Welcome to the Wendsite!
I won’t wish you Happy New Year because that seems so long ago now. For me, only the urge to drink remains…
But have I got news for you! First of all, ta-dah! - the cover for my new novel, Wild & Free, out in April. It’s a romantic comedy set at a boho boutique festival held in the rolling grounds of a stately home. Anyone who’s anyone rocks up in their campervan or, in the case of some of the characters, a stretch pink Hummer with a disco in the back. And in between the yurts and Cath Kidston benders, the gypsy caravans and gleaming reconditioned Airstreams, Cupid awaits to sprinkle a little midsummer madness on everyone!
I’ll have excerpts and things and stuff as publication date approaches. It’s April 23, which is not only St George’s Day but Shakespeare’s birthday, which seems like a good omen.
My second bit of news is that I am now a doctor! A doctor of letters, to be precise, (“I should be one of them,” said the postman who brought me the invitation). To be even more precise, an Hon D Litt, courtesy of my local seat of learning, Derby University. Here I am in my D Litt black velvet Tudor bonnet and bright red gown. The chap next to me is the University Chancellor, the Duke of Devonshire, resplendent in black brocade trimmed with fabulous gold lace. We looked, I thought, totes on trend; very Wolf Hall. The comparison was apter than I thought; as I signed the Honorand’s Book, a great padded red-and-gold stamped leather affair, I saw that Hilary Mantel’s name was only a few spaces above mine. A native of Derbyshire, she got the same honour as me from the university a couple of years ago. Dame Hills and I are old mates; here I am presenting her with the Costa Novel award in 2013.
The ceremony was absolutely amazing; the gowned panjandrums, of which I was one, mustered in the foyer of Derby’s recently-completed Velodrome and processed in to the accompaniment of an organ. The last time I’d done that was on my wedding morning! The size of the Velodrome interior was astonishing, as were the numbers present; a couple of thousand at least. On the ceremonial platform I was immediately glad of my precariously-perched bonnet, as the overhead lights were super-strong. But by the merest tip of my head I could throw a mysterious Philip Marlow shadow over the top half of my face. The ceremony began with a wonderfully stirring speech from the Vice Chancellor, after which the first of hundreds of students filed past where I sat.
It was moving to see how thrilled and proud they looked, as well as interesting to examine their footwear. There was to be a graduation ball later and many were shod in anticipation. Towering high heels of all colours and every pattern imaginable, from stripes to bows (on the front or back), crystals and buckles by way of fringes and buttons came past where I sat. You will correctly infer from this that most of the graduates were women, but the clean-cut young men who occasionally appeared confirmed my growing suspicion that, among students of education in any case, beards are very last year.
Making my own speech was terrifying. Addressing an audience of thousands was some way beyond the comfort zone of someone who spends most of their time alone in a garden hut. I was, however, keen, to pay tribute to the hundreds of young teachers before me. None of us would get anywhere without them, and these were going on to particularly bright futures, Derby University’s education graduates being very much in demand. All in all, it was a terrific ceremony, managing to be grand, inspiring and encouraging all at the same time.
Armed with the magnificent scroll denoting my degree, I returned to the fray later on, to a special dinner for honorands hosted by the Duke of Devonshire. This was a wonderfully convivial affair during which I met Paul Cummins, one of the two artists whose ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ installation at the Tower of London was the great sensation of last autumn. A resident of Chesterfield, (or ‘Chesvegas’ as we who live near it call it; see ‘My Perfect Weekend’ on this website for my own personal tour of this great settlement!) he was receiving his honorary degree the day after me.
Paul is very soft-spoken; eventually I mouthed to him over the table that I couldn’t hear a word he said. The result of this was that this now-world-famous artist stood up, came round to my side of the table and continued our conversation on his knees before my chair. Truly a day to feel special!
Keep warm and keep reading!