petite anglaise

March 14, 2008


Filed under: book stuff — petiteanglaiseparis @ 10:15 am

Until last week, I was terrified at the prospect of giving a reading. Recording a blog post for Woman’s Hour was one thing (I’m going to keep on mentioning that for ages, yes, because I’m still reeling from the shock of saying “ring sting” on air), reading from petite anglaise was another thing entirely.

A few months ago, I happened to be in London on the very day that a Society of Authors seminar on “Giving a Reading” was held. I decided to sign up – thinking it would be interesting to check out their offices and meet a few people, if nothing else – and found myself in a room filled with twenty or so other authors. Some had penned fiction, others memoirs, history books or film scripts. Their ages ranged from twenty-five to eighty. We were united, however, by our collective fear of public speaking.

That day the speaker gave us lots of very good advice. Instead of reading one long passage (which might send your audience to sleep), you can pick several short ones, she suggested. That way you can give people a taste of different types of writing: some description, some dialogue, some action. Several amuse-bouche appetisers instead of one large entrée: a good way to whet people’s appetites. She also pointed out that if there’s a word or phrase you cringe at when reading aloud, or a sentence which simply doesn’t work when read out of its context, you can cross it out. It’s your book. You can do whatever you like.

There followed an excruciating hour where each participant read a short passage aloud and the rest of the group gave some constructive criticism about what could be done to improve things. There were those who swayed from side to side, those who buried their heads in their books, never daring to glance up. Those who mumbled, and those who read at fifty miles an hour in voices flattened by nerves to an expressionless monotone. I made the mistake of choosing a highly emotional passage – the book’s prologue – and lost my voice halfway through, soldiering on to the end in a stage whisper. The stunned silence at the end of my reading I put down to the fact that it must have been quite unsettling for my audience to see me reading on the verge of tears.

So when I gave my first public reading at York library, ten days ago, I’d given quite a lot of thought to how to avoid repeating that disastrous performance. I was stomach-churningly nervous – my ravaged cuticles and peeling bottom lip bore witness – but, having spent most of that day running from photo session to interview to photo session to TV studio, before leaping onto a train (Leeds-York) just an hour before my reading was due to start, I didn’t have too much time to dwell on my fear, let alone practise my spiel. I arrived at the library with only twenty minutes to spare, and allowed the organiser to pour me a large glass of wine (Arrogant Frog – an inspired choice) in an attempt to calm my nerves.

Once everyone had filed in and taken a seat, I gave a brief introduction then read four short passages from the light-hearted opening chapters of the book, introducing my love affair with all things French, the character of Mr Frog and the birth of the blog. It went pretty well, I thought, even if I found it tricky to raise my eyes from my book (the sight of my grandma, beaming on the front row, was a little off-putting). I even managed to get a few laughs – the scene where I meet Mr Frog was a lot of fun to read – and the consensus seemed to be that it had gone rather well. Once the questions from the floor had been dispensed with, I took out my special signing pen and had fun writing little messages in people’s books.

I did however decline my first ever request to sign a pair of white buttocks.


If you happen to be in Paris next Thursday (March 20th) and can make it to WH Smiths on rue de Rivoli at 7.30 pm, you will be able to see me give a repeat performance.

To enable the organisers to make adequate provision of alcoholic beverages, I urge you to sign up by sending an RSVP email. The event is free, and if you have already got a copy of the book, you are welcome to bring it along. If you’d like to purchase a book on the night, WH Smiths have ordered in copies of the proper UK hardback version especially (instead of the oversized export paperback some of you may have seen in Paris), which is much much lovelier, in my opinion.

Once I’ve got the reading bit out of the way (it will be mercifully short, as there are in excess of 80 people signed up, and therefore there will be no room for chairs) I will be free to answer questions, scribble inanely in books, drink wine and mingle until about 9.30pm. If you can’t make it to the first part, feel free to pop along afterwards.

See you there?

March 12, 2008


Filed under: misc — petiteanglaiseparis @ 4:57 pm

I’m inordinately proud today at having written a piece in French for Rue89 about the sacking and book deal.

The Boy was asked to re-read it before I submitted it to the editors and, to my delight, only moved two commas. He did however mutter something about the length of my sentences (very British, apparently).

It was an enjoyable experience – I don’t get nearly enough opportunity to write in French these days – but it has convinced me that I’ll leave translating “petite” into French to the experts.

March 10, 2008


Filed under: book stuff, on the road — petiteanglaiseparis @ 11:50 am

The first time I saw the schedule for my trip to the UK, one section in particular caught my attention. From 9.15 am to 1.00 pm on Wednesday I would be doing GNS interviews, back to back, whatever they might be.

At the time of writing this post, I realise I’m still none the wiser about what GNS actually stands for. Gruelling National Speak-a-thon, perhaps?

Imagine, if you will, a tiny studio at BBC Broadcasting House. I sit at a desk covered in some sort of material, which is less than ideal for setting down cardboard cups of coffee as the surface is treacherously uneven. In front of me sit a large microphone and a pair of headphones. Over the course of a few hours I am to speak to fifteen local radio stations who have booked ten minute slots of my time. Some will be live, others will be pre-recorded. By 1.00 pm I’m told I’ll have been beamed into the homes of three million listeners.

I’m not feeling particularly intimidated by the prospect. Probably because I’ve already had the pleasure of talking about suppositories on live national radio earlier that week and, that very morning, I briefly parked my buttocks on the couch of BBC Breakfast. Radio is like blogging: I talk, but I can’t see my listeners and they can’t see me. There is none of the fear of falling quite literally flat on my face as I creep into a TV studio, step over all the trailing wires, and take my seat next to the presenter while she talks live, on air. There’s nothing quite as paranoia-inducing as having to stick your hand up your skirt to feed a tiny microphone up inside when you are approximately 10 cm outside the range of a live camera.

By 10.30 am I’m crossing my legs and trying not to think about wanting to go to the toilet. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve uttered the words “sock suspenders” and appear to have a number of other pet phrases I trot out at regular intervals, which you will have heard if you were tuned into BBC radio Newcastle or Jersey or Cornwall. Mostly the presenters are kind, asking straightforward questions and seeming interested and friendly, despite the fact they are unlikely to have given Penguin’s press release more than a cursory glance. A couple of them actually quote sentences from the book, which I find impressive. And those that introduce me as petite anglais or petit anglaise – effectively transforming me into a shemale – are in the minority.

Then comes the unpleasant exception: a pre-recorded interview where I’m questioned by two clearly unsympathetic presenters, a man and a woman. The line of questioning is tough from the outset. ‘Wasn’t it completely insensitive of me to write about real people?’, they enquire. ‘What about Mr Frog’s feelings in all of this? And how do I think my daughter will feel when she reads it one day?’ Their tone and tack seem to indicate that they find the whole concept of blogging and memoir writing thoroughly distasteful.

I explain, patiently, that the book is dedicated to my daughter and her father, and that Mr Frog not only had to sign forms to say he was happy with the portrayal of his personal life but he actually enjoyed the finished product. Some parts more than others, obviously, and I had to make a few minor changes at his request. But overall I think he comes off well in the book. He’s a far more likeable character than the narrator, in my opinion, and is, arguably, the hero of the tale. As for Tadpole, I’m sure there will be moments in her teenage years when she will hate me for recounting her exploits or recording her sing. But will she squirm any more than I did when my parents got the baby photos out in front of guests? I’m willing to bet there will come a time when she’ll be pleased so much of her childhood has been preserved for posterity. In the same way that I now love the silent super8 films recorded by my granddad when I was little and wish that he’d made more.

By the end of the interview I feel as though my interrogators have thawed somewhat, and our chat ends on a pleasant note. The researcher comes back on the line and thanks me for my time, and for a few moments I can still hear the presenters wrapping up the interview with the usual ‘petite anglaise, published by Michael Joseph, is available in all good bookshops’.

But, when the recording is over, just before the line goes dead, I hear the woman say something to the man and my heart stops beating. It’s a word which was clearly not intended for my, now burning, ears. A word said so dismissively, so spitefully that it brings tears to my eyes. I whip the headphones off and stare at my Press officer (who has been sitting on a sofa in the corner throughout, also wearing headphones) in disbelief.

‘That presenter just called me a SLAPPER!’ I say, incredulously, unsure whether I’m about to laugh or cry. She looks horrified, but we don’t have time to talk as BBC Radio Ulster have just dialled in. Carrying on as though nothing were amiss requires every ounce of professionalism I possess, but somehow I manage to hold it together.

Next time we have a two-minute gap and our BBC contact man pops his head cheerily around the door, I recount what I heard earlier. He scurries off to investigate, then returns, armed with an apology and an explanation so far-fetched that I’m almost tempted to believe it.

They have their own brand of banter, the two presenters in question, you see. He always monopolises female guests, and talks to them in a different, slightly flirtier voice. And when he does so, once they are off the air, she’s in the habit of calling him a slapper. So it wasn’t directed at me; it wasn’t even about me. Allegedly.

Now, I have a friend I often refer to as ‘slag’ to her face, with such an affectionate tone that it’s almost become a term of endearment.

But I can’t shake off the feeling that there was venom in the voice I overheard. I don’t think I believe that it was harmless banter. And although I shouldn’t care about the opinion of one ill-informed stranger, I find that I do.

The upshot of this is that, for me, the ‘S’ in GNS will forever be associated with the word ‘slapper’. Which just leaves the small matter of the ‘G’ and ‘N’.

March 7, 2008


Filed under: book stuff — petiteanglaiseparis @ 12:45 pm

While I catch up on all the bits and pieces clogging up my inbox, I thought it might be worth pointing out that, having embarked on a whistle stop tour of a few London bookshops yesterday, signed copies of petite are now available from:

  • Waterstone’s, Harrods
  • Waterstone’s, 91 Oxford Street
  • Waterstone’s, Garrick Street
  • Waterstone’s, Trafalgar Square
  • Blackwell’s, Charing Cross Road
  • Selfridges
  • Waterstone’s, 41 Oxford Street (Opposite Selfridges)
  • Foyles, Charing Cross Road
  • Foyles, St Pancras station

Signed copies are also available up North in:

  • Little Apple bookshop, Petergate, York
  • Waterstones, York
  • Borders, York
  • Waterstones, Albion Street, Leeds
  • Borders, Briggate, Leeds

This picture was taken at the Foyles bookshop in St Pancras station at their official launch party, yesterday evening. I signed about 100 copies of the book in the time available before I had to check in for the last Eurostar, which meant forgoing the lovely canapés and declining a refill of champagne. (I think that’s called suffering for my art.)

It was lovely to hear that “petite” is one of their bestselling titles, and to see huge piles of my book prominently displayed in several different places around the shop.

If you are desperate to get your hands on a signed copy – and I’ve lost track of the number of people who have contacted me by email about this – and are not anywhere near London, Leeds or York then Philippa of Little Apple would be happy to arrange to post you a signed copy, while stocks last.

Appeal for help!

If anyone is able to grab the sound file from the BBC Radio Five Live interview with Victoria Derbyshire yesterday (Thursday 6 March, 2 hours and 14 minutes in) I’d be really grateful. Can’t work out how to do this using garageband…

Similarly the interview which starts about 35 minutes into today (Friday 6th)’s edition of the Tubridy show on RTE (quite long, quite personal, I get called a “bitch” at one point!) – I’d love to have a copy for posterity, as the listen again function is only there for a short time…

These are now all on the book press page.

More later…

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