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Robyn Sisman
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I was born in Los Angeles, the home town of my grandparents. My grandmother was an actress and my grandfather a playwright and impresario. She acted with Ginger Rogers; he wrote the hit Broadway play, Burlesque, and took Laurel and Hardy on tour. As a small child my mother went riding with Douglas Fairbanks, and attended the LA premiere of Gone With the Wind on the arm of Charlie Chaplin. I now own the hand-me-down sofa that once bore the imprints of famous Tinseltown bottoms.

We moved around a great deal when I was a child - Illinois, Geneva, Oxford, Munich, England again. In the space of nine years I attended French-speaking, English-speaking and German-speaking school, and my parents divorced. At fifteen, it felt strange to go ‘home’ to America, where everyone mimicked my ‘British’ accent, and I determined to return to England for university (where my by-then American accent would be equally mocked).

Before taking up a place at Oxford I worked as an au pair in Cannes, then as a waitress in a village de vacance in Corsica. It was heaven. Sun, sand, speaking French again, dancing barefoot under the stars to loopy French songs and falling madly in love with one of the cooks, Jean-Paul (gorgeously unsuitable – not unlike Fabrice in Weekend in Paris).

After university I taught English in Ethiopia and racketed about Africa before reluctantly knuckling down to a proper job. I started as a very bad secretary at Oxford University Press, which was then almost heroically fusty and male-dominated. Here I met the new junior editor for history, Adam Sisman, who thrilled me with his irreverent attitude to our august employer and asked me to marry him on practically our first date. I agreed on the third.

We moved to London and I worked my way up to becoming Managing Director of Hutchinson (Random House), where I commissioned Robert Harris’s Fatherland and Sebastian Faulks’s Birdsong, among others. In the spring of 1992, just as Fatherland shot straight to number 1, and when I was seven months pregnant, I was made redundant. This seemed fairly cataclysmic at the time: I was the breadwinner as Adam was writing his first biography. Despite having never wanted to write a book myself (seen it from the other side: too difficult, too lonely), desperation was the mother of invention, and in between nappy-changing and clocking in at the Job Centre I began to draft the story that became Special Relationship. In one year I learned more about writers and writing than in a decade of publishing.

To my joy and astonishment the book was a success, and on the strength of it we moved to Somerset – again something of a culture shock until Soho House set up its country outpost of hipness at Babington, one mile from our home. Perfect Strangers and Just Friends followed – both Sunday Times Top Ten bestsellers and translated into 25 languages. Just Friends was bought for the movies by Warner Brothers and Perfect Strangers is under option to Working Title, due to start filming next year.

All my books revolve around the delights and misunderstandings of cross-cultural relationships – of which I have rich experience! – but Weekend in Paris is my first Anglo-French venture (the others shifting between England and America). Remembering my own escapades in France with irresistible Frenchmen, I have tried to capture a romantic young girl’s exhilaration and confusion at falling in love in a foreign country, in a foreign language; the overwhelming assault on one’s senses of a first trip to Paris; and the liberating experience of being a different person abroad. I also enjoyed subverting some of the chick lit clichés: my heroine Molly does indeed meet the man of her dreams, but not in the expected way. More seriously, the book draws on my experience of being virtually the single daughter of a single mother living on a restricted budget, and having an absent father for most of my childhood. Though secretly, the ghastly Malcolm Figg is my favourite character.

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Photo: Robyn Sisman
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