Grace Dent has been a magazine and newspaper journalist/columnist since 1996, working for publications such as The Mirror, Glamour and Marie Claire. Her television column "World of Lather" has appeared in the Guardian Guide since 2001, and her passion for television past, present and future means she often appears on TV and radio as a reviewer and commentator.
Grace has recently completed a trilogy of novels for teenage girls for G.P. Putnam's Sons. The books are about Ronnie Ripperton, Fleur Swan and Claude Cassiera, a trio of minxish, pop-obsessed and boy-crazy friends who call themselves "Les Bambinos Dangereuses", or LBD for short. LBD: IT'S A GIRL THING was published in 2003, followed by LBD: LIVE AND FABULOUS! in 2004. Grace's new novel LBD: FRIENDS FOREVER is due for release in May 2006. Grace was born in 1973. She grew up in Carlisle, and read English Literature at the University of Stirling. She now lives with her husband in East London.
My ambition was to leave Carlisle (northern England) move to London and write for a living. So far, so good with that one. My other ambition was to marry John Taylor from Duran Duran, appear as the 'glamorous romantic interest' in one of their pop videos on the TV show 'Top of The Pops' on the BBC and then live in John's beach view mansion in Mystique with lots of servants. That one has proven more difficult to achieve... in fact I ended up marrying a totally different bloke and living in East London and having to do my own laundry. You can't have everything...
DESERT ISLAND BOOK?
What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt is probably my favorite book of the last decade. It's a tale about a group of artists in New York City spanning over 25 years. I'm so glad my friend Sophie made me read that book.
London. I've been here ten years now and it feels like home. I'm never short of something to do here. Even just walking somewhere is fun as you'll always notice a bar, shop, museum or park that you never saw before.
WHERE DO YOU WRITE?
I have an office in my house which overlooks my garden. So if I'm stuck, I can always gaze out the window and watch the neighborhood's numerous cats mooching about or I can daydream about what to plant next in the garden. Sometimes I go away to write, but I always miss home after a few nights alone with just a laptop.
I cook a lot of Indian food at home, spicy things and yoghurty things and dishes with pilau rice. The British love Indian food. Or rather taking Indian recipes and giving them a British twist.
FAVORITE ITEM OF CLOTHING?
I've got an excellent faux-fur Russian hat which always makes a statement when I wear it in Winter. I hope the statement isn't 'I do not own a mirror'.
Writing 3 entire novels that I'm really proud of and can pick up and read now without cringing at any bits.
MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT?
Being sat beside Jacqueline Wilson at a signing event when she had a brand new book out and I was unknown. She sold about 400 books and I sold 2 to a short-sighted person who was in the wrong line. Oh how I laughed on the way home.
SMARTEST THING YOU EVER DID?
Didn't listen to the careers advisor who told me I could be a 'data-inputer'. Didn't listen to the people who told me to stop having stupid lofty ambitions and accept that I would end up working at the local truck-stop. Realized that although I hated going to school and hated being told what to do, it was going to be the one way to escape and without some exam passes I'd never leave. Thank God.
My husband. Living with an author can't be easy. We're all mad.
When did you start writing?
I wrote lots of depressing poetry and short stories when I was a sixth former, but only showed it to about two (extremely unfortunate) friends. My writing began properly at university. I wrote for fanzines and student newspapers, and entered lots of writing competitions. I tried to get as much experience as I could at college; I was terrified I’d have to get a proper job where I couldn’t wear pyjamas.
Where do you get your ideas and inspiration from?
I scribble down things I see and hear all of the time in messy notebooks, then I fiddle about later on, making them funnier, sadder or more revolting. One little idea can turn into pages of text once I sit down with a mug of coffee, I tend to go off on tangents. Many things that happen in my stories have ‘sort of’ happened to me or to people I know. Some characters are ‘sort of’ based on people I’ve met. (Actually, it’s advisable to be on your best behaviour around me, or you just might turn up in my next book as a school bully or toilet cleaner).
Can you give your top 3 tips to becoming a successful author
1. Read lots, and write whenever you can. Get used NOW to showing people your work and figuring out how to get it published. There’s no point having a really great short story in a notebook, in a box, under your bed.
2. Friends, family and other spoilsports will probably, at some stage, pooh-pooh your fab plan to be an author. They may even be mean about your work. I find blowing a loud raspberry, then carrying on regardless is the only way forward.
3. Don’t be shy to put a lot of yourself; your own sadness, humour and opinions, into your writing. If people wanted to read stiff, straightforward text, gaining no sense of the author’s personality, they’d read a chemistry text book.
Probably, one of the New Years Eve’s spent at the Hacienda nightclub in Manchester. Or when I was told that Puffin wanted me to write more than one book for them. I was shocked they wanted the first.
Favourite place in the world and why?
Back home visiting my family in Carlisle, lying on the couch with a plate of food and the remote control...for the first forty minutes until we all start rowing with each other.
What are your hobbies?
I don’t have any hobbies, maybe I should get one. I go to the gym, but not because I enjoy doing so. Sitting writing all day gives you a bum the size of a trunk freezer.
If you hadn’t been a writer what do you think you would have been?
I’d have carried on being a journalist. Deep down, I regret a bit that I didn’t become a tour manager for rock bands. I like organising people. I know that with the right clipboard and loud hailer, I could have got Robbie Williams to all of his tour dates on time.
An Interview with Grace Dent, author of LBD: It’s a Girl Thing
Inside your extrovert columnist persona, has there always been a novelist trying to burst out?
I've been writing for magazines and newspapers for years, but deep down, I always wanted to write novels. This was for a few main reasons a) In books you can blether on for far longer than in a magazine piece, b) I could hide away at home and wear my pyjamas more and c) I imagined that once you signed a book deal, the publisher came round with a big truck of money. Sadly, I'm still waiting for that truck, but I have splashed out on some ace new pyjamas. Pink with stripes. Lovely.
Did your family encourage you in your writing career?
Even today my dad still encourages me to get a 'proper job' like as an air hostess or a bank cashier. He called me last October when I was putting the finishing touches to LBD:It's A Girl Thing and asked me what I was up to. I said 'Ooh I'm exhausted Dad, I'm just finishing my book.' He said, 'Oh really love, why what are you reading?' Yes, he thought I meant I was lying on the sofa reading a novel. I said, with a withering tone, 'No Dad, I'm writing my book. I've got a book deal with Puffin books? I'm being published in the USA and seven other European countries!!'
When you heard that Puffin wanted to publish LBD, how did you feel?
When I heard LBD was being published, I hadn't actually written it. I'd only managed a few thousand words but they liked it so much they asked me to sign up to write three books. Actually getting a book deal wasn't as much fun as I always fantasised it would be, I just felt a bit scared and overwhelmed. Things became much more fun when all the fuss died down and I could get down to writing. That's when you feel totally free. That's when you can get up late, potter about and do a bit of making stuff up for a living.
Writers, working by themselves at home can get away with the most disgusting personal habits. What is your really worst one?
Leaving old coffee cups, half drank glasses of orange and snottery tissues everywhere is pretty grim. However, I think the most disgusting thing being an author makes me is totally anti-social. Friends call my flat 'The Putney Bunker' as I hide away in it and won't answer my phone as I'm having far too much fun with The LBD inside my head.
Dish the dirt on LBD! Are Ronnie, Claude and Fleur based on real characters that you know or knew at school?
I think most people who know me and have read LBD reckon Ronnie is very much like me - in the way she speaks and her outlook on life. I tend to natter on in a daft way and have mad ideas. I also put myself down a bit and worm my way out of difficult situations with silly one-liners. When I was Ronnie's age I was equally obsessed with boys and music so I find it very easy to write as her.
Fleur is a culmination of all of my tall beautiful female friends. I'm only 5 foot 4 with brown hair, so when I was growing up I quickly realised how you can become quite literally invisible whilst kicking about with your tall blonde mate. I have lots of fun making her so delightfully self-centred and vain. It can be tricky treading that thin line, keeping Fleur likeable as I always want to push her that little bit further and turn her into a complete nightmare.
Claudette is the voice-of-reason in the LBD, she's very loosely based on two different girls I've been friends with whose family were from Ghana, although they were British by birth. I liked their juxtaposition of extreme naughtiness, with a proper, traditional, religious upbringing. It always made me crack up. No matter how outrageously naughty Claudette is, she'll still be up at 8am the next day to do her Uncle Bert's shopping.
I still knock about in London with two girls that I was friends with since I was a little girl in Carlisle, so I suppose I'm proof that gangs like the LBD can last for years.
What kind of a teenager were you?
Oh dear, I was a nightmare teenager. That's why I dedicated The LBD to my mum, to say sorry. We get along brilliantly nowadays, mum and I. We speak on the phone every day and have a great laugh together, but it wasn't always like this. When I was a teenager, I drove her absolutely to her wits end. I had a little gang of odd-looking mates who'd hang about together being as depressed as possible and playing loud music. Of course, there was also a procession of weird boyfriends with shaved eyebrows, piercings and tattoos arriving at the house to take me out. My mother loathed every single one, without exception.
It's taken us ten years to see the funny side. By the way- if you have read The LBD and can remember the part about Fleur's phonebill and the 'Special sunshine Holiday to Martinique'- that really did happen in my house. Sorry mum.
If you were a teenager again, what would you do differently?
Stuff I have learned: Don't pierce your own ears as they go all gammy. Hair dye never looks the same in real life as it does on the box. Try to lighten up a bit about life's traumas- eg: considering killing yourself over not being having a new skirt for the school disco may be being 'a little bit over dramatic'. Oh and also, when you're putting your make-up on, either do 'lots of eye makeup' or 'lots of lipstick'- yes, that's one or the other. Not both at the same time or it will look like a halloween mask.
What is your favourite television programme?
I've got a bit of a secret obsession with Friends. People who I've shared houses with say that during Friends is the only time they see me sit down and relax. That's a bit sad isn't it? I don't care though, I think everyone deserves the right to do sad things that make them feel good. I watch Friends, religiously, every day at 5pm on E4 with a cup of tea, quietly thanking the lord that I have a book deal and can do cool stuff like that.
What is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to you?
I get letters from girls and boys who say they've read my stuff in newspapers, like my soap column in The Guardian, and say that they'd love one day to be 'just like me'. That's really nice. I find it really overwhelming that anybody could consider me a role-model. It reminds me that I worked really hard and achieved something pretty big.
Do you still go to music festivals?
My bloke works in the music industry, so we go to a loads of gigs and festivals. We get backstage passes and get to hang out with the bands. I still love going to Festivals - but only as long as there is a nearby hotel for me to get a shower in at the end of the day. I've done with being covered in mud and queuing for the chemical toilets now. The second LBD novel, out next year, is all about the girls, loud music and lads again so I'll be going to all of the festivals to do some valuable research...I think it's going to be a great summer.