Saturday, 28 April 2012

Publication Day

Publication dates are movable feasts so copies of The Fifties Mystique   have been floating around for weeks. But April 26 was the official publication date and the book was launched at a party in one of London's most appealing bookshops, Lutyens and Rubinstein in Kensington Park Road, not far from Notting Hill. I do expect the book  to provoke controversy, so it's no surprise that there have already been lots of responses to an article by me in today's Guardian newspaper.

They make interesting reading. How lucky we are  to live in a world where this kind of discussion can be carried on with such immediacy and freedom; and where everyone can join in.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

“Good Intentions for a Bad Decade”

Rachel Cooke reviewed The Fifties Mystique  for The Evening Standard. She is writing a book about the 50s herself, concentrating on the professional lives of women during that decade -  so she naturally disagrees with much of my argument.  I don’t disagree with hers. There were indeed, as she says,  breathtakingly successful scientists and journalist, architects and lawyers – in fact my mother was one of those lawyers. “The fifties didn’t feel limiting to them” Cooke says, quite rightly for in comparison with previous eras, women were much more free. But  the fact remains that even the most successful women were subordinate in law and custom. They took it for granted, and so did everyone else concerned. We were pleased with what we could have and didn’t  think  about what we couldn’t. It’s only with post-women’s-lib hindsight that  I recognize the restrictions women  lived with when I was young, as would  any of  Cooke’s academics, journalists, architects and lawyers  who lived long enough to see them disappear. The 50s may not have seemed limiting at the time but in retrospect they certainly do.

Friday, 13 April 2012

1000 and counting.

Entry number one on page one of my journalism notebook records a roundup of romantic fiction for the Daily Telegraph. It is dated April 1986. Of course I had written a good many articles and book reviews before that, though irregularly and amateurishly. But in March 1986 I had appeared on a BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions panel beside Max Hastings who had just become the editor of the Daily Telegraph. By definition we spent the evening disagreeing with another. But at the end of it he said to me, “ Would you like to write for us?”
I had been a novelist since 1971 when my first book was published, and I felt then - and still feel - that writing novels is what I really do. Everything else - journalism, non-fiction, sitting on committees and so on - is enjoyable distraction. And in the case of journalism, enjoyable really is the word. In comparison with a long gestation of a novel, an article is written one day, in the paper the next, and in the case of the highly efficient Telegraph, paid for the day after. Quite soon I was writing for other magazines and papers too, and could accurately refer to myself as a journalist. I went to places and met people that would never have come my way otherwise. Interviews, profiles, travel writing, diary columns, think pieces - you name it, I wrote it.
And why am I mentioning all this now? Because I have just sent off an article which is numbered, in my journalism notebook, 1000. It's not objectively an enormous number, averaging out at 40 articles a year - a total which doesn't include the books I have written. But it's a kind of landmark for me, a moment to reflect how chance and luck and a single individual’s momentary impulse can transform things . Max Hastings has been my benefactor. With seven monosyllables, he changed my life.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

The First Review

To follow Simon Parker’s kind author-profile in the Western Morning News, the first actual review of The Fifties Mystique has appeared in the online literary journal, BookOxygen. N.J.Cooper’s words are perceptive  and generous and I can’t pretend that I’m not thrilled by them! Her final paragraph reads:

The Fifties Mystique is an ideal corrective for any woman who looks with nostalgia at an era when she would not have been expected to pay her share of the bills and mortgage.  It should be required reading for any man who fantasizes about having a wife waiting for his arrival home, not only with a delicious dinner ready cooked, but also an eagerness to listen to his important conversation – and also for all the surviving husbands of those years who wonder why their wives are quite so angry.”

Friday, 6 April 2012

The first adjectives…………

The Fifties Mystique isn’t published until 26 April, and so far I have been sent  only my one, single copy. But  review copies were sent out last week and the first printed reaction appears today in The Western Morning News. It’s a huge relief that it’s a kind one. Not that it sets the tone for other reviews (which might all be dire! ) but simply that it makes a very good start. Simon Parker’s words represent   a weight off the  author’s mind:

The Fifties Mystique is an extremely engaging read: revealing, touching, informative and occasionally comic.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Taking arms against a sea of troubles…………..

Since I started writing this blog, the subject I've written about most often seems to have been the imbalance between men and women in book reviews and journalism.

So it's very exciting to find that somebody is doing something about it.

There is a  brand new online magazine called BOOKOXYGEN which “has a mission to help correct the imbalance in book journalism which sees some sixty percent of literary coverage written by men and devoted to male writers. At bookoxygen, the coverage is weighted sixty percent or more in favour of women writers and critics.”

On its site, writing and writers,  in particular novels and novelists will be celebrated. The first issue has just launched. (

Wish it luck!