I’m usually hopeless at keeping my own secrets, invariably wanting to share good news. But this summer there have been two I’ve held tight and I can’t tell you what a relief it was to share one last Thursday, when Anatomy of a Scandal was published in paperback.
As the obligatory sofa shot reveals, my novel about power, privilege and consent has been picked as one of Richard and Judy’s autumn Book Club picks. I could not be more thrilled. For a writer who loves reading the books they pick, and aspires to write novels that provoke and resonate, this feels like the pinnacle of my career.
Although I’ve known since early June - June 8! nearly three months! - it didn’t feel completely real until I met the legendary pair less than a week before publication day. OK, so I’d already answered questions for them and written an essay on the inspiration behind Anatomy of a Scandal; I’d gone through the proofs of these pages; and I’d even seen a finished copy of the special WH Smith’s edition, which I’d hidden in a box in my office so that my children wouldn’t stumble upon it or I’d inadvertently show it to friends. But I didn’t quite believe it was happening until I was on my way to a five-star central London hotel to record a podcast with them.
I was ridiculously early, of course, and there was no sign of them initially. (I didn’t realise they and the production team were hidden away downstairs.) But after I’d been asked various questions about my writing technique - to be spliced into the trail for the interview - and given myself a pep talk in the loo (where I correctly guessed another smartly-dressed woman might be an author; she turned out to be Amy Lloyd, author of The Innocent Wife), I was ushered to meet the couple who are so well-known that, like Nigella, or Tess and Claudia, they’ve no need for surnames.
And they were lovely. Warm, interested, professional and so intent on putting me at my ease. Richard drew parallels with his own experience as a court reporter before he went into broadcasting, and with their experience as TV hosts in pouncing on a story. “We’ve found that, haven’t we Judy?” he said, referring to a part of the novel where journalists, listening as evidence in the court scenes, know they have a top line.
Although I’d been told they read all 15 books on this selection’s shortlist before whittling them down to the final six, I hadn’t expected them to remember mine in such detail. (That’s a reflection on me: I can love a novel but a few months later will have forgotten the names of characters, or even a twist.) I genuinely felt as if they were immersed in and engaged with the novel. And as I left, Richard told me: “Some books choose themselves. It’s a fantastic read.” (You can read what they have to say about Anatomy of a Scandal here, while the podcast will be live from November 1.)
Meeting the two of them, and seeing my novel at the front of the Cambridge store, and advertised in the window, were real “pinch me” moments: experiences I doubt I’ll ever forget. I’m so proud that they’ve rated my novel but most of all I’m delighted their seal of approval means Anatomy of a Scandal will be widely available, and hopefully read. (As well as the special WHSmith edition, it’s on sale in Waterstone’s, independent bookshops, amazon and in Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrisons and Waitrose - the full sweep of supermarkets.)
In an era in which the issue of entitled men becoming even more powerful has never been more evident - see Kavanaugh and President Trump’s apology to him this morning - nor the subsequent burgeoning of women’s rage, I hope my novel, in some tiny way, adds to the debate.
And that other secret? Well, there’s a hint of it in the questions posed by Richard and Judy at the end of their edition of the book. But the details? I’m still having to keep them safe.