The Patron Saint of Married Women and my tribute to women’s magazines

The white van has driven by three times now, I wonder if he’s casing the joint?

Perhaps I should wake the dogs up and remind them of their barking-at-strange-cars duties… Star has opened one eye and rolled it in contempt at the suggestion, Nero has shut his eyes tighter, the dog equivalent of sticking his paws in his ears and singing loudly so he can’t hear me.

Hang on, they’re on their paws, skidding to the back door, barking madly: am I in mortal peril? Are they about to protect me from marauding strangers? Oh no, a leaf moved in the back garden…

It’s been a while since I last blogged. Things have changed since then but seeing as I’ve only had spam in my inbox, I suspect the world has survived quite well without my words being added to the ether of the Internet.

Well, I’m back now and my first book is out next week – woohoo!

You’ve probably guessed from the homepage that it’s called The Patron Saint of Married Women. It’ll be available on Amazon from Wednesday 24 October 2012 (all being well!). It’s also my niece, Harriet’s, birthday, she’ll be six years old.

The Patron Saint of Married Women has been in my life for a while now and it’s lovely to know that Polly Lovelace, the patron saint of the title, is about to be let loose. She wandered into my head one day and within a week an entire story had formed. It took a little while to tame her but once we’d hit our stride, Polly and her story came rushing onto the page extremely quickly.

I’m very proud of Polly even though she forced me to write the one book I swore I’d never write – a book set in the offices of a women’s magazine.

It’s logical though, the first piece of advice anyone gives you when you’re starting out as writer is: write about what you know. Women’s magazines are something I know a great deal about having written, subbed, launched and been involved with them for 20 years.

Polly works for a magazine called Gorgeous and it’s an amalgamation of various places I’ve worked, but if you want a name check, then Chat (Life! Death! Prizes!) must be mentioned, the place I began my magazine career. Also more!, where I was working when I was writing The Patron Saint of Married Women.

Gorgeous is a strange blend of old and new, the best as I see it, of the changing and evolving women’s magazine market.

At Chat, I think I experienced the last of the heady days of publishing when there were endless parties and launches, where companies had huge events and coming back after lunch wasn’t always a requirement, particularly if you were in the pub with the editor. I still work at Chat as a freelancer and when I look around now, I wonder if a lot of the fun has gone. There are fewer people but more is required of them, as magazines compete with the Internet, paper costs continue to rise and the recession bites hard. It’s also a far more crowded market with readers shifting their loyalties depending on their mood. Yet, despite the changes, I still see glimpses of the old spirit – the camaraderie, the gallows humour, the compassion and the free food – and it was this feeling I wanted to capture in the scenes set in the Gorgeous office.

My years freelancing at more! were different again. Chat led with real-life stories, which were always my speciality (I was unofficially know as the murder, rape and incest correspondent), while more! focussed on fashion, celebs and advice, before real-life. Although, it would be an oversight to mention more! without commenting on its notorious Position of the Week. For those who don’t know it, yes, it truly is as it sounds, accompanied by illustrations/pics depending on the era you read it.

So, Gorgeous became a hybrid of, predominantly, these two. There were hints of News International’s, Fabulous, and the now defunct, First, (Emap), thrown in but its heart is Chat and more! In fact, some of the people at more! also willingly leant their names to the book and for that, I thank you all.

In my mind, the offices of Gorgeous, with its fictional publishing company, LGM Publishing, were mostly Chat’s home of IPC. It is part the old King’s Reach Tower, mainly because I have many fond memories of my time there, and also the shiny new building, Blue Fin (the holding shot used in the brilliant BBC series about the Olympics, 2012, whenever they cut to the offices of the PR company, Perfect Curve). However, using the writer’s prerogative of imagination, the Gorgeous offices are cleaner, glossier and better laid out than any of the IPC counterparts. The LGM building is also positioned in a fictionalised version of the current Blue Fin building in Southwark Street, SE1. In my mind, there are more bars, coffee shops, cafes and quirky shops, than currently resides at the base of the real IPC towers.

All my comments about women’s magazines though are from the heart. It may not always be the perfect place to work: there are the usual office politics, upheavals, problems, personality clashes, but there is also a lot of warmth there if you bother to look. Some of my dearest friends are people I’ve met through working as a journalist in the slightly eccentric world of women’s magazines. Although, there are also people who I’d hide from (and have) if I saw them walking along the street towards me!

Gorgeous is my tribute to the people and places I’ve encountered over the years, it is, in short, the magazine I’d like to work for, alas, it exists only in mind.