Harper Collins Summer Party for Authors: cocktails and gossip

Last night was the Harper Collins Summer Party for Authors. It was only my second time there but I was as excited about it as the time I was nine and my best friend was having a roller skating party. Last year I was on a rare night off the leash – my baby boy was still just under a year old – and having thought it would be a rather formal evening of networking and sucking up to publishers, I unexpectedly had the delight of getting mildly drunk on mojitos with Dan Stevens (Matthew in Downton Abbey).


The evening didn’t start brilliantly when I arrived to find that there was no badge with my name on it. They do a rather clever, quirky thing where all the authors get yellow badges (‘Jessica Fellowes Harper Collins Author’), in proper old-skool metal, round shapes with safety pins. Agents and press have silver, and Harper Collins staff have green. The girl at the desk scribbled my name on to a conference-type plastic thing, saying, apologetically, ‘Victoria prefers that everyone has one…’. In a rare fit of divadom, I decided it wasn’t befitting a Number One Bestselling Author and stuffed it in my bag. (Wearing: long white halter neck cotton dress with brilliant red coral print by Heidi Klein, gold heels and – for a trendy-clashing-print-effect-I-hope – black and white toile de jouy oversized clutch.) I go over to the first group of people I know: Gareth Neame, the executive producer of Downton Abbey, Hannah MacDonald, the publisher of The World of Downton Abbey and a couple of others. Victoria is brought over to meet us. Victoria is Victoria Barnsley – the head honcho of Harper Collins, the issuer of the invitation and the ultimate publisher of my book. Also, the one who was keen on the wearing of badges. But SHE wasn’t wearing one.


After that, it was all a rather delicious haze. The party was at The Orangery in Kensington Palace, we were all feeling summery and happy after a hot day, and our hosts were generous with their champagne and cocktails (also with canapés but I missed them as I got there an hour late and also missed the bar that had nothing but cupcakes, damn). It’s exciting to hang out with so many people in one’s world after months of writing alone at the kitchen table. There were oodles of Importants there but I was shameful about meeting anyone new and hung out with an old university friend, now agent, Lucy Luck and my own agent, Rowan Lawton. We gossiped and chatted and cavorted and eventually led a parade to Mahiki, where the official after party was. Once there we remembered that we weren’t in fact 20 years old and trying to snog Prince Harry and left after one violently pink oversized cocktail called Larging It or something equally ludicrous. What jolly fun.

Cracking the pre-release bestseller list

Build A Business From Your Kitchen Table’s microsite went live today and an email went out to the subscribers of notonthehighstreet.com. As I write this it is – on Amazon – no.1 in the e-commerce charts, no.3 in the business book charts, no.6 in hot new releases and no.73 in the bestsellers. Amazin’. It takes a lot to crack the top 1,000 let alone the top 100. I’m as pleased as the proverbial Punch I’d never be allowed to invoke in a book for fear of an editor accusing me of using cliches. 



Well, not quite but almost. For years, I believed the lie that writers tell when they say they type the final sentence of their book and then celebrate with a cold glass of champagne/pie from the fridge/bondage session/whatever. Then sit back and await the plaudits, literary festival invitations and the moment when friends say: ‘I haven’t got round to reading it yet but I hear it’s really good’. (My best one on this is a writer I know of very good, funny, poignant novels being told by a friend, ‘I was reading your book but I had to put it down.’ Why? ‘Because I was staying in a house where everyone was reading proper books, so I couldn’t be seen to be reading yours.’ Ah, yes, of course. Completely understand.)

So, while I am thrilled to have written THE END of The Downton Chronicles (published by Harper Collins, due out September 2012), I know that this is only the beginning of the end. Most of my chapters, due to the unusual time pressures this book is under, have been read by my editor and a copy editor, had the queries reverted to me and I have replied. But Julian (Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey, the hit ITV series – and my uncle) has yet to read it; his wife is yet to read it (her opinion is very important); the producers have yet to read it… Anyone of them may yet say they don’t like something or need a bit rewritten. Then the design and layout needs to be completed (thankfully simpler than the last book) and another edit done. Proofs will be read several times. The publishing director may decide she wants another direction on one of the chapters, or that we need to feed in a new line of quotes from someone else on the production or that actually we like a character, having thought we didn’t. And so on. I am trying now to prepare myself for what will be a horrible struggle between the me that wants to sod it all now and have a holiday and the me that cares about the end result (thankfully, usually the one that wins).

In the meantime – not champagne but a cup of tea and a guilt-free hour on the sofa reading a book not for the purposes of research.

Currently reading…



Abdication by Juliet Nicholson – this is the book I am currently very much enjoying. Juliet and I spoke together at the Charleston Literary Festival a week or so ago. She’s also the author of Perfect Summer (about 1911) and The Great Silence (about 1919) – two well-researched, compelling non-fiction reads, that I have drawn on for the Downton books. This is her first novel. It has in the background the story of the Prince of Wales and Mrs Wallis Simpson and is reliably full of brilliant period detail; but the love story of a female chauffeuse and a firebrand upper class young man is just as enticing and delicious to read.