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When it came to writing my second novel, I knew I wanted to do something different. In Straight Talking I had bared my soul, and the press attention had been overwhelming. There were times when I felt scared and vulnerable, regretting the articles I had written to publicize the book, regretting I had opened my life up for all to see.
This time around I decided to do a fairytale, and a fairytale about food.
Jemima Jones is overweight. Funny, feisty, frighteningly intelligent, she is on the fast track to nowhere because of her weight. Her bosses overlook her for prettier, thinner, less-accomplished colleagues, and men ignore her, treating her only ever as a friend.
Jemima pushes her unhappiness down with food, secretly binge-eating to try and numb the pain of not being good enough, until her life is kick-started with the advent of Brad, a potential online romance who lives across the Atlantic in Los Angeles.
Like Cinderella before her, Jemima then has to reinvent herself for Brad. Like all good fairy stories, she transforms herself dramatically from ugly duckling to beautiful swan, but it isn't Brad she realizes she wants, instead someone much closer to home.
Jemima remains the easiest book I have written. I flew to Los Angeles to write it, stopping in New York for Christmas with my friend Caroline. We stayed at the Gramercy Park hotel, pre-Schrager re-invention, but it still felt like a treat, upgrading to a shabby suite and having cocktails in the piano bar.
We spent hours shopping in Greenwich village and SoHo, saw movies, theatre, and laughed ourselves stupid. And then we met up with a mutual friend from London, and for some ridiculous reason the friend and I decided to embark upon a holiday romance.
It felt, and was, ridiculously romantic. We held hands to the top of the Empire State Building and snogged on the terrace as we looked out over New York. We giggled through Central Park and shared hot chocolate at Micky Mantle's.
I left him, and Caroline, and flew to Los Angeles, where I had booked into a terrible hotel in Santa Monica. Not the gorgeous Shutters by the Beach, but a ghastly depressing place where the sole window in the room looked onto a brick wall. I had bought a computer in New York, but once I got to LA it stopped working.
I had been looking forward to LA. The last time I'd been I was twenty one. I bought an air ticket, and flew over, a budding bright-eyed journalist, with a few hundred dollars and a phone number. I moved in to the Laurel Canyon hippyish home of an aspiring film producer, and after some weeks moved in with a girl I met one day at Johnny Rockets. I interviewed TV stars in shows like Beverly Hills 90210 and LA Law, and filed the stories back to London, using the money to stay on.
I went out every night, to bars, parties, clubs. I rode on the back of a motorbike that belonged to the gay guy across the hall who swiftly became my new best friend. All these years later, I expected it to be the same.
I hated the hotel. I hated being there. The computer didn't work, and the shop told me it would take some days to fix. I couldn't write, other than longhand, I didn't know anyone, and I was no longer bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, looking for adventures, but longing to get back home to continue my budding romance, and pissed off I couldn't achieve what I wanted to.
I bought a notebook and spent my days sitting in a deli in Santa Monica, storylining Jemima Jones in great detail. I drew upon my own experience, as always, having battled with food myself over the years. From bingeing, to starving, to purging, I was an expert on all of it, and I wanted to write it down, to try and capture some of the complicated relationship I had, because if it was true for me, it stood to reason it would be true for others.
So I sat and daydreamed about Jemima Jones. And Geraldine. And Ben. I created my version of the ugly stepsisters, and sat every day for hours, lost in thought, scribbling copious notes.
By the time I returned home, only a week later, I had a notebook filled to the brim. It was then like writing by numbers, sitting at my computer, finally fixed, and filling in the blanks.
It's the book that still garners the most attention. Wherever I go, however many people I am speaking to, when I mention the words Jemima J, an audible sigh goes around the room. People have loved this book, and have hated it. I have always loved Jemima's journey, and her sweetness, and her realization that it isn't what others think of us that matters, but what we think of ourselves.
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