How Jilly stays on top
IF you were to describe Jilly Cooper in one word, it would be effusive.
Even before I arrive at her Cotswolds house, she has made me feel like her longest lost, oldest friend, showering me with compliments on the telephone and telling me that she can't wait to meet me.
By the time I turn up on her front doorstep, I have read enough about her to know that this sort of treatment is indiscriminate. Every man, woman, child or dog who crosses her path is heaped with praise, hugs and solicitude. Sure enough, the moment she opens the door she starts carpet bombing me with flattery... Nooo, you can't possibly be. Now when are you going to write a novel?... Of course you could."
Now this is all very nice and, although meaningless, it is genuine in the sense that she does appear to be exceptionally well disposed towards people. No wonder she finds it baffling that some people book reviewers mainly can be hostile towards her. "One gets cast down a bit by being told one's a silly bitch quite often... People have been very nice to me recently because I haven't had a book out for a long time."
But her new novel, Pandora, is published next week so she is bracing herself for a barrage of unpleasant reviews. "I usually have 24 hours of misery and think, 'God how awful, discount pandora bracelets how sad, how ghastly, am I that horrible?' And it's horrid when they have a go at you as well as the book."
The new book is absolute piffle, but vastly enjoyable piffle none the less. It has the usual cast of impossibly beautiful, impossibly selfish characters having sex with people they shouldn't. The plot is based on corruption in the art world and an adopted girl's search for her real parents. Having initially baulked at the prospect of wading through its 552 pages, I found myself turning them avidly. I did take care that no one glimpsed the cover as I read it on the tube because, frankly, you don't want to be caught reading a Jilly Cooper, do you?
She finds this trait in her readers mildly depressing. "A lot of people read them with different jackets. I slightly mind. I think it's silly."
She herself makes no great claims for her books: "Half of you says, 'This is absolutely outrageous, too silly for words', but then you get caught up in it and on you go. It's a laugh I just want to cheer people up."
Cheerfulness is almost a religion with Jilly. In Who's Who, she even lists "merry making" as one of her recreations. Her home, a 14th century chantry set in an idyllic village near Stroud, is a shrine to cheerfulness, with its rustic kitchen, huge Aga, fat, snoring dog and pretty rooms with stunning views over rolling hills. Then there is the glass of wine that is forced into your hand, the delicious lunch and the endless, endless solicitude. "Now you will look after yourself, won't you, and don't let your paper push you into writing too much."
Jilly, 65, has a surprisingly deep voice, softened by a sing song manner of talking. Her hair is the same style she has had for years: shoulder length with a fluffy fringe. The famous gap toothed smile is much in buy cheap pandora charms australia evidence. She is chatty, convivial company yet very reticent about anything that touches her closely.
She lives with her husband Leo, a publisher of military history, who was recently diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Their two adopted children, Felix and Emily, now grown up, have moved away. I ask her if she would mind if her own children wanted to find their real parents. "I don't think I would. I think now I'd understand... I feel so guilty really that so much happiness for Leo and me has come from absolute devastation for somebody else."
In her late twenties, she was told that she could not conceive. "I'm sure I wouldn't. I'd have looked after my children and stayed at home." In the end, she managed to juggle both children and her writing career.
Jilly Cooper is the sort of person who is determined to latest pandora charms see the positive in everything. Two and a half years ago she survived the Paddington rail crash. She was travelling in one of the first class carriages, which received the full force of the impact, and she remembers the flames shooting around the carriage and a man landing on top of her. "He was saying, 'I love you Ellen, I want you to know that I love you.' She was pulled to safety through a broken window but insists that the experience didn't really affect her.
"I'm rather ashamed of the fact that it didn't. I was horrified for everybody else but not for me. It made me realize how lucky I was to be alive the children were so wonderful; Leo was so wonderful." Typical Jilly speak.
The daughter of a brigadier, Jilly grew up in Yorkshire, went to school in Salisbury and became a cub reporter on The Middlesex Independent when she was 20. After failing to get into Fleet Street she dabbled in various jobs "as puppy fat model, switchboard wrecker and very temporary typist" before meeting the editor of The Sunday Times Magazine at a dinner party and regaling him with the exhaustion of modern marriage.
"I told him about being a young wife: screwing all night, then going to work, shopping, doing the housework, doing one's husband's dinner, then screwing all night again." He commissioned her to write a piece, which led to a regular column in which she wrote with refreshing openness about sex, marriage and housework.
In the mid Seventies, she developed a lucrative sideline in lightweight romances: Emily, Harriet, Octavia and co. In 1985 she wrote Riders, perhaps her most famous novel, which kicked off the so called Rutshire Chronicles, a string of No. 1 bestsellers. Because of their plentiful sex scenes, she has been described as "Barbara Cartland without the iron knickers".
Jilly herself cannot understand why her books are labelled bonkbusters. "I just don't think it's particularly accurate. There are a lot of lewd jokes and ribald remarks but there isn't that much sex. Everybody says, 'Do you put in a bit of sex every 25 pages?' and I say, 'No, it happens when it happens.' "
She has no qualms about writing such scenes. "I think it's exactly like writing about anything else. In the Sixties and Seventies I had a lot of material because I had a lot more girlfriends behaving badly and getting married and having affairs. There was so much dreadful behaviour and stories of six in a bed. Now I have to work on my creaking imagination."
Did she ever behave badly herself? "Probably." What was the worst thing she did? "I'm not being evasive," she starts unpromisingly, casting around and eventually coming up with a story about sticking a pin into a fat girl at school. "Somebody dared me to see if she'd pop. Wasn't that awful?"
Her own family tend not to read her books. Leo once said that he'd read one when he had flu and it made him feel worse. "Emily read Riders and said 'Mumeeee'. And Felix took one of them on holiday and was a bit shocked. He said, 'I didn't know you knew about things like that, Mum.' But children are very venal: as long as their mother's producing a few shekels they don't really mind. I think they just thought the school fees might get paid."
As the main breadwinner in the family, she says she cannot really afford to stop writing. "I don't know where all the money goes. We're not prodigal. We haven't had a holiday for 12 years. We've got this heavenly house, some lovely pictures. Otherwise it just goes on children and dogs."
For Jilly is quite dotty about animals. While we are talking, we glimpse a cat running past the window with something wriggling in its jaws. "Oh Christ!" she says, leaping up. "It's got a rabbit. Quickly," she says to her dog, 'come on, save the rabbit!" She goes dashing out of the door with her dog on her mercy mission. But they are too late. The rabbit is dead. "You beast," she says furiously, glaring at the cat.
Despite the ebullient front, there is a pensive core to Jilly Cooper... curious depth best price for pandora bracelets of melancholy, one would guess". I ask her if she feels this is an accurate description. "I think everybody gets a bit sad, don't they... But I don't think I'm terribly melancholy. I get depressed and sulky but not very depressed."
After lunch, Jilly takes me to the shed at the bottom of her garden where she writes her books. "It's a heavenly place to work because it's like an air balloon. It's got the most lovely views everywhere."
Perched on a small hill, the shed overlooks a willow tree and a pond. Above her desk is a list of the names of the characters in her next novel, set around the rivalry between a comprehensive and a boarding school. "Hengis Brett Taylor, extremely charismatic headmaster," "Ebony, brilliant black teacher."
She has always had a fondness for unlikely names. In Pandora the least attractive character and that's saying something is called Somerford Keynes, described as "a malevolent gay art critic, known as the 'poisoned pansy' ".
Now this just happens to be the name of the village in Gloucestershire where I grew up and where my parents still live. When I tell her, she looks horrified, then recovers. "I've never even been there. I just thought it was a magic name for an art critic. How riveting. You must apologise from me to your parents."
In her shed, huge files of notes bear testament to her meticulous research. She takes great pride in checking every last detail. In her last book, Score, a character is murdered while sexually aroused. "I rang Stroud police to ask whether the male member stays up at the point of death. They told me it definitely does."
Her novels may be very easy to read but they are, she says, torture to write. "I'm terribly slow. I haven't actually got a first class brain. That's my problem... I'm so undisciplined and it's very nerve racking.
It's like a marriage this little boat going out on an ocean. There's nothing you can do about it, really.".
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