‘Clark is a remarkable ventriloquist’ says Kirkus Reviews

Wonderful news! Kirkus Reviews, the prestigious American book review magazine, having taken a gander at Note to Boy, liked what it found. Putting authorly modesty aside for a moment, here are a few extracts. Or you can read the full review here.

“A funny, immersive portrait” – Kirkus Reviews

Summing up the story as ‘A teenager becomes the scribe of a former fashion icon’, Kirkus Reviews goes on to say ‘Clark is a remarkable ventriloquist, alternating from the working-class vernacular of Bradley to the posh theatricality of Eloise with each chapter.’ Never been called a ventriloquist before, but I have to say I like it!

“A pleasure all the way through” – Kirkus Reviews

Later on, the reviewer comments, ‘The characters are richly drawn and readers will quickly become invested in the odd couple, as individuals and as friends.’ And ends with, ‘The story is a pleasure all the way through. A funny, immersive portrait of an unusual working relationship.’

What’s especially pleasing to me is that the anonymous reviewer is, I presume, American. I’m never sure how well British humour – especially mine – travels. Judging by this review from an organisation with such a respected name in the international publishing business, it seems readers both sides of the Atlantic find something to laugh at in the adventures of Bradley and Eloise.

Thank you Kirkus Reviews reviewer, whoever and wherever you are.

Note to Boy is available from this website, bookshop.org, amazon, and lovely independent bookshops up and down the country.

Birthmark Awareness Day

***BEWARE HERE BE SPOILERS!***

Saturday May 15 2021 is Vascular Birthmark Awareness Day. Did you know that? Because I didn’t.

No wonder. Birthmarks are not something people talk about. More particularly, they’re not often depicted in films, TV shows and novels. Why then, did I decide to give Bradley McCreedy, the younger of the two heroes in Note to Boy, a birthmark on his face?

It was an instinctive decision. At the time, I was simply looking for something that would increase Bradley’s feelings of isolation and resentment. Nothing deeper than that. Note to Boy is, after all, meant to be a comic novel that entertains, not an issue-driven tale. But then the idea grew to be more significant and central to the story and to his character.

Birthmarks are very common, I’ve learnt. More than ten per cent of babies have one of some sort or another. And they come in many kinds, shapes, sizes and colours. Bradley’s is a haemangioma, usually known as a strawberry birthmark, above his left eye. It bothers him. Or rather, how people react to it bothers him.

“Don’t know what gives me the most aggravation: the gawpers, the smart-arses, or the head-on-one-side, sad-faced do-gooders.

If you’ve read Note to Boy, you’ll know that this is, at its heart, a story of redemption through an unlikely friendship. In his rough-and-ready way, Bradley rescues Eloise. In her batty way, she rescues him. By the end of the book, he’s grown into his own skin. And that includes his birthmark.

“And while they’re firing their questions at me, do they talk to the place just above my left eyebrow? And while they think I’m not looking, do they cop a sneaky gawp at the thing on my face? Truth is, I’m that busy, I can’t say as I notice.”

So on Vascular Birthmark Awareness Day, it’s good to remember that we’re all a lot more than what can be seen on the outside. More than a birthmark.

Don’t look at me! I know nothing!

Every writer from Elmore Leonard (“Never use a verb other than ‘said’ for dialogue”) to Will Self (“that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure … will never, ever leave you”) and Margaret Attwood (“Do back exercises. Pain is distracting”) has come up with a list of tips for writers.

They make for interesting, if conflicting, reading. However, I prefer the William Goldman take on the creative process (“Nobody knows anything”).

Having said that, here’s my list!

WHEN YOU’RE WRITING

Don’t faff about. When you’re writing, write! Otherwise known as the ‘apply bum to seat’ rule. You can do courses, join Facebook Groups, Tweet and Insta your little hearts out, but never forget your ultimate goal: finish writing your goddam book!

Be prepared to lose sleep. I don’t mean metaphorically (though, that too). I mean actually hours in bed. Though you can snatch short periods to create your masterpiece, at some stage you’ll need to set aside a good chunk of time to revise it as a whole. If you have a job, a family and anything resembling a normal life, this will mean staying up all night every now and then. Just tell everyone not to talk to you the following day!

Show your work to people you trust. Listen to what they say, but with half an ear. Don’t let yourself be pulled hither and yon by conflicting comments. Who was it who said, if several people point out the same flaw in your book, they’re most probably right. If they then go on to suggest exactly what you should do to correct it, they’re most probably wrong. 

Accept that at some point you’ll fall out of love with your book. That doesn’t matter. Writing a book is like knitting a cardigan. If it starts to go wrong, you can unpick a few rows or the whole bally sleeve if necessary. If you keep unravelling and reknitting, eventually, with luck and a fair wind, that saggy, shapeless thing that doesn’t quite fit together will be transformed into a smart cardie you’ll be proud to show off. (Might have overdone the knitting analogy here. Never mind, I’ll tone it down in the rewrite.)

AFTER YOU’RE (FINGERS CROSSED) PUBLISHED

Never pop into town in your oldest gardening clothes with a small and hungry child in tow, and pause briefly outside your local bookshop. The friendly bookseller – who you’ve been chatting up these past months in preparation for publication – is bound to spot you and invite you in. There, wild-haired, muddy and in rags, with a wailing child tugging at your sleeve, you’ll have to endure the pitying stares of the other customers. “I knew it,” they’ll say behind their hands. “No good ever came of being a writer.”

SIGNINGS

Carry a smart pen at all times. Not a chewed-up old thing that leaks ink. In all probability you’ll never need it, but if someone should ask you to sign your book, you don’t want to hand back a smudgy mess.

For goodness’ sake, learn to spell your own name. Yes, really! Practice a nice, big, confident signature because, if you make a mistake, it’s costly and wasteful, not to mention embarrassing. You’d think it would be difficult to mis-spell Sue Clark, wouldn’t you? I’m here to tell you it’s all too easy. It’s Santa Sebag Montefiore and Gabriel Garcia Marquez I feel sorry for.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Don’t get obsessed with social media. Try not to check them excessively. By which I mean, not more than seven or eight times a day.

No-one cares about your book as much as you do. It may come as a shock but it’s true. Find other topics to talk, post, blog and tweet about. “Buy my book, please?” is not a compelling message.

BE NICE

Be nice. Be nice. Be nice. Be nice to absolutely everyone you’ve ever met, either in person or online, no matter how tenuous (or volatile) your relationship with them. You never know. You can get back at them later, when your book is a best seller. 

In fact, stay positive in public at all times, whatever the setbacks and criticisms. Sobbing into your pillow in the privacy of your bedroom is, however, permitted.

REVIEWS

Review books you read. What comes around, goes around, after all. But do it with kindness. Every book you read – even a crappy one – is the result of someone spending hours at a keyboard, exposing their innermost thoughts and feelings. I’m not including off-the-telly or royal writers here. Obvs! They can manage without our two penn’orth.

Don’t let bad reviews get to you. Ha! What am I saying? Of course, trolls will upset you. They’re dissing your beloved! No-one would blame you for striking back with every insult in your vocabulary. But keep your dark thoughts to yourself. Seethe inwardly. As Kipling so nearly said, ‘If you can meet with five-star reviewers and stinkers, and treat those two imposters just the same … you’ll be a proper writer, my bro.” 

Finally, always remember. Nobody knows anything!

Reviews of Note to Boy

Here’s a selection of reviews of Note to Boy. It’s great to see what readers, writers and bookbloggers make of Eloise and Bradley, and wonderful to know they’ve brought some laughter into people’s lives – as well as a few tears and the odd cringe!

Longer versions of what they have to say may be found on Amazon or Goodreads, or by following the link indicated. You are most welcome!

Note to Boy is a charming, hilarious story about an unlikely friendship that develops between two generations … The book itself is exceptionally well written … perfect for your afternoon on the beach … I highly recommend this clever book to anybody this summer – I’m sure you’ll love it!’Joel Francis, The Gibraltar Magazine

“Clark is a remarkable ventriloquist, alternating from the working-class vernacular of Bradley to the posh theatricality of Eloise with each chapter … The characters are richly drawn, and readers will quickly become invested in the odd couple, as individuals and as friends. The story is a pleasure all the way through. A funny, immersive portrait of an unusual working relationship.” – Kirkus Reviews

“This rib-tickling novel is skilfully written with the lightest touch, which in turn lends its hidden depths even greater poignancy … skip-along pacing and the perfectly-pitched timing of its punchlines, both humorous and moving… in the person of Eloise Slaughter, Sue Clark has created a truly memorable character who, despite considerable flaws, one cannot help warming to … Anyone with an interest in fashion or the swinging 60s will find much to love here but this is also a book that anyone can enjoy …this comes highly recommended, especially for anyone determined to age very badly indeed. So, if you’re looking for something unusual and entertaining while also being both thought-provoking and uplifting why not give this hidden gem a go?”Kindle Customer SB

“A heart-warming, darkly comedic book about friendship in the most unusual of places … I really loved reading Note To Boy, the dialogue between Eloise and Bradley, really did have me laughing to myself and at other times cringing … Characters like Trip, Dazzle, Bruno, Howie and her long running feud with Kristina Krabtree all gave life to the person Eloise was in her youth … As we are coming out of lockdown this book is a perfect reminder that we all need companionship, we all need someone to talk to and share experiences with, that sometimes those friendships are found in the most unlikely of friendships and that sometimes maybe all we need is to answer that advert in your local newsagents.”The Literary Addict, bookblogger.

Note to Boy, this is a book that once you have started you will have to finish.
Nice one Sue Clark! My mum also enjoyed it.
NSS944, a reader

Note to Boy is a cleverly written first novel and explores the developing relationship between two unlikely characters. The first person narrative of each reveals a young man with a troubled background and an ageing former doyen of the superficial cut and thrust of the fashion world. Although written as a comedy it is at the same time a sensitive, convincing and thought provoking exploration of societal issues at opposite ends of the scale. Great fun to read – and there’s no indication of how things pan out until the last page! I look forward to more from Sue Clark!Dr Barry, a reader

The adventures of this ill-assorted pair begin when Bradley realises that Eloise’s stories are something more than the ramblings of a dotty old lady. She has a past, and what a past! Although Bradley has never heard the word ‘amanuensis’, and Eloise cannot remember it, that is what he becomes. His efforts to find out the truth about his employer result in happier times for them both, and along the way, there is plenty of humour, and multiple reveals for the reader to enjoy.Paterson Loarn, blogger

In her beautifully written debut novel, Sue Clark tells a story that will make you laugh a lot and cry a little. She has created two convincing, realistic characters, each of whom is on the point of succumbing to an impossible situation. By introducing Eloise and Bradley, and making them bounce hilariously off each other, she not only saves them both, but also gives them hope for the future. I recommend Note to Boy to book clubs, not only because of its high entertainment value, but also because it bridges the generation gap and presents decades of social history, in a style as light and digestible as a macaroon; or, as Eloise would call it, a ‘Cameroon’.C J Limb, reader and author

This is a gorgeous funny book with brilliant characters. Highly recommended.Zena, reader and author

This comic novel is ideal for chasing away the current COVID blues. At its heart is an odd couple duo who offer a rather striking contrast. Despite the diverging tone of both characters, they both come off as realistic and not caricaturist, and both of them experience an extremely satisfying arc. Although comedy novels can come off as relatively gentle compared to thrillers for example, Note To Boy central mystery steadily raises the stakes, both in the present and in the past. This book provides some ideal real world escapism, and is already being lapped up by the people I have recommended it to. What more can I say than that?Jamie Chipperfield, reader and author

This delightful romp by comedy writer Sue Clark is an engaging, funny, and poignant read. It brings together two unlikely characters in the form of the theatrical and slightly cantankerous old dear, Eloise Slaughter, and the 17-year-old Bradley McCreedy. Note to Boy reminded me a little of Harold and Maud, only in that the two characters are of similar age. But here the comparison ends. With Note to Boy, the dialogue is far funnier and the narrative has a great deal more depth. And as with all great comedy, there is a tenderness and poignancy to both of these well-drawn characters. Sue Clark’s debut is a little gem and will appeal to anyone who enjoys the joy of language – particularly when it has been dragged through a hedge backwards by the book’s elderly protagonist. It would, dare I say it, make a wonderful stage play.Alex Pearl, reader and author

The story is just great, the writer is really skilled! Would be nice to see it as a movie as well! Loved it and looking forward to read more from Sue Clark!BB, a reader

This is a witty, intelligent novel with some laugh out loud, snorting moments as Eloise recounts her life’s misadventures to the rather reluctant ears of Bradley, her assistant/cleaner/life coach. She’s led a colourful life, the toast of Swinging London, at least according to her! This was tremendous fun, and had a hugely redemptive and satisfying ending. – ramblingmads, blogger

I loved this book so much. It was funny, but heartwarming and a lovely tale of two outcasts, one old and one young, finding themselves together and both becoming better people because of it. I thought the style of writing was genius – written exactly how the characters would have written it. The use and misuse of language was very clever and what I thought would be an easy and quick read, quickly drew me in and became compelling reading. Mrs & Mr R Robinson, readers

What could a teenager with an attitude and an elderly woman who is incapable of looking after herself have in common? It doesn’t seem like a lot. Bradley wants the job because he is on a long road to nowhere and helping Eloise could lead to an opportunity. Helping her to write an autobiography of sorts gives him a chance to get to know the woman behind the mood swings, the erratic behaviour and he then sees the eccentric fashion icon with entirely different eyes. I have to say that I didn’t experience this as a read full of comedic moments, but rather one full of poignant realistic moments. However I can absolutely picture this on the screen, and I hope someone sees the potential in this – The Lady in the Van kind of eccentricity coupled with a young man trying to grip the one possible straw that might take him out of his set-in-stone future of violence and deprivation. I really enjoyed this story, perhaps because it was easy to picture both main characters so well.Cheryl M-M’s Book Blog

Shop indie, shop often!

Spring is here! Hooray! The days are getting longer and warmer. Best of all, we’re into April, the magic month when bookshops are set, fingers crossed, to reopen for face-to-face shopping. Think of it, actually buying a book from a real human being!

As an indie-published author (published by Unbound), I’m a big enthusiast for indie bookshops. Their individual quirkiness and friendly knowledgeability beat shopping online hands down. Of course, Note to Boy is available from the big bookshop chains and the usual mega online channels but I’d love it if every indie bookseller in the land were to stock copies too. That’s impossible, I know. But that hasn’t stopped me doing my best!

During lockdown, I’ve been on a mission. In good time for the reopening of so-called ‘non-essential’ shops (who decides these things?), I set myself the task of approaching as many indie booksellers as I could to tell them a little about me and my novel, and ask if they’d care to order it. I figured their customers could do with a light-hearted book that offered plenty of laughs and a few tears.

The response has been amazing! It is a time-consuming but joyful job, and I’m not done yet. The encouraging and entertaining replies I’ve had from so many booksellers more than compensate for any effort involved. Below is a list of the many lovely bookshops who’ve responded positively so far. I salute you all! And I salute, of course, all the other bookshops I don’t know about who have Note to Boy on order or already on their shelves. Thank you.

When restrictions allow, I do hope you’ll go along to your local indie bookshop and have a good old chat and a browse. They’ve somehow kept going during lockdown so it’s only fair that we visit them to say thanks and buy a novel or three. I don’t even mind if it’s not Note to Boy, although that would be nice. And if you can’t get to an independent, remember Bookshop.org. You can shop online and benefit the indies too.

Happy Easter, happy indie shopping and, most of all, happy reading!

Sue

LIST OF NOTE TO BOY INDEPENDENT STOCKISTS: (to be continued!)

Adventure into Books, Blairgowrie, Perthshire.

Barnett’s of Wadhurst, East Sussex.

Book Buster, Hastings, East Sussex.

Book, Paper, Scissors, Belfast,

Bookingham Palace, Chester.

The Bookshop, Bridport.

The Bookshop, Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria.

The Bookstore, Abingdon.

The Book Vault, Barnsley.

The Book Corner, Saltburn.

Brendon Books, Taunton.

Brick Lane Bookshop, London.

Blue Bear Bookshop, Farnham.

Castle Bookshop, Ludlow.

The Clifden Bookshop, County Galway.

Cover to Cover, Swansea.

Dartmouth Bookseller, Devon.

Daunt Books, Summertown, Oxford and Hampstead, London.

Devizes Books, Wiltshire.

The Dornoch Bookshop, Sutherland.

Edinburgh Bookshop.

Fitzgerald’s Bookshop, Macroom, Ireland.

Griffin Books, Penarth.

The Halesworth Bookshop, Suffolk.

The Holt Bookshop, Norfolk.

Joe’s Bookshop, Chingford.

Kenilworth Books, Warwickshire.

The Little Bookshop, Cookham.

The Little Ripon Bookshop, North Yorkshire.

Max Minerva’s Marvellous Books, Bristol.

Midland Books, Tullamore & Mullingar, Ireland.

Mostly Books, Abingdon.

The Old Hall Bookshop, Brackley.

Our Bookshop, Tring.

Pages of Hackney and Shoreditch, London.

Parade’s End Books, Kingston Upon Thames.

Pigeon Books, Southsea.

The Portobello Bookshop, Edinburgh.

Stillwater Bookshop, Felixstowe.

Store 104, Rochester.

Stroud Bookshop, Gloucestershire.

Typewronger Books, Edinburgh.

Ullapool Bookshop, Ross and Cromarty.

The Wallingford Bookshop, Oxfordshire.

Wyre Forest Books, Bewdley.

Darlings I have killed

Poor Celia Smollensky! It was way back in 2017 that I killed her. It made me sad because I liked Celia. She made me laugh. But unfortunately she had to go. I’ve killed others since, of course, but she was my first and so my most memorable.

Celia was, you see, a character in an early draft of Note to Boy. I enjoyed writing about her and her antics but I realised, amusing though she was, she was not adding enough to the story and, worse still, was in danger of slowing down the action. Sadly, I came to the conclusion that, to increase the pace, she was for the chop. Sorry Celia. And along with her went another fun invention: the Fash Tash.

But in writing, nothing is ever totally lost. Today, Celia Smollensky lives again! As the awards season looms, I present this exclusive snippet that didn’t make it into the final edit of Note to Boy. In it, we meet Celia as she prepares for a big red carpet event, with the help of self-styled Queen of Carnaby Street, Eloise Slaughter.

Hope you enjoy it!

***

A FASHION PHENOMENON IS BORN (from an early draft of Note to Boy)

Out of the blue, we were asked to dress Celia Smollensky, a friend of a friend of Bruno’s. You know, she played the lead in that TV series? The one about the police woman? What was it?

Come on, come on, Boy. I expect you to have these facts at your fingertips.

Oh yes, Sergeant Sally. Celia played Sally. She was to wear Heavenly Bodies to the British Academy Film Awards. All the stars were going to be there, from Dickie and Billie to Al and Robert. Celia wasn’t keen but she, like us, was desperate for publicity.

‘Our ratings have bombed since they put us up against The Bionic Woman,’ Celia told us. ‘My agent thinks wearing one of your gimmicky frocks might turn things round. I’ll do almost anything. All I ask is, please don’t let that weird gay couple anywhere near me.’

‘Trip and Dazzle?’ I laughed. ‘They’re not a couple. At least, I don’t think … In any case, you won’t even have to meet them. I’ll be doing the honours myself.’

I quickly regretted that decision. I thought I made a fuss getting ready for a big event. Celia was impossible. She insisted I was at her Mayfair house eight hours before she was due to turn up in Leicester Square. I had to get a cab straight from Annabel’s to pick up the gown we’d chosen.

The garment folded carefully over my arm, I was the last to arrive at her flat. A flutter of hairdressers, stylists and make-up artists swarmed in her wake, pulling and poking, snitching and bitching. Celia strode about in a green Chinese silk robe being obnoxious.

‘You can throw that lipstick out, it’s hideous. Watch it with that nail file or I’ll sue. I asked for freshly pressed orange not that muck.’

After ten minutes of this chaos, I’d had enough. ‘Out. Out. All of you,’ I commanded. ‘I can’t work like this. Go. Leave it to an expert.’ The truth was, I had a ferocious hangover and all that shouting wasn’t helping. After they’d bustled out, clutching their make-up cases and styling equipment, I sat Celia down.  

‘You need to relax,’ I said. ‘No-one’s at their best when they’re tense. Just look at those frowny lines.’ I pressed my thumb between her eyebrows, where an ugly ‘v’ was forming. ‘So, let’s loosen things up with a little champers.’

I had an ulterior motive, dear reader. As everyone knows, the only cure for a champers hangover is … more champers. Three and a half bottles of Grand Cru later, with my headache fading, we made a start on getting her ready.

‘Firs’, yower ‘air,’ I slurred, hints of the West Midlands creeping in, I fear.

‘No probl’m,’ Celia beamed lopsidedly. ‘All my spikey cut needs is a shampoo ‘n’ a shake. Michel showed me how at Sashoonzz’.’

Maybe we washed it too much or didn’t shake it enough. All I know is, no matter how many times she ruffled her fingers through her hair or shook herself like a wet Labrador, or how many cans of lacquer we misted over Celia’s burgundy locks, they refused to spike up. Instead of fashionably tousled, her locks fell into a smooth, glossy halo. She looked like a librarian.

‘Jus’ stick yower ‘ead between yower knees in the taxi. Yow’ll be foine,’ I reassured. ‘Yower face now. We’re running out of toime.’

Indeed we were. Though we’d started at the crack of midday, all that bubbly had – as bubbly will – stolen the hours. Maybe we blacked out for an hour or two? Who knows? All I knew was, when I glanced up at the clock on the kitchen wall while sucking water from the tap, there was only an hour to go before Celia’s Leicester Square debut.

Luckily, Celia, as you may remember, dear reader, had a lovely face. It even looked good under one of those ridiculous bowler hats they used to make lady bobbies – even pretend telly ones – wear back then. Make-up would be a doddle, or so I thought. Squinting into those violet eyes, panstick wavering in my hand, I tried – despite the bubbly – to focus. I surveyed her face, her lovely face. A frown furrowed my brow.

Celia noticed the change in my expression. ‘Tell me s’not a zit.’

‘Not a zit,’ I said in the slow, even tones of the profoundly pissed. ‘’S’a hair. Upper lip. Long black fellow.’

‘God,’ Celia shrieked, clapping a hand to her face. ‘Get rid of it. Oh my god, those close-ups!’

Conscious of the minutes ticking by, I stumbled through the flat, rifling through make-up bags and tipping out drawers. Panic was rapidly sobering us up. A lot was riding on this evening.

‘Why-the-bloody-why,’ I shouted, ransacking the bathroom cabinets, ‘haven’t you got so much as a pair of tweezers, a lady razor or a tube of hair-removal cream in the whole of this sodding apartment?’

‘Don’t shout. My beauticians deal with my depilatory needs,’ Celia sniffed, her eyes filling with tears ‘And you sent them all away.’

Only half an hour till the car. Eight bloody hours we’d had to get her ready and now it was down to the wire. I returned with the only booty I could find: a roll of silver duct tape, a monkey wrench and some candles. ‘Don’t worry, I told her. ‘We’ll improvise with these.’

We started with the tape. After several painful yanks, I managed to remove quite a bit of skin from Celia’s top lip but not the hair. I melted some candlewax onto a hanky and slapped that on. Celia yelped as I tore the strip off. I examined the hanky. More skin but no hair. There was nothing for it. It was time for the monkey wrench.

After some nifty work, at last I held the hair up to the light. ‘Got you, you hairy bugger!’ I crowed. But time was still pressing. ‘We’ve only got a couple of minutes. Quick, bung the frock on while I do your lips and eyes.’

‘Oooh, that’s sore,’ she said, as I smeared on the lippy.

Quickly I outlined her eyes with kohl and loaded her lashes with mascara, while Celia unzipped the bag containing one of Trip and Dazzle’s most spectacular numbers, an all-in-one concoction of rags, flags, dusters and string, its bodice embellished by a chain, its plunging backline decorated with yellow fingers of wobbly rubber.

Holding it up, Celia pulled a face. ‘Good God. I know I said I’d wear anything, but really Eloise.’

‘Don’t be rude about my famous Rag Bag Look,’ I explained as she wriggled into it. ‘You’ll be a sensation.’

‘It doesn’t fit,’ she sulked, pulling twisted strips of material over her shoulders to form sort of straps. ‘It’s way too big.’

‘Stop moaning. This dress fits everyone. That’s the whole point. It’s flowing form liberates the female spirit,’ I told her, using a phrase I remembered from Cosmo. Celia didn’t understand it either.

‘What’s this flapping at the back?’ She reached behind and pulled at the rubbery strips.

‘It’s called a bustle. Made from those rubber gloves servants wear. You know, Marilyns.’

‘And this dirty old thing?’

‘A bike chain, with authentic black oil.’ I stood back to admire the full effect. ‘One last finishing touch,’ I said, draping a lime green feather boa round her shoulders. ‘There. You’re done.’

The doorbell rang. The car had arrived.

Celia slipped into a pair of silver lace-up boots. ‘What do you think?’

I gave her a last once-over. ‘Fabulous! – except the bit between your nose and your top lip.’

‘What’s wrong with it?’

‘Still just a tad red.’

‘I’ll splash cold water on it on my way out.’

‘Go,’ I commanded. ‘Go and knock their knickers off.’

Giving me a little kiss on the cheek, Celia swished into the bathroom to see to her lip, called out a cheery, ‘Here I go, shit or bust,’ and was gone.

I kicked off my shoes and poured out the last dregs of Grand Cru. Whether the gown would bring me the publicity I needed, I could only hope. As I raised my glass in a silent toast, I knew my future was in the lap of the gods.

*

The gods came up trumps. And how!

The following morning, Celia swept the board of the tabs. No-one else at the BAFTAs got a look-in. She was all over the front pages. As I promised, a sensation. Like Lizzie H in that Versace nappy-pin number a few decades later – another idea pinched from me. Celia was most definitely the woman of the moment. But it wasn’t her clothes that stole the headlines. What blew the papers away, what grabbed everyone’s attention was what was on her upper lip.

For you see, dear reader, when Celia had run into the bathroom to cool her tender lips, the towel she’d dabbed them with was black, new and very, very fluffy. Still sticky from the wax and the tape, her swollen upper lip met the dark fluff and – hey presto – a new look was born. The Fash Tash. I don’t remember who came up with the catchy name – me, probably. And that, dear reader, is the true story of how the trend for female moustaches came about.

The pictures were amazing. Celia in the foreground, grinning widely, eyes sparkling, totally unaware that a furry caterpillar had taken up residence on her top lip. By the time she did find out, it was too late. In any case, why should she worry? From that moment on she was in demand. An explosion of flashbulbs greeted her every appearance. Her picture was almost never off the front pages, sometimes accompanied by this little miss from the Midlands. I have pictures of us somewhere, strutting our stuff down red carpets and staggering out of nightclubs, both cutely mustachioed.

Note to Boy: I’ve seen those photographs somewhere. As my aman … aman .. as the person in charge of my archive, you should look them out.

Her particular look was what we later marketed as the ‘Thinnie’. Nothing too brash and overstated, just an adorable, pencil thin little face ferret. Think Clark Kent in Gone With the Wind and you’ll get the idea. It was only later, as the taste for ‘tashes grew that we became bolder, launching our more extreme styles; the ‘Dali’ and the ‘Wing Commander.’

Celia was signed to another two series of Sergeant Sally and was almost never off Parkinson. She even got a Vogue cover. And everyone, but everyone, was asking the same question: who was the genius behind her reinvention? What could I do, dear reader? I had to tell them. It was me, me, me. I created the Fash Tash. And this time, it really was. Of course, I never let on that it was a big fat mistake.

Next thing I knew, the press were camped on my doorstep. The Mirror did an eight-page special called ‘A De-lip-cious New Fashion’ – witty that, isn’t it? – featuring me and a bewhiskered model in a variety of poses. The Express ran with, ‘Famous Women as You’ve Never Seen Them’, illustrated with pictures of Queen Victoria, Princess Margaret, Fanny Craddock and other celebs all ‘tashed up’. The Guardian fashion editor ran an up-itself piece on ‘releasing your masculine side’. Whatever that means.

Before long, no high-fashion hairdresser was without a Fash Tash counter and Heavenly Bodies had branched out into its own Fash Tash Salons. I’ll never forget the proud day we opened one in Coventry, my home town. Back in the West Midlands for the first time in decades, I wielded the scissors to the ribbon myself, touched that Terry and Urse had turned out. A lump came to my throat as I surveyed my damp audience. More would have been there, I’m sure, if the weather had been more clement.

Moustaches for women were in. And so was I. I could do no wrong. Everything I touched turned to kerching. What’s more, there was not a peep from Kristina Krabtree to spoil my triumph. Why, dear reader? I must confess, there was a good reason for that.

©SueClark2020

Count Arthur Strong, showbiz legend, recommends …

This week, I’ve achieved something of a coup! No, not of an obscure foreign country, but of the book-promoting kind.

As readers of this site might have noted, I’m a big fan of Count Arthur Strong. I think Eloise, a main character in Note to Boy, and the Count have a lot in common, in terms of delusions of grandeur and the ability to create chaos wherever they saunter. More in hope than expectation, I sent the Count a copy of my book. Lo and behold, this week the Twittersphere is alive to the sounds of cheering (mine), as Count Arthur tweeted, and I quote:

‘I tell you something, I thoroughly enjoyed @SueClarkAuthor’s lovely book ‘Note to Boy’. Delightful read.’

He read and thoroughly enjoyed my book! I’ll pause a moment while I let this news sink in. Just goes to show, it’s always worth asking. People – even showbiz legends – can be nice.

Finally, a word about reviews. If you enjoyed a book, please do take a few minutes to pen some words about it and pop them on Goodamazon or Twitreads or something. It really does help readers find and appreciate new authors.

Read all about it!

Note to Boy is in the news! Read how Sue Clark turned from comedy scriptwriter into comedy novelist. Secrets are revealed about meeting no less than three James Bonds.

You can also find out how Swinging London influenced the writing of her novel, Note to Boy, the long journey to publication, and the challenges of launching a book during lockdown.

Click here to see the full interview with Gergana Krasteva of the Oxford Mail and Times.