Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Happiness Phantom of the Oprah

Ok, I’ve tried. I’ve really, really tried. 

On July 23rd, when Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra invited me to discover the key to happiness through meditation, I was less than enthusiastic about the idea. Twenty one days is a long time in contemplation, and I just wasn’t sure that I would be able to concentrate, knowing that if I had a tenth of their money, I am pretty sure I would be a lot happier.
   
“Dear Oprah and Deepak,” I thought about writing. “Much as I recognise the benefits of meditation, I feel that if you were to send me some cash, I would cheer up in an instant and I could spend the next three weeks happily spending, rather than sitting silently, pondering where it all went wrong.”
   
In the end, I decided to go for it. Although I learned how to do Transcendental Meditation some years ago (and nearly got myself killed rushing to buy a handkerchief for the initiation ceremony), this one sounded more specific. I like the idea of happiness, even though it is sometimes elusive; maybe they knew something that I didn’t about how to hold on to it for longer periods of time, even if, in Oprah’s case, that usually meant hitting the cookie jar a little too often.
   
So, on day one, I sat comfortably and listened to the pair’s soothing voices, informing me of the great transformation that was about to take place in my life. I’ve always been a big fan of Deepak, and am an advocate of the Ayervedic principles on which much of his work is based. I’m just not very good at sticking to them. I have a “Pitta” personality – sharp/clear voice, light sleeper, intelligent, clear memory, jealous, ambitious, sexually passionate, lover of luxury, and a dislike of hot weather – and my daily dose of the hottest chilli papers I can find, is the worst thing to inflame a Pitta dosha. But when you put Ayerveda into practice, it produces results and balance. Or so Deepak’s book, Perfect Health, tells me.
   
As I’ve had a stressful and less than happy time of late, it seemed a good idea to give Deepak another try, especially as the 21 day meditation was free. The pair have done many other transformational DVDs, which you can buy online; the down side to this is that you will then spend the next three weeks meditating on the fact that Oprah and Deepak are now even richer than they were before you sent them your credit card details.
   
And so, to happiness. The basic message is that happiness is a natural state of being and lies within us. If you thought that this person, that bottle of vintage wine, your new house/holiday etc. etc. were things that contributed to your happiness, you were wrong. Happiness does not lie externally.
   
That’s the gist of it. Okay, I got that bit. On to the meditation, which each day has a different mantra to repeat silently, while sitting quietly thinking about Oprah and Deepaks’s millions . . . I mean, the spirit of happiness. After an intro by Oprah, next comes Deepak to lead you through the meditation, at the end of which he tells you to let the mantra go but carry its message throughout the rest of the day. I am peace. I am love. I am playful. That kind of thing.
   
Let me tell you now: that just doesn’t go down well on the streets of New York, where I am currently based. “I am peace, I am peace, I am peace”, I sweetly uttered as I left my apartment block and headed for 10th Avenue – a mere 30 seconds walk away, which is all the time it took for “I am peace” to turn into “You stupid moron, can’t you see you’re jumping a red light?”
   
Maybe I would have better luck with I am love. “I am love, I am love, I am love”, I kept saying, between bouts of yelling down the phone at Fresh Direct, who had taken double payments from my bank account.
   
I am hope. That was on day six, by which time I had no hope whatsoever that any of this was going to work.
   
I missed day seven because I was having a housewarming and, then after five days, the meditation disappears and you can retrieve it only by coughing up and ordering it. Once I’d missed one, I lost the impetus and now, on day 11, I don’t feel ready for today’s message: “Kindness expresses the gentleness of the soul.”
   
If that’s true, Oprah and Deepak, I’m going to return to my original point: if you would be so kind as to send me some money, that would bring you gentleness of soul.
   
Maybe yogic flying might be more up my street. 

In the meantime, I’m heading out to my local bar. 

I am thirsty. I am thirsty. I am thirsty.

      

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

My Crap Therapist - the Internet

The Internet is good for many things. 

Finding out the elephant population of Africa, Kim Kardashian’s current weight (considerably less than an African elephant, should you be remotely interested), the latest sports results – all good stuff, and if you ask Google a question, you can usually find the answer. It might not necessarily be the factually correct answer, but at least it gives you the illusion of real communication.
   
What the Internet is not good for is dealing with life’s emotional problems. Thank you for all of you who have expressed concern during what has been something of a difficult time for me, and my apologies for having been off the radar. But sometimes, hibernation is necessary: a time to reflect on life’s sadness; a time to beat yourself up and, realising that you are not all bad, build yourself up again. 

During my emotional self-flagellation phase (sadly, it’s one of the symptoms of depression – see previous blog), I sought help from the Internet when something called “Chakra Healing” caught my eye. That’s it, I thought: my chakras are out of balance. That’s what’s made me a horrible, unlovable human being, who does and says all the wrong things.
   
So, I filled in the online form to see where it was all going wrong and check out which chakras were closed, weak or strong. The results came back within minutes.
   
First, the good news: “Your Root Chakra is Strong.” Hoo-flamin'-ray. That was the best news I’d had all week; I was feeling better already. But what did it mean? Well, apparently: “Everybody envies you for your uncanny ability to make, save and invest money.” Friends who know the history of my financial astuteness are doubtless already being attended to by paramedics. It went on: “You always have more than enough money to go on holiday and buy what you want.” 

I certainly go on holiday and buy what I want, the only proviso being that I never actually have enough money to do so; that just never stops me, though.
   
There, I am afraid, the good news about my chakras ends. Let’s go through the results of the other chakras.

FOOT: weak. I feel confused about my life path (Never).

SACRAL: weak. I rarely have the inclination to have sex (So wrong. Don’t go away, paramedics; my friends might expire from laughter at this point).

THROAT: weak. I am known as the “quiet one” in my professional and social circles (Oh, YEAH? REALLY? D’you wanna go outside and argue about it?).

INTUITIVE: weak. I am indecisive, uncommitted and unconfident of the decisions I make (My bank manager so wishes this were true).

PERSONAL POWER: weak. I struggle with self-esteem issues and feelings of unworthiness. This is more like it. Spot on.

Now, here’s the icing on the cake. 

My CROWN chakra is CLOSED! Closed. Shut. Silent. I feel little or no connection to a higher power. No shit, Sherlock. You’re dead right on that one, and very grateful I am for it. Apparently, my anger that my higher power has abandoned me is what is giving me migraines and tension headaches (I haven’t had them for 30 years).
   
And here’s the double icing: my HEART chakra is also closed. I sabotage relationships with anger and distrust. Well, yes. But being attracted to people who fuel those insecurities is the real problem. What’s going on with their damned chakras, eh, Ms Chakra Expert Carol Tuttle?
   
As always, in times of distress, it is best to turn to one’s friends, who love you unconditionally, who can look at a situation objectively and point out that you’re only human. They are also able to point out that while you may think you are the most dreadful person in the world, others are not so perfect either, and you might not be 100% the maker of your own misery when you want to crawl under a stone and die (Actually, the stone idea didn’t appeal; I was thinking more of jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge, but was too nervous to take the subway there in case I jumped under a train en route, which would have made me a very ugly corpse with my chakras all over several yards of track).
   
And so, thank you to my lovely friends who have been listening to my blubbering, and I apologise if I alarmed you. And if there is a writing chakra, I can be confident that I still have that, no matter how much chaos might have been operating elsewhere.
   
But coming through the other side of any black hole is ultimately refreshing, and, as one song goes, I Can See Clearly Now. 

And, as the Bee Gees sang: “And the rain will fall.” 

It will. But not forever. 

The sun’ll come out tomorrow. 

Ok, that’s enough singing.

   




    

Surviving Despair

Despair. 

From the Latin sperare: hope. De-sperare: without hope. 

It’s a word I’ve been thinking a lot about the past couple of weeks. We were affected by a suicide in our family shortly before Robin Williams took his own life. The circumstances of the death had vague similarities and neither man left a note explaining his actions. A friend of Williams said that his suicide was a “spontaneous” act, as he had been talking to him only the day before about future projects. Yes, Williams had a history of depression, but what was this? A moment without hope? Despair. De-sperare.
   
Readers familiar with my writing in the UK will know that I have never made any secret of my struggles with depression. I was a happy, although often melancholy child who, in my late teens, started to suffer from crippling migraines and overwhelming blackness of spirit. It continued for many years until, about eight years ago, I had terrific NLP therapy that helped enormously. For reasons I won’t go into (not least because “reasons” lends the condition a logic I can’t even begin to understand), I fell back into a dark place around four years ago and have been there off and on for some time.
   
The view from the outside is that I have a wonderful life. I have a great family and many fantastic friends, I am well travelled, I love my work and am in good health. What’s not to love?
   
That’s the logical part of the brain speaking. Sperare. On paper, it is a life filled with optimism and hope. So where does the “de” aspect begin? The undoing of hope?
   
There are many practical reasons I could list that I know have caused me great stress and anxiety over the past few years. Financial worries hit when I lost a lucrative job after my newspaper dropped their TV coverage. That, in itself, although logically knowing that this was beyond my control, resulted in a massive loss of confidence and self-esteem that continues to this day.
   
As a woman hitting 50, I also felt on the scrapheap of life. Single women of advancing age are never that popular, either professionally or socially. In the States, I find that they respect experience far more than they do in Britain. While I had a very easy menopause, the sidelining of women seen to be past their sell-by date is something that screams out in so many areas of British life.
   
But despair goes beyond practicalities. And, in the weeks I’ve been off social networking sites to which I am somewhat addicted - trying to “sort stuff”, as I described it - the best I can come up with is that de-spair, is to feel de-loved. Sorry that is not something more monumental, but it’s the best I can do.
   
I know that I am hugely loved by the people around me and, in turn, I love them. I try to do as much as I can for others, and I have in my close circle several people I can call at any time, day or night, for support.
   
But despair is a cruel thief that creeps up on you unannounced. In an instant, you feel robbed of love: gazing on the happiness of others, while being emptied of the hope of ever finding it yourself. A couple, holding hands, can induce resentment; a group of people laughing can feel like a door being slammed in your face; overhearing a telephone conversation ending with the words “I love you” can stab at your heart. It’s the feeling of being on the other side of everything that is real, and not having the first clue of how to get back to the other side. It’s probably in that moment that the option of backing away and closing the door forever feels easier than going forward.
   
I am not about to do anything drastic and, for me, trying to make sense of life in writing will always be my salvation. But, as a society, we really need to address depression for the illness that it undoubtedly is, and those who talk of suicide as a “selfish” act really do not have the first idea of how the love thief operates.
   
In despair, there is no emotion: no ability to rationalise one’s state of being. The best you can hope for is memory: the surfacing of something you remember as love and, while temporarily suffering the inability to experience it, knowing that it is still there and will, at some point, return.
   
Stephen Fry, who has suffered from depression his whole life, and who has done so much to raise public awareness of the condition, has been a good friend to me in my moments of despair, as have countless other people. But keeping silent – out of shame, guilt, embarrassment, general lack of sympathy – is, sadly, a major component of the condition.
   
If the death of Robin Williams can teach us anything, it is that we need to be more aware, to tune our ears to the tiny voice that is actually screaming for help.
   
Some of Williams’s friends expressed astonishment, saying that they had not realised he was in so much pain. Without hope. But there is help out there. 

While there is breath, there is hope. 

Sperare.   
        
   
  

     

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Night at the Oprah

So here I am, about to go to bed in LA. It’s 12.39am but, as I flew in from New York last night, I am on Eastern time, which means it’s 3.39am.
   
I had a busy day and also managed to update my blog, so was feeling very content, just relaxing with a glass of wine before another hectic day tomorrow.
   
And then: just as I was about to turn off my computer, there’s flamin’ Oprah Winfrey on my screen, asking “Are you happy, Jacqueline?”
   
Okay, I signed up to the meditation course a while back, but geez, Oprah, that was ages ago. Now, I’m just knackered, but you’ve set my brain racing again, pondering the nature of happiness, so I’m a darn sight less happy than I was two minutes ago before you popped up asking me unanswerable questions.
   
The question I want to ask you, Oprah, is: are YOU happy? I mean, I know you have money and a TV station and a magazine etc. etc. but you’d still trade it all in just to be very, very thin, right? Or maybe I’ve been misreading the subtext in everything you have ever said and done.
   
Anyway, so up pops Oprah with Deepak Chopra, a man I hugely admire, having read all his books and signed up to Transcendental Meditation some years ago, because he told me to (they see me coming a mile off, these gurus). It was a very positive experience, apart from the fact that it nearly got me killed.
   
The TM initiation ceremony required participants to take along a few flowers and a clean handkerchief. If you have ever tried buying a handkerchief at 10am in London’s Oxford Street, here’s a bit of advice: Don’t go there. In a rush to make my life-will-be-peaceful-for-evermore session, I all but assassinated the queue ahead of me in Marks and Spencer, just to get a six inch square piece of linen. Then I was nearly mown down by a black cab running for my meditation.
   
Anyway, last year Deepak teemed up with Oprah to do some online meditations and, as they were free, I signed up. Well, I say free, which is technically correct; but, when you start clicking, it turns out that meditation number one (the free one) is as nothing compared to all the others, for which you have to pay. A lot.
   
So, I’ve been very suspicious, although stayed signed up, but now Oprah is really starting to bug me. “You were born to be happy!” she and Deepak beam from tonight’s missive. No shit, Sherlock. You mean I didn’t emerge from the womb with a razor blade in hand, just waiting for my first wrist-slashing sessions from the local depressive?
   
The latest series of meditations is offering to “Expand your happiness” over a 21 day meditation experience, and comes with several endorsements from happy clients. I’d be more impressed if Deepak looked even remotely happy in the promo pic. But Oprah is there, looking like a young Diana Ross, while Deepak looks like a young Einstein with an unconvincing hair weave. Or Joe 90. I haven’t quite made up my mind.
   
Anyway, the point is: I now can’t go to sleep because I am contemplating the nature of happiness. I consider myself a fairly happy person most of the time, but, like most people, have my moments of sadness. Most people probably think I am an open book, but the reality is, that although I wear my heart on my sleeve, I keep my soul well hidden. Maybe that’s true of most of us. There is a Woody Allen film (I can’t recall which one) in which the voiceover at the start says something along the lines of once you realise you can never really know another person, life is easier. I believe that. It’s probably why I don’t have a partner: because in the not knowing lies distrust.
   
You see what’s happened? I’ve had a perfectly pleasant day, and now Oprah and Deepak have got me all sad and depressed by asking me whether I’m happy, which I was until they bounced up on my computer screen.
   
And so, Oprah, I’m not going to “Register Now” for your 21 days of happiness depressive meditation, nor am I going to invite my friends to join in what seems might turn into a collective online suicide watch.
   
I’m going to upload this blog, go to bed and turn off my computer, praying that before I do so someone else doesn’t pounce on my late night insecurities and set me off on another philosophical contemplation to keep me from sleep.
   
In the meantime, are YOU happy, Oprah? Because you know, honey? I still don’t think you are. 

Now you try sleeping on that. 

Sweet dreams.
   
  

   

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Penis vs the Furry Cup

Raquel Briggs. 

I have no idea who you are, but you turned up today, courtesy of Facebook, offering to have a relationship with me.
   
Where do I begin in telling you that this is never going to happen. Here’s just for starters, dear Raquel.

1.       I know that, for some inexplicable reason, you have accidentally stumbled upon me in this bizarre virtual world that we all now inhabit. But I did not invite you, so I can only imagine that, given your attire, I must have Googled something along the lines of “tarty, cheap, slutty, skimpy underwear” in the past and, strangely, that led somebody to believe we were a perfect match.

2.       I could never be with anyone who writes so ungrammatically. You state that you have just “broke up” with your boyfriend. No, you HAVE broken up with him, or you broke up with him. “I’ve just broke up with my boyfriend” is just wrong, love; you can’t have it all ways.

3.       I am not surprised he left you, as your ill-fitting, hideous pink and black bodice is the kind of garment that would have even moles running for more cover, and your suntan would not look out of place at an Independence Day barbecue.

4.       Why do you call me “sweety”. For a start, the correct endearment spelling is “sweetie” (I can see I am going to have to get you post haste to those English classes!), but, as we have never met, how do you have any idea regarding my gradations of sweetness? Trust me, Sweety, I am anything but.

5.       You say “I don’t want a serious relationship at the moment.” So, what made you pick me? For all you know, I might spend my weekends immersed in bridal magazines and fantasising about how my life might change, were I to go on Millionaire Matchmaker.

6.       Now, you ask do I want to go out and have some fun with you? This is a bigger philosophical question than it might appear. There is so much I would need to analyse in that sentence before giving it even a second thought. Going OUT? What if it’s raining? In which city would constitute “going out” mean? New York in January (No), Spain in August (No)? And what do you mean by “fun”? I am not optimistic. Fun to me is staying in watching back to back Gabriel Macht as Harvey Specter in Suits. With a curry. And a bottle of Rioja. You, Raquel, look to me like the kind of gal for whom “fun” means “Three licks and where’s my 50 quid?” Forgive me if I am out of touch with inflation.

7.       You say you have seen me on Facebook, and that it is this that assures you we can have “some great time together”. It’s the “some” that bothers me here most, Raquel. How are you going to measure it? I already feel judged. Only SOME time? Are you already thinking of other women? You see, I have a very jealous nature, and I am already not happy about sharing you. Also, what do you mean by a “great time”? How do you know what I like from just a cursory glance at Facebook? Trust me, I have been over my page many times since you sent me your very enticing offer, and all I can ascertain regarding the “great times” I enjoy are that I like dogs, wine, curry, and obsess about Gabriel Macht and Judge Alex on the telly.

8.       Which brings me to my next point, dear Raquel. You are not Gabriel Macht or Judge Alex. All your gaudy bodices, fake tans, sultry looks, and invitations for me to sup with you at the furry cup cannot compensate for the one thing that will always be missing in our relationship: a penis. Men have many faults, and I have endured many of them, but, for me, they will always have that trophy between their legs that makes it all worthwhile.


And so, dear Raquel, it is with deep regret that I must decline your offer of a fun time. Saddened as I am that you have “broke up” with your boyfriend, if he is at a loose end, please feel free to give him my details. He will have a darn sight more luck than you ever will. 

When it comes to the furry cup versus the penis, for me there is no competition. 

Ever.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Netflix is the New Black

Netflix is brilliant. Netflix has transformed the television industry. Netflix has made the major networks sit up and take note.
   
These are the words on the lips of industry figures and viewers alike. At television festivals, Netflix is the buzzword that appears in every speech and debate. At last year’s Edinburgh Television Festival, Kevin Spacey said that we are entering a golden age of television, and he credited the viewers as the people who now hold the real power. We do. Increasingly, we can have what we want, when we want it. And Netflix is leading the way. Once an uncertain predator lurking in a very overcrowded forest, the success of House of Cards and Orange is the New Black (to name but two), has ensured Netflix’s emergence as a serious player in the broadcasting firmament.
   
Or has it?
   
Let’s look at the upside first. There is no doubt that the Binge Viewer is the new couch potato. Forget the image of the sloth getting fatter on the sofa, the BV is an altogether more glamorous concept: a highly motivated, high energy, enthusiastic viewer, who doesn’t just love and watch TV but needs to share his/her views with others who have enjoyed the same experience. Where the couch potato was a loner, the BV is out to show just how much they are capable of consuming without tiring, and to out-rival all viewer competitors in that consumption. The BV is a greedy creature, but can chew TV up and spit it out at an alarming rate. Binge viewing is the new black, and although, according to reports, 90% of people still watch TV in real time, increasing numbers of us are taking advantage of entire series being made available in one great feast, and gorging ourselves over hours, days, and even weeks.
   
The box set never quite managed that, despite having been around for a long time. It was the thing people bought before Catch Up and On Demand, when they wanted a permanent memento of shows that had already been aired. Some bought box sets because they had missed key episodes and wanted to experience the narrative from start to finish.
   
But the trouble with box sets is that they are what they say on the tin: boxes. Having only just recently dispensed with my video library (what were those bricks all about, eh?) and replaced them with DVDs in boxes, I now find myself consigning them to the scrapheap too, in favour of storing everything online and running it, through a feed on my laptop, to my 50 inch TV screen. The pain in the neck is having to keep getting up if I wish to pause viewing, as my sofa is on the other side of the room from the equipment, but I’m sure there’s a geek working on that even as I write (the magic tool might even already be out there).
   
Box sets were undoubtedly the first generation of binge products, but Netflix leads the new generation of bingers.
   
I was one of many who watched Kevin Spacey in Netflix’s first original series, House of Cards. Based on Andrew Davies’s original UK 1990 series (based on the Michael Dobbs novel), starring Ian Richardson as ruthless politician Francis Urquhart (changed to Underwood for the US version), it is a feast of massive proportion. I watched the first eight episodes on my laptop from my bed one Saturday and the remainder via the feed to the TV the day after (it is now, of course, available as part of my regular TV package).
   
Binge viewing is a bizarre experience. When immersed in the process, I don’t want to talk to anyone, go anywhere, or do anything else. I can’t even be bothered to cook. In the case of House of Cards, the production consumed me, not only for its extraordinary quality and Spacey’s breathtakingly brilliant performance (the man can do no wrong in my book), but because I lived within my own little bubble throughout, feeling protected from the horrid things going on in the real world.
   
It could be said that the box set can deliver the same, but there is something very different about opening a box, putting on a DVD, and the seamless, altogether more fluid experience of bingeing. I then watched another Netflix original series, Orange is the New Black, set in a women’s prison, and no sooner did one episode finish than a caption came up saying “Your next episode will start in 10 seconds.” And so, I was hooked. What the heck, I reasoned, now that it’s started, I might as well watch another one. I was finally falling sleep at 5am, having found it impossible to tear myself away.
   
It is the sharing experience, however, that makes binge viewing different from the old box set viewing. I can count on one hand the people I know who bought box sets, but the former has caught something unique: it is obviously not the shared experience as TV in real time, but in its intensity, it creates the sensation of being part of a global viewing audience. Traditional viewers continue to talk about big entertainment shows such as The X Factor the morning after the night before; but the discussions about House of Cards are ongoing. The proliferation of satellite TV largely removed that collective viewing experience – the “Did you see?” factor. Netflix has resurrected that experience, but in a different format: now, the collective experience is talking about bingeing the morning after the entire weekend before.
   
So far, so good. But at present, to me, Netflix cannot deliver in the area that matters most to viewers – ongoing quality. Where, for example, broadcasters such as CBS (The Good Wife, NCIS) and USA (Suits, White Collar) produce top quality drama that just gets better and better each season, both House of Cards and Orange is the New Black have under-delivered on their second series. The performances remain brilliant in the former, but the stealthy rise to power that characterised series one is something that would have been better suited to a run of at least five series before the protagonist achieved his goal. Francis did, quite simply, arrive too soon, and while his ambitious wife Claire (Robin Wright) has taken on Lady Macbeth type qualities, there is only so much a character’s staring into the middle distance a viewer can take as an alternative to more substantial content.
   
As for OITNB, the first two episodes of series two are not just inferior to their predecessors, they are downright bad. Number two is dire. Woolly writing, poorly constructed, weak storylines (not to mention the absence of the lead character, Piper (Taylor Schilling), it will be a triumph of force over desire that gets me to episode three.
   
Does Netflix have what it takes to sustain quality over at least half a dozen series, or is its fundamental skill hitting the ground running and making a loud bang before fizzling out? Is it, in essence, the Myspace of broadcasting, treading water until the Facebook of the industry topples it from its throne?
   
Netflix and binge viewing may be the new black, but there is more to innovation than being the new kid on the block. There are always smarter kids snapping at your coat tails. 

Just ask the Winklevoss twins. 




Sunday, July 13, 2014

Remembering Deborah Rogers - and Rushdie's Rotten Dancing

It’s strange what you find out in the early hours of the morning, toying with social networking and Googling people from your past.
   
At around 2am this morning in New York, I was thinking about my literary agent friend Jonathan, who committed suicide . . . When? That’s what I was Googling. We were very close friends and I think of him often, and it distressed me that there was no mention of him online. He had a great brain and was a very funny man, but he was also very troubled: something he put down to the fact that his parents sent him to boarding school when he was seven. Remembering that I met him through the literary agent Deborah Rogers, where he worked, I Googled her and discovered that she died in April this year. Although she has not been my agent for over two decades, I felt incredibly saddened.
   
When I moved to London, in my mid-twenties, it was she who first reached out and asked to represent me. I subsequently appeared in Faber’s Introduction 9, the fiction series devoted to promoting new young writers. I will leave aside the subsequent loss of a manuscript on a motorcycle, and also the landing me in Paris with no money, shouting to the rooftops in an empty courtyard for Rupert Everett – she had faith in me when it most mattered.
   
Deborah was renowned for the lavish parties she threw in West London. Anyone who was anyone in the world of London’s literati attended. It was there I met Salman Rushdie, who was incredibly rude to me and, during a conversation, accused me of rambling (I was incredibly nervous in this kind of crowd in my twenties). “Ha! That’s rich,” I replied, “coming from a man whose books you can’t even read further than page three” (I became a great deal less nervous when picked on). I saw Salman again, not long after, at the Jonathan Cape Christmas party (the other hot ticket in town). The fatwa had been declared on him and he was in hiding, although he seemed to turn up everywhere, and we all knew he was coming because his bodyguards who turned up in advance had become familiar faces on the party circuit.
   
Being a very experienced dancer, I wanted to take to the floor when a jive was played over the loudspeakers. Salman was at the floor, clearly itching to get up too, so I asked him to dance. He seemed delighted, but within a minute left me on the floor alone because I wasn’t doing the jive to his liking. Quite frankly, given his circumstances, he was lucky to have a pair of legs to dance at all. I never read a word he wrote after that, and I can’t say it’s left a gaping hole in my life.
   
I also met the novelists Julian Barnes and William Boyd at Deborah’s. Julian was a sweetheart. I had communicated with him briefly following his appearance at the annual literature festival in Lancaster, where I was doing an MA in Creative Writing. It was he who told had me I should move to London, although he added that I should not mention the MA – “I already hear the sound of ice not being broken.”
   
William, too, was adorable, and he and his fabulous wife Susan, herself a successful writer, have since become very good friends – against all the odds. The first time I met Susan was at a Julian Barnes launch party, where I insisted she was the EastEnders writer of the same name. She insisted she wasn’t. I was having none of it. She told her husband that she never wanted to see “that dreadful woman” again. Thankfully, she did, and we have shared many a fine lunch and dinner with much laughter. She is one of the brightest, funniest people I have ever met. Twenty-five years on, I hope I am less dreadful.
   
Writing about that time today, it seems as if it all happened just yesterday, and yet when I think of everything that has happened since, it seems like aeons ago. Following the Faber publication, I went on to publish a novel with Hutchinson (and that really is aeons ago) and pursue my career in journalism. I have also been through many agents since, none of whom has ever sold a word I have written.
   
The ability to self-publish hasn’t put agents out of the marketplace, but they don’t have the power they once had. Deborah Rogers wasn’t just an agent, she was a star to be revered and respected, and to be on her books was to know that you had made it.
   
As an unknown Welsh woman arriving in the capital and living on a £17 a week dole cheque, her support and encouragement is something I will always treasure. Her death leaves the world of books a sadder place, but she leaves many grateful writers and happy memories. 

Apart from Salman – who, by the way, really can’t jive.