Thursday, 23 August 2007

The Personal Shopper

Annie Valentine has it all; gorgeous face and figure, two delightful children, a glamorous career at a swanky fashion store as a personal shopper and a stylish flat in lush Highgate. However there is a massive gap in Annie's life and despite all her trappings she has no one to share it with. Yes she has her wonderful family and friends but she just wishes she could find that special someone who she could curl up next to on the sofa. The problem is with life being so full on she can never find the time to look for the right man and all the guys that she has come across are complete duds. After going on one bad date too many Annie decides to take action to find Mr Wonderful and along the way finds out a bit more than she bargained for. I caught up with author, Carmen Reid to discuss her new book.

Our protagonist, Annie Valentine is quite a dynamic character isn't she? Single mother of two, ambitious, hardworking yet stylish, savvy and very endearing. Do you think she represents modern mothers today?
I love her! She's one of those people who will die trying! Whatever life throws at her, she just refuses to let it get her down for too long. Certainly, I think modern mothers will all relate to her frantically busy days.

What was the inspiration for this book? Did it have anything to do with fashionistas and personal shoppers being the latest trends?
I was shopping with a friend who needed a dress. She was in the changing room moaning about the size of her this, that and the next thing! Meanwhile I flitted about the shop bringing her all sorts of things and when she had that ‘Eureka! This is the one!’ moment… so did I! I think clothes shopping is such an intimate, bonding, psychologically revealing thing when women do it together. A personal shopper must find out all sorts of fascinating things about her clients, so I thought it would make a very interesting subject.

The revelation towards the end was quite a surprise, did you write the book with that in mind or did it just pan out?
Oh I definitely had that in mind. I plan the books out very carefully beforehand. Although there are still plenty of interesting decisions to make on the way, it’s essential to know where you are going.

What do you think of the term chick lit do you see it as insulting or a great definition for modern women's fiction?
No female I know wants to be called a chick, so I’m afraid I do see it as derogatory. For The Personal Shopper, I prefer the perfectly respectable film term, it’s a romantic comedy.

So many chick lit books have been turned into films what do you think about this? Do you think it is a positive step?
I’m not sure that so many have been turned into films! Lots have been optioned, but I can only think of The Devil Wears Prada film. Any actress will tell you that there is a prejudice against stories centering on 30-something women. But obviously, if your story makes it to the screen that is a huge step and very positive, especially for your bank balance!

If Personal Shopper was optioned for a film who can you see playing Annie?
I have no idea! Annie is a very real person in my head, it’s quite hard to translate her into an actress. It would have to be someone with loads of energy, enthusiasm and a certain vulnerability. Definitely not someone with a stick figure though, Annie has curves!

How do you get into fiction writing?
I’ve always been writing for myself since I was small. I took an English Literature degree then I worked as a newspaper journalist for quite a few years. All these things really helped the writing along. Then when I was 28, I left my job to go on an extended maternity leave and started writing my first novel. I was very lucky to find an agent and then a publisher quite quickly compared with some of the horror stories I’ve heard!

What other authors do you admire and why?
A list of my favourite authors has to include: John Irving, Hemmingway, Nancy Mitford, PG Woodehouse, Anne Tyler, JK Rowling, Annie Proulx, Mark Twain, Louise May Alcott. I like a really emotionally engaging book. But I also love a good plot and I will forgive any writer most sins if they make me laugh out loud. Dark, depressing, slow moving volumes are not for me and I’m not a fan of graphic violence or gore.

What advice would you give to budding authors out there?
Enjoy the writing, enjoy the re-writing. You are learning a craft and we all get better with practice. Hardly anyone achieves brilliance on their first attempt, despite what your Mum/ brother/ boyfriend says! Try and learn from your mistakes, try and learn from your rejections. If you want to write a book, make a plan for the whole book, write it all the way through, then go back and re-work. So many people grind to a standstill after polishing and re-polishing three perfect chapters and never get any further.

The life of a writer must be a busy one. Can you describe your typical day?
My life is busy because I have two children and a dog! But during school hours, I try to put everything else to the side and write. It is so easy to be distracted by emails, telephone calls, one thing and another. But writing is my day job, so it’s my priority to make time and above all peace for it to happen!

Where do you do most of your writing; desk, garden, coffee shop?
I have three venues, my desk at home, which is best at night. Then the university library, a total sanctuary as no one can even phone me there! I also like this big, quiet cafĂ© near my home. I never take the laptop there, but when I’m re-reading manuscripts, this place is perfect as it’s nice to feel that I’m not in solitary confinement!

A small bird tells me (ie a press release) that you are working on a series of books inspired by a boarding school you attended. Can you tell me more about this and will it be like Malory Towers or St Clare's which was written by the great Enid Blyton?
The first school book is due out next summer (no title yet!). It centers on four girls at a posh Edinburgh girls’ school, so it is an intriguing and exclusive little world, but their concerns are very modern, the kind of things that most 21st century teens will relate to. Although I read many Famous Five books when I was young, they seemed old fashioned to me even then. (Very exciting plots though!) I did read a Malory Towers book recently to see what it was all about and I have to say that I thought it was fairly dreadful!

The Personal Shopper is available in paperback now. You can check out Carmen's website on

Picture supplied by Louise Page PR

1 cool comments:

Rollergirl said...

Oh I loved Malory Towers! Prep is a good boarding school book too...

Nice interview but I must say it irks me when people use 'stick' as a description of thin women. I'm thin and I don't like being called a stick. OK grumble over...