A copywriter at CBA in Soho’s Adland in the 1980’s, Ella is either pretending to be a cat called Marmalade in order to pen letters from him, or fending off advances from her boss, ageing Lothario, Peter Richards. She had a less than idyllic childhood at the hands of a damaged father and survives by treating life as a joke, while enduring chauvinistic jibes to keep her job and enable her to pay her mortgage and her frail Mum’s rent.
The one constant bright spot in her life is her cake-fuelled friendship with former colleague Adam Hart. When Ella takes some Chardonnay-inspired liberties with Marmalade’s copy, the client sees it and threatens to fire the agency. Peter puts Ella on the horns of a horny dilemma: either he fires her or sires her. Given the country is in recession, she plays along and their ‘Little Arrangement’ is born.
Luckily, an accident temporarily renders her too ugly for Peter to bed but he uses her appearance to bar her from a new business pitch, enabling him to take the credit when her idea wins the account. Ella is incensed and Peter pretends to fire her to teach her a lesson. Treated like a dog by a bitch at the unemployment office, Ella is so upset, she prangs her car. A young singer and professional ego-maniac comes to her rescue. Tom-everyone-wants-a-piece-of me-Tyler worms his way into her heart but when he claims to have spent the night in a Photo-Me-Booth and she discovers a condom in his pocket, it proves a prophylactic too far…
Buy your copy of I am Ella, Buy Me here.
Hello Joan and welcome to Dreaming With Open Eyes. First of all, tell us a bit about yourself
I spent years penning letters from dogs. As an award-winning copywriter, you have to be adaptable! With a full-time job in a London advertising agency and a new baby, I did what any right-minded woman would’ve done and set up a comedy club. I even appeared on the same bill as Jo Brand. Once. As a university lecturer, I taught comedian Noel Fielding all he knows about advertising. I also tutored Wordsworth’s great-grandson in the art: Buy a host of golden daffodils. Get a yellow one, free! I also wrote a column in a fashionable glossie about my young daughter. She is eighteen now and has never read a word of them. A Londoner, I now live beside the sea-side and eat mainly cream teas.
What can you tell us about I am Ella. Buy Me that will pique the reader’s interest?
‘I am a ginger tom. I am a boy racer. I am a housewife. I am a pain in the arse.’
The opening lines set the tone for a funny, fast-paced novel set against a backdrop of 80s London where money trumps morals and lust is a must. As a girl in man’s world, Ella battles her lothario boss, Peter on her way to the top. Faced with losing her job or sleeping with him, she turns to her friend, Adam. Can love help her go from a girl in the firing line to a woman calling the shots? Ella doesn’t always make the right choices – she’s as real as you or me. She’s Bridget Jones meets Peggy from Mad Men; it’s chic lit with extras.
Yes, love to. Meet Ella and her sleazy boss, Peter.
‘Time for a drinkie-poo,’ Peter says, pulling on his fashionably over-sized, over-priced overcoat.
The silk lining is hot pink to match his cashmere scarf. One of the art-directors tried to strangle him with it earlier this week. Now I know why. I can’t think of anything I’d less like to do than have a drinkie-poo with this piece of doggie-do but we’re in a recession, best not to argue.
‘Okay, Peter, let’s have a quick one,’ I sigh.
I see his salacious expression, realise what I’ve said and want to fall on the nib of my Mont Blanc. But that would be a pointless waste of a very good pen.
We head for Kettner’s Champagne Bar. The cafes and bars on Old Compton Street are filling up with suits flexing the company plastic. Peter pauses to look in the window of one of the many sex shops. There’s not much on display, just a few risqué videos. The hard-core stuff is inside, under-the-counter. When we arrive at the bar, it’s standing room only. I order a Kir Royale as compensation for having to spend a minute more than I am contractually obliged to with Peter Richards. The heady mix of champagne and Cassis slips down easily and my glass soon empties. I watch Peter’s reflection in the enormous gilt-framed mirror as he nods at the barman to pour me another. To my horror, he leans his head on my shoulder and whispers something urgently in my ear as his hand rides up my thigh, slipping underneath my skirt.
‘I’ve never had you, have I?’ he asks with an unflattering level of uncertainty.
‘No and you never will,’ I say, draining my glass and leaving.
What inspired you to write this novel?
The book is based on my experiences in Soho’s mad, bad Adland in the 80s, a bizarre place, like real life on e-numbers. I wanted to write about a woman in a man’s world, swimming against a tide of testosterone. Ella has to act tough at work to survive but love means more to her than money. The idea of a friendship between a man and a woman is always fun to explore!
How would you describe your style of writing?
I enjoy bringing my characters to life through dialogue, revealing their true motives and emotions. I don’t describe every aspect of their appearance but give sufficient clues for the reader to build up their own picture.
I am Ella. Buy me, is funny, flip and sad – like real life.
The Killing of Mummy’s Boy and Guilt are both psychological thrillers. Obviously, the writing style is dark but characters remained rooted in reality, with emotions everyone can all relate to.
Now tell us, what is the best thing of being an author? And the worst one?
Playing with life through words is fun and it’s lovely when people say Ella made them laugh. That makes the worst bit, endless hours tapping away at the keyboard, worth it. I never learned to type at school. Now I know why.
Which authors inspire you?
Garrison Keillor, Harper Lee, Gerald Durrell, Alan Bennett, J.D. Salinger, Jerome K. Jerome, Dodie Smith, Edna O’Brien, George Orwell, Laurie Lee, D.H. Lawrence, Iain Banks, Helen Fielding and my friends Jeanne Willis, Paul Burke and E.L. James. Erika’s success gave me the kick I needed to publish.
What do you do and enjoy when you’re not writing?
Laughing with family and friends, swimming in the sea, eating too much Italian ice-cream, browsing for glorious retro finds in charity shops and watching great theatre.
Describe a typical day in your life!
Who am I today? A cold-bloodied killer? A woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown? A lovelorn lad? That’s another great thing about being a writer, there’s no such thing as a typical day.
What are you working on at the moment?
My second psychological thriller: Guilt. It is a powerful emotion. In the novel it impacts on a young girl’s life in unimaginable and toxic ways. I’ve nearly finished which is a shame as the characters are writing this one for me!
I’d love to hear what your readers think of my books, please stop by my website and let me know. Thank you so much. It’s been brilliant!
She set up a comedy club where she wrote and performed. Joan even appeared on the same bill as Jo Brand. Once. Columnist Joan penned a regular back page column for Junior magazine about her baby daughter, Sophie. Wise
beyond her years, Sophie, now an adult, has never read them. Lecturer Joan taught comedian Noel Fielding all he knows about advertising at
Bucks University before encouraging him to showcase his creative talents on a wider stage.
Working for the Press Association, she tutored Wordsworth’s great-grandson in the art of copywriting: Buy a host of golden daffodils and get a blue one, free! She has recently left her role as lecturer in Advertising and PR at Bournemouth University to concentrate on her writing. Writer Joan is the author of three books in three very different genres: I am Ella. Buy me. Romantic comedy. The Killing of Mummy’s Boy. Psychological thriller The Things You Missed While You Were Away.
Memoir She is writing her latest novel, Guilt. Born in London, she recently left the city during a bout of swine flu. Sweating like a pig, she arrived on the Isle of Wight where she lives in a thatched cottage with her long-suffering husband, daughter and two cats.