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Mhairi McFarlane

November 2014

HER debut novel sold 500,000 copies, it’s been optioned for a film, there have been talks about a TV series, meetings with big dogs of the film industry, and showbiz mates... but it was while in a pub back in Nottingham that Mhairi McFarlane realised she had nailed the dream of becoming a successful author.
“I was a friend who introduced me to a group of girls by saying I’d written a book. They were asking what it was about, I quoted a line from it and they all instantly knew it. ‘You wrote You Had Me At Hello!?’ All of them had read it. That was definitely a cool feeling,” says the 38-year-old, who lives in Sherwood.
This was two years ago. Her debut novel went on to shift over half-a-million copies; the biggest selling e-book for HarperCollins.
It’s also been sold to 16 countries and has been optioned for a film.
Even rival chick-lit authors said nice things about You Had Me At Hello, among them Lisa Jewell, Jane Fallon and Marian Keyes, the queen of the genre.
“I’d interviewed her when I was working at the Post,” says the former reporter-turned-feature writer, who quit seven years ago to pursue novel writing.
“We really hit it off, so when I entered a writing competition for the Telegraph, I asked if I could interview her for it. She agreed and I flew out to Dublin. Because I’d met her when You Had Me At Hello was finished I sent her a copy.
“I got this really nice email from her absolutely raving about it, saying ‘I’m so jealous of your talent, you’ve done so well, I don’t blurb a lot of women’s fiction but I will do this because it’s so great.’ That was amazing. Because she is the top dog of chick-lit.”
Mhairi’s third book, It’s Not Me It’s You, has just been published on the same day as Keyes’ latest.
“It’s kind of saying the publisher believes you are going to do well, what they call being a ‘priority author’,” she says.
It’s also her first hardback, after the paperback and e-book releases of You Had Me At Hello and Here's Looking At You, which made the Sunday Times Bestsellers list.
“I’ve been told that having your third book coming out in hardback is very unusual,” says Mhairi, who lives with her boyfriend Alex and their cat, Mr Miffy.
Not only that, it’s her first in the publishing premier league; the first two came out on Avon, a imprint of HarperCollins. This is with main imprint HarperFiction, the first of another two book deal.
It’s Not Me It’s You follows 33-year-old Geordie council press officer, Delia Moss, who proposes to her boyfriend, then receives a text from him that is intended for The Other Woman.
Like her past two books, it’s  essentially romantic fiction but with a comic edge.
“You Had Me At Hello is in many ways a conventional romance but was set up North, she was a crown court reporter - not a fluffy job - there’s a sarky sense of humour and swearing...
“There are no credit cards, no going to Manhattan. no being a PA to a rock star, no baking, no fretting about weight... I find that intensely dull.
“And I’m not talking about babies, yet. It’s relationships and work, which most of us know about.”
There have been a few parties at London’s swanky celebrity hang-out The Ivy Club & the V&A but most of the time Mhairi is writing, either at home or in Broadway.
Although reaching this level of success, just three years after her debut, does seems to have happened quickly, there were years of graft and frustration in the first four years after quitting her job at the Post.
“I got my agent in 2009 and my book didn’t come out for three years. That’s how long it took to get published. My agents spoke to a lot of heads of women’s fiction at various big publishing houses and they said they liked it but they weren’t taking on any chick-lit.
“It was the effect of the success of Bridget Jones. There was a goldrush and publishers got glutted with it.
“I did think I’d missed my moment. But I was lucky there was one editor who believed in it.”
Nottingham’s award-winning production company Wellington Films are working on a film for You Had Me At Hello and there having been meetings with more than one TV production company about writing a series in the mould of Cold Feet and Coupling.
But her priority is book four and she hopes to use non-London locations in the future, including her home city.
“I’d love to set a book in Nottingham. I think the time is right. It’s nice to make a change from the well trodden chick-lit locations of Dublin, London and New York.”

It’s Not Me It’s You is published by HarperFiction, priced at £10 hardback, £5.49 e-book. For more about Mhairi

Katherine Jenkins

November 2014

WHILE the eyes of the world were focusing on the George Clooney/Amal Alamuddin wedding in Venice, Katherine Jenkins was also tying the knot, to New Yorker Andrew Levitas at Hampton Court Palace.
It was a private affair, with just 200 guests, and there were no photo sales to glossy magazines.
“It’s amazing, I’m incredibly happy, I love being a wife... it’s the best thing in the world,” says the 34-year-old mezzo soprano.
“It’s a very happy time.”
Give it 15 years and he’ll be driving you up the wall.
“Oh please,” she laughs. “I don’t want to hear that.”
She’s in the back of a car heading from York to... she’s not sure. It’s a promotional tour of the UK to push a new album, Home Sweet Home and the corresponding theatre tour that lands at the Royal Concert Hall on Valentine’s Day.
That date generated a few fan suggestions on Twitter that she should run a competition to win a romantic meal with her.
“I’m not sure what Andrew would say about that”, she laughs, of her new husband, who is also in the entertainment industry, as a film director, producer and actor.
She has said that he likes her music.
“Well, he’s got to, hasn’t he? He’d be in trouble if he didn’t.”
The couple have made their home in London, where Jenkins moved from Wales at the age of 18 to study at the Royal College of Music.
Will they move to New York in the future?
“No,” she says firmly.
“We’re staying in the UK. I feel really proud of where I come from, my sister’s just had a baby and all my family are here. It’s going to be nice to have family in New York to go and visit but I’m staying in the UK.”
Home Sweet Home, indeed - although the album is more about her return to her original record label, Decca, where her career started ten years ago.

“In some way it’s unbelievable that I’ve been lucky enough to make ten albums. Reaching that landmark made me look back. Along the way I tried to bring different genres of music into the classical sphere but I think the music I enjoyed the most, and suited me most, was the sort I was making on my first few albums.
“I’ve still got a desire to make classical music accessible and Decca really understand classical crossover.”
She adds: “I’ve gone full circle in a way. Musically I’ve come home.”
Songs on the new album, released on November 17, include World In Union, We Are The Champions, Barcelona (with Alfie Boe), Silent Night and How Great Thou Art.
“The songs were chosen for having a classical footing but they had to be anthemic and inspirational... will they make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end?” says Jenkins, who was teaching singing when she signed to Decca.
“They are songs that everybody will know. Even if you don’t know the composer you’ll know the tune.”

In terms of the songs she’ll sing on the tour, she took to Twitter to ask her fans for requests.
“Somebody said an AC/DC song. I was meaning the songs from my ten albums but that did make me laugh.”
When Jenkins started out, there were no other female classical crossover singers but many have since followed, including Nottinghamshire’s Lucy Kay, who came second on Britain’s Got Talent and Victoria Gray, who had a reasonable level of success with the group Amore.
What advice does she have for others who want to follow in her footsteps?
“Get as much experience as you can, join choirs, get involved in amateur productions of shows, enter competitions... because you have to be prepared for the opportunity when it comes.
“And work hard. I’m not scared of hard work and being tired and that kind of stuff. That’s what you’ve got to put into it.”
Jenkins, who music tastes range from Maria Callas and Judy Garland, to Beyonce, Rihanna, Sam Smith and Adele, will be spending her first Christmas as a married woman back in Wales.
“Family is very important to me and we’re very traditional at Christmas so I’ll be at home with mam. It will be my first as a wife but also my first as an aunty; my sister had a baby five months ago. I’m excited about that.”
Which begs the question...?
“Oh gosh! It’s something I really want, I’ve always said that but it’ll be when I can take a little bit of a break.”
Since her breakthrough ten years ago, Jenkins has sold eight million albums, won numerous awards, performed all over the world, been awarded an OBE and become a wife. How has she changed as a person in that time?
“Like anybody, I’m a bit more confident, I feel I’ve learned my job a lot more and I’m definitely more settled within myself.
“Yes, I live a very different lifestyle but I don’t think I’ve changed that much as a person.”

Tickets to see Katherine Jenkins at the Royal Concert Hall on Saturday, February 14 are £29.50- £55 from the box office, call 0115 989 5555 or go to Meet and greet packages are also available priced at £85 and £135.

Neil Sedaka

November 2014

 All photos: Kevin Cooper

NEIL Sedaka was – and still is – a huge fan of Elvis Presley but he stands by his criticism of the King’s version of one of his classic songs.

“He did it wrong, he did it off beat,” says the 75-year-old New Yorker of Solitaire, which was one of Presley’s standards during his live shows in the 70s.

“I’ve had much better versions – Shirley Bassey did it beautifully and there was Karen Carpenter’s and Andy Williams’ versions.”

He adds: “Although I certainly was a fan of Elvis. He was a phenomenon.”

Sedaka and his wife saw him perform the song in concert in Las Vegas in 1975, two years before his death at the age of 42.

“We went backstage and he told me he used to play me on the jukebox when he was in the army in Germany. He admired the high tenor male voice – he was a baritone.”

Adds Sedaka: “He was sick and very bloated but this was a legend so it was very exciting for us.”

Solitaire is among around 25 of his 700 songs that Sedaka believes will outlive him.

Others include Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, Calendar Girl, (Is This The Way To) Amarillo, Love Will Keep Us Together, Oh Carol, Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen and Little Devil.

“They have become standards and I do them all in concert, of course,” he promises, talking about his latest tour which comes to the Royal Concert Hall next week.

Songwriting has earned Sedaka millions during his six-decade career, which started when he was just 13. He’d shifted over 25 million records before he was 23 and more than 50 years later his songs are still selling – (Is This The Way To) Amarillo, sung by Tony Christie, is the best selling single of the 21st century thanks to its re-release for Comic Relief in 2006 (and the Peter Kay video).

It took him six years to become a recording artist and he feared it wouldn’t last.

“My second record was a flop and RCA were going to drop me. It was called I Go Ape. Although it was a top ten record in your country because you have good taste,” he laughs. “In fact, it was a hit in many countries but because it flopped in the US I was about to be let go. Then the third record was Oh Carol, which sold three million copies. And there were ten top ten records in a row after that.”

The UK has been important for Sedaka during his career for a number of reasons.

“I had a remarkable comeback the 70s when I was living in England, thanks to Elton John. I’d been out of work for 13 years – I was a family man and did a limited amount of performances.

“Then I met Elton John and he turned out to be a big Neil Sedaka fan. He signed me to (his own label) Rocket Records and I came back to No. 1 with Laughter In The Rain.”

It has been ten years since he last played Nottingham, so what has he been doing?

“Twiddling my thumbs,” he jokes.

“I’m still writing, recording and performing at 75 years old,” a birthday he celebrated in Los Angeles with his children and grandchildren.

“I’ve been doing this for 61 years and I could have retired but I love what I do. There’s something about being in front of an audience that shoots adrenalin through you.”

This tour follows the release of a new album King Of Song, which plunders the demos he made in the early 60s.

“I made them in a small studio in New York and we’d make the demos hoping we could get a big artist to record them. Some of them became big hits but others I refer to as my forgotten children because they were never recorded.”

As well as Elvis, Shirley Bassey and The Carpenters, Frank Sinatra, Cher and Petula Clark enjoyed hits with Sedaka’s songs.

Who would he like to record one of his songs these days?

“Snow Patrol. I love that song,” he says, referring to Chasing Cars, the band’s only US hit. He also likes John Mayer.

So how does he write a hit song?

“I’m like an interior designer. I take different textiles, different fabrics, I listen to people I admire.... and I put all these fabrics together and make them Neil Sedaka.

“I usually start at the piano with a tune. It’s a little more difficult to write the lyrics but I’m fascinated with lyrics. They are like puzzle pieces and they make me work but I like a good challenge.”

Lyric writing is only a more recent pursuit having had the likes of Howard Greenfield and Phil Cody co-write most of his hits.

“It’s more real when I write my own lyrics because it comes from me,” he says.

“It’s like a look into my soul. Nobody puts words in my mouth anymore.”

Neil Sedaka, Royal Concert Hall, Tuesday November 4, £45 and £50, 0115 989 5555,