York at Christmas.

There was so much more, of course. I left four days after I had arrived, dizzy with it all. Truly an amazing city. Lucky me.

Happy Christmas everybody - wherever you may be. Have a lovely time. I intend to.


Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Autumn. Oh yes.


It shouldn't be Autumn of course; the year has gone so much too fast, and the leaves have no business to be turning nor the evenings getting dark, and as for the talk of Christmas everywhere--well.

However, my diary assures me it is, and after a wonderful summer, which proves it is Autumn of course, I have to accept the inevitable.

Apart from anything else, I should know it's October  because it's the Wimbledon Bookfest of which I am a patron and which is a sure marker in my year. If you want to know more about it, you can look at the website, www.wimbledonbookfest.org; lots of lots of wonderful treats, and wonderful authors, like Kate Mosse, Rose Tremain, James Naughtie interviewing Sebastian Faulks, and so much more.

I did my Girls' Night Out, an annual event, with Shirley Conran this year; we both talked about our first novels, hers the mega-famous Lace, of course, thirty years old this year, and I'm talking about Old Sins. Huge fun, lot of very good,funny  chat,  with an extremely good audience. Thank you audience.

Shirley Conran and Penny Vincenzi

I'm also interviewing Jojo Moyes, one of my favourite writers, about easily one of my favourite books, her amazing, runaway best seller Me BeforeYou; the story of Will, a severely disabled young man, and Lou, his initially reluctant, chippy, young  carer. If you haven't read it do; it's funny, charming, sexy, and sad, in turns, and once you've picked it up you won't put it down again till you reach The End. Wonderful.

Penny Vincenzi and Jojo Moyes

I don't have a new book this year, but I'm doing my best...half way through I would say, which is an uncomfortable place to be; I always liken it to being on a raft in the middle of the ocean, with no land anywhere to be seen, possible a shark or two in view and no map, or whatever you have in the ocean, to guide me.

I can't tell you what it's about, yet; but I will tell you that I spent a few days in Paris, gathering background for it, (spent a bit of time in the department stores, like the dazzling Printemps with its glorious stained glass dome and quite a lot of time in the sexy cafes and eateries--tough, but there you go, someone has to do it) and a magical day in the truly beautiful town of Grasse, home to --well I think I won't tell you what Grasse is home to, if you don't know, but if you can find out there's a clue to the book's setting.

I'm also off to New York in a month, to do some more research--more department stores and sexy eateries, another hint of a clue--and that's going to be pretty tough too, what with it being nearly December by then, and New York  knowing how to do Christmas like no other city. Saks Fifth Avenue, and the ice rink in the Rockefeller Centre, here I come!

I had a lovely time the other afternoon; the charity Wellbeing, of which I'm a patron, held its annual Volunteers Awards day; the presentation held in the marvellous covered- in courtyard of the Wallace Collection--the ravishing gallery and house that is home to, among many other marvels, The Laughing Cavalier. We sat and had a very posh tea--ladlylike finger sandwiches and miniature pastries, and chatted to all the volunteers  who do so much to raise money for the charity, (affiliated to the Royal College of Gynaecologists and responsible for initiating and funding a great deal of very valuable research) and then I, along with Emma Forbes, Janet Ellis and Emma Bridgewater presented them with their awards. It was such a happy, friendly afternoon; we all had a great time.

So now it's back to school--I mean work, we all think of September as the start of the new year, don't we?--and my book-ish raft in the middle of the ocean.


Monday, 25 June 2012

The Decision is here in paperback!


Can’t believe it’s June (nor could anybody else, looking out of the window at our glorious summer  weather…!) and The Decision is out in paperback right now. It’s got a different cover from the hardback, of a girl running down stairs wearing a red mac and black tights (dressed for the English summer, you could say) and the spooky thing about that was that when I went in to see my editor and the team at (wonderful) Headline, what was I wearing? A red mac, identical colour, and black  tights. So obviously we were made for each other, my cover and me. Incidentally, you could have your own red Burberry trench coat if you enter our competition - just click here to enter.

And now, it seems to be everywhere I look, on posters at stations and on the London Underground and even on dazzling LCD screens at Westfield shopping malls. The White City one is actually quite dangerous; for some obscure (very obscure) subliminal reason, I found myself compelled to go and buy all sorts of things on the strength of it. I now have a black Burberry, for instance, and a whole lot of suitable-for-the-sun (even more obscure) clothes, and two pairs of extremely expensive shoes. I blame the author…

The build up has been fun, too, not least a marvelous 24 hours at the Good Housekeeping Wing (my words, not theirs) of the Hay Literary Festival. Lindsay Nicholson, their editorial director, was kind enough to invite me; and there over a delicious dinner, readers could sit and listen to speeches from  Alan Titchmarsh, Kay Burley and Val McDermid, all amazingly impressive and entertaining; and then at lunch the next day, from Prue Leith, Kathy Lette (equally so) and me. Well I hope I was a bit. We stayed in an extremely beautiful country house hotel, called Llangoed Hall, once the home of the Ashley family; and the food was wonderful too. I tell you it’s tough at the top…

The only (literally) damp squib cast over things was that the torrential rain that poured ceaselessly down for the entire twenty four hours flooded the bookshop. …and indeed the whole of the Hay Festival site looked more like Glastonbury than its usual summery self.

It was particularly nice for me to talk to Good Housekeeping readers, because long ago, I wrote a monthly column for the magazine and very flatteringly lots of them remembered it. I felt like I’d come home…
Perhaps the crowning moment of the whole day for me (hopeless cook that I am) was when Prue Leith confessed in her talk that she couldn’t make cakes…

The Jubilee has also happened around this time; I know everyone has their own moment to tell about; my most special one was being high on a hilltop in Oxfordshire, with a band playing God Save the Queen, while one of the beacons was lit. Reader, I cried.

It’s been a wonderful summer so far, weather apart; and anyway, as I’m always saying, our weather defines us... (Quite what that makes us I’m not sure, apart from extremely hardy…)
Anyway, if you haven’t read The Decision in hardback, (or on your Kindle) I really hope you will now. And that you enjoy it.


Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Down Under

Hallo, and oh dear,
So much for New Year resolutions; mine was to write my blog regularly once a month without fail. Date today 16th February. Hmmm. Happy Belated Valentine's Day everyone.
Anyway, this being the first day of the rest of my life, better late than never, and all that, here it is, and as always I do have a bit of an excuse, as I've been in Australia for a month. Mostly staying with Daughter no 1 and her family, celebrating her birthday with a very cool ladies- only party, and having a glorious holiday, but doing a bit of work as well. And how clever of me was that! with the UK swathed in icy fog, I was to be found picnicking on a host of lovely beaches, body surfing rather gingerly, swimming in rock pools --the pools carved out of the rocks on almost all the beaches, filled every day with fresh water swirling in from the ocean--eating endless yummy barbecues, and lolling beside the family pool and perfecting a water ballet with my 15 year old granddaughter. We found this hilarious; the rest of the family got rather tired of it. ...Oh and we had a wonderful lunch at the Boathouse restaurant, on Palm Beach, made famous in Home and Away, (although it isn't called Palm Beach of course, but Summer Bay last time I looked) where the food is totally yummy--thick tuna steaks, we had, washed down with very good white wine, and the best frites I think I've ever eaten. The most fabulous kite surfing goes on there, the surfers lifted ten, sometimes fifteen feet out of the water, and pelicans march up and down the beach looking distinctly disapproving.
For me the One Word Association with Australia is not "sun" or "beach" or even "barbecue: it's light. The light there is simply beautiful, very brilliant and extraordinarily clear. I suppose it's all the water everywhere, reflecting it and throwing it back. And it is without doubt a happy place; people smile a lot and are incredibly friendly.
The working part of the trip consisted mostly of promoting The Decision; and it was the happiest few days. I always find it rather hard to believe that these stories of mine, written in the seclusion of my study in London, then go out and travel all over the world; and especially as far as the absolute furthest side of it. But they do and it's a huge bonus, meeting readers there; and I always enjoy talking to them so much. .
I stayed in the heart of Sydney in the extremely spoiling Four Seasons hotel, my room overlooking the harbour and of course the iconic Opera House; it truly is the most ravishing sight, and even more marvellous in real life than all the photographs, its lovely arched winged shape carved out of the (mostly) blue sky . (It is incidentally a bit of a myth that it never rains in Australia, Sydney does rain like you wouldn't believe, sending down stair rods of the stuff that go on for days at a time.) But it does rather redeem itself when it stops; one day I was sitting on the deck the house and the most incredible double rainbow presented itself to me and lasted for a very long time, far longer than its English counterparts. But I digress: as usual.
I had lots of fun inSydney, did several interviews, mostly on the radio; perhaps the most fun was on the ABC Radio National book show, with Michael Cathcart, definitely a legend in his own airtime. We chatted away about all manner of things as well as the book and I completely forgot, as with all the best interviews, I was on the radio at all and had to be practically hauled out of the studio. There was a marvellous lunch, hosted jointly by the Sydney Morning Herald and Dymocks, a book chain very like Waterstones, that same day; 25o people (mostly female, but certainly not entirely) came and were one of the best audiences for a talk ever; and I got a huge round of applause when I said, entirely truthfully, that I thought Sydney was one of the most beautiful cities in the world, up there with Venice and Paris. One of the most endearing things about Australians is how proud they are of their country, fiercely and gloriously patriotic.
And as if to prove to me yet again how small the world is, even if I was 23,000 miles away from home, a gentleman came up to my table at the lunch, and announced he had been at medical school with my late husband however many decades ago it was, let's not count... and as if that wasn't coincidence enough, he knew another English family who live--wait for it--almost next door to another daughter in London, and whose son is extremely good friends with with my grandson last summer and came to Wales to stay with us in our Gower cottage.
Another treat was meeting Brooke Simmons who runs the Sassie Sam website, hugely popular over there; she interviewed me , if you could call it that, it was more like the funniest, most interesting conversation ever. Brooke is seriously stylish in a wonderfully ditzy way; and looks quite amazing. Definitely the star of the foyer, she was.
We had dinner that night, some publishing and book seller folk and me, in a stunning restaurant called Otto, situated like all the best Sydney eateries on a wharf and sat in the warmth as the sun went down, drinking rich golden Australian chardy, eating barramundi, and chatting the night away. It's a tough job but someone has to do it...
On then to Melbourne, very different from Sydney, more formal, with tall gracious buildings a greater sense of history and a strong cultural reputation. The rivalry between the two, or rather the inhabitants of the two is intense, witness a fierce argument at dinner in Sydney; personally I think it's like comparing steak and strawberries -- and can't be done.
Anyway, my hotel (another humdinger, the Westin) was set in the heart of Serious Shopping country; I was within a wallet's throw of Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren and Armani.... . Fortunately my schedule didn't allow me to do any more than glance rather desperately through their windows as I was whisked past en route yet another interview.
Ironically it was hotter in Melbourne than in Sydney; an alfresco lunch at an Italian restaurant (the best risotto ever, this is a city for serious foodies) was as much Outdoors as I could cope with. Temperatures in the mid thirties come as a shock to the Anglo Saxon constitution. .
The trip ended with a dinner in Camberwell, an outpost of the city, again sponsored by Dymocks; more chat, more exchanging of ideas and a distinctly informal atmosphere. I have to tell you that the conversation over the book signings is not always confined to literary matters, but other weighty subjects like clothes, food, children and what sort of dogs we've all got. (this last because I'd revealed on the radio that morning that my early-morning dog walks was when I do my plotting.) Incidentally, for those who care, the dog population of Australia is extraordinarily similar to that of England: lots and lots of labradors, spaniels, poodles, labradoodles, (very popular indeed now) and German shepherds. ...just thought you might like to know. And although dogs are not allowed on most of the beaches, (which I have to say is probably a good idea) they have specially designated Dog Beaches, where they all gather in huge numbers, steal each other's toys and sticks, swim very competitively, and make a lot of noise.
Coming home was something of a shock, as it was right in the middle of the coldest spell in the winter, but just as well, as I didn't manage to do QUITE as much work out there as I planned--well would you?--and it suddenly seems quite easy to sit indoors all day,with the central heating turned up, slaving over a hot laptop and getting on with the next book. Which I just suspect might have some Australian sections...
And I promise the next blog will be much much sooner.
Penny V