Smart women don’t get wrinkles

My new book is out. It all started with a flourish this weekend when the Daily Telegraph serialised it (link below).
Publishing a book is a bit like having a baby. There is a long gestation period, followed by the new-born phase where you have to help them along. After a while you just have to let them go and hope for the best.
The good news is, they are unlikely to rebel in their teenage years and the worst thing they can do is refuse to sell.image1
So my new baby is out there, and if you do buy it, I hope you enjoy Smart women don’t get wrinkles. Of course we do get wrinkles, but the point of the book is to minimise them, and also to meet ageing head-on as opposed to just letting it take us over.
I think this is a great time to be ageing. A friend of mine suddenly has a 70 year-old boyfriend and said yesterday “well, of course 70 isn’t old any more”. Imagine saying that even 10 years ago? Look at style icon Iris Apfel gracing our TV screens at 90 in a car ad. Or that Swiss billionaire having twins aged 54. On a more negative note, Japan is suffering from a ‘grey crime-wave’.
If 70 isn’t old any more and you may be called on aged 90 to advertise a car your great-grandchildren will be driving, you need to make sure you are ageing well enough to enjoy life once you get there. And this is what the book is about, not just wrinkles. It’s all about how to stay young, when you get old.
Happy reading!

My books of the year

I have been meaning to do this for days and I guess it’s now or never. Having read a lot of fairly dreary lists of books of the year I would like to share my own hopefully not so dreary list….

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben McIntyreimgres
Utterly brilliant read, a bit like a thriller in fact, totally unputdownable, extremely well written and researched, made me want to d0 nothing but read about spies for months.

Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh

imagesOne of the funniest books you are ever likely to read, it follows the downfall and eventual redemption of the unlikely hero Paul Pennyfeather. It was Waugh’s first novel but contains some of the most memorable characters in literature such as the public school man Grimes who is irresistible, irrepressible and appalling all at the same time. Worth reading just for the prep-school scenes, which are laugh-out loud funny and scarily close to the truth….

We are all completely beside ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
imgres-1This is such a clever book. It manages to combine tragedy and comedy perfectly, as well as telling a really moving and compelling story. One of the few contemporary novels I read this year and really enjoyed. If you haven’t read it then do so immediately.




Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
images-1One of those books I first read as a teenager and reread this year. I’m so glad I did. It is hysterically funny. Some of the one-liners are reminiscent of Dorothy Parker in their brilliance such as the following: “There are some things (like first love and one’s first reviews) at which a woman in her middle years does not care to look too closely.” Hear, hear!

imgres-2Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford
And talking of brilliant one-liners…in fact read anything by Nancy. She is the female equivalent of Waugh, just as sharp, perceptive, snobbish and entertaining. I devoured all her books this year and will probably read them again next year. Unforgettable touches such as the “Hons” club her heroine belongs to. A lightness of touch coupled with incisive perception. Just perfect.

Finally the book of the year NOT to read….

How to be both by Ali Smith
Incomprehensible, pretentious drivel. Parts of it are nicely written but rather like Alice laments a book without pictures, I can’t see the point of a book with no plot. I wanted to know how to be neither by the end. In fact I couldn’t even bear to get to the end.

What to wear, or not to wear?

I am back at Viva Mayr for the first time since 2008. I landed late last night and have woken up to a snow-covered landscape. The staff all wear white, thus matching the surroundings. In fact some of the clients are in white too, but you can tell they are clients because they shuffle along in their spa slippers, those horrid contraptions that make you sound like an old person, and their outfits are the Viva fluffy white dressing gowns.
One of my main dilemmas yesterday was what to pack. Granted this is not an unusual dilemma for me, but there were many factors to consider. First it is minus 3 degrees here. So I needed warm clothes. But then again if you’re in a spa you don’t really go out? But what if you want to go out? And then at the end of this trip I have Bea’s confirmation, and I am not going to that in old person’s slippers and a fluffy white dressing gown.imgres
Having unpacked I have realised I have nothing to wear. It is boiling hot inside the clinic, I may as well have planned for a holiday in the Caribbean. The numerous pairs of jeans, three polo necks and two fur gillets will be of no use whatsoever. I will have to wear gym kit for the week.
Of course I have ventured out of my room to check out what the others are all wearing. So far nothing too maddening. By that I mean nothing that has induced a bout of ‘outfit envy’. There is a young lady, I would guess early to mid twenties, who looks just like Bridget Jones. She is wearing some extremely floppy pyjamas and a dressing gown that has seen better days. She is shuffling around in the old person’s slippers to complete the look. I think she’s probably extremely pretty but it’s hard to tell under all the layers of comfort clothing. She looks downcast, maybe even heartbroken à la Jones?
The rest are mainly in track-suits or gym kit. There are a couple of Arab girls wearing flip-flops, not a bad call, and certainly beats the slipper look.
I saw one woman in jeans and shoes, but she must be new.
The men are ALL wearing their white dressing gowns, which makes me think they have packed nothing but suits, the fools. But it is only breakfast so maybe we will all dress for lunch or dinner? I was hoping there might be a spa shop where I could replenish my wardrobe but sadly there isn’t. So I will just have to wear some more gym kit, or maybe the hideous jeggings I packed on the proviso that I never wear them anyway and can throw them away if they don’t work here.
My main aim though while here is not to locate the ideal outfit but to write a book. Some of you may remember The Viva Mayr Diet, a book I wrote with Dr Stossier (the man who runs the clinic) in 2008. We have decided to write a follow-up book. Title yet to be determined, but the main theme is ageing (my favourite topic) and how to age in a healthy (that is Viva Mayr) way.
Off I shuffle now to do some research….

Ciao bello….

I was slightly surprised that my aunt was up so early. It was half past eight and normally she doesn’t surface until around ten. I had been up since seven watching the Chelsea game from the night before, which I missed as I was in the hospital with my father.
I had stayed for several hours, talking to him about everything from Bach to my children and football. He was, as my aunt had warned me, “closer to death than to life”. There were flashes of him, but mostly he just lay there, breathing heavily, eyes closed, moaning and now and again yelling “Ostia!” 523931_466908883349736_884495519_n

So I chatted on. I told him at one stage that he’d been a wonderful father, and he opened his eyes almost in shock. I suppose the fact that I didn’t see him between the ages of two and 12 might preclude him from the category of ‘really good dad’. Also his method of fathering would not meet with universal approval. To him the most important thing was that I could speak five languages and quote Dante, he didn’t really care if I ate my greens or had casual sex.
Next door to my father in another bed was a man my aunt called “il mostro“. It is true he was not attractive. He didn’t say much, but now and again shouted out “mamma” to which his ever-present and ever-patient wife would respond: “No I’m not your mother, I’m your wife.” She repeated this sentence with the same regularity that she repeated one other. “Let’s hope Napoli won.” I felt terribly sorry for my father. Not only was he bed-ridden and in pain, but he had a couple of Naples fans next door, one uglier than the other. I could just imagine the abuse they would have received if he had been able to speak.
“This isn’t real,” I told him. “You’re not here. You’re at La Scala, we’re about to see Don Giovanni and at the moment you’re reciting Dante to some beautiful unsuspecting woman. ‘Nessun maggior dolore che ricordarsi del tempo felice nella miseria….'” There I had to stop, because even though he has recited this canto to me thousands of times, I couldn’t remember any more. I felt I had let him down. “You’ll have to finish it,” I told him. He looked at me and clutched my hand. “Let’s hope Napoli won,” said the monster’s wife.
When my aunt knocked on my door yesterday morning I was still in my underwear. I had got distracted after the football by the Australian Open. She was fully dressed. I was about to ask her a question I had been thinking about all morning. Could we take some nail scissors and cut my father’s eyebrows? They were really unwieldy. And as I know he likes to shave them off and send them to his enemies I figured we could pop them straight into an envelope and put them under il mostro‘s pillow. I didn’t mention the eyebrow stuff, partly because this is a joke he shares with my children and she would not have understood, but mainly because I didn’t have the chance to open my mouth before she hugged me and said “He’s dead. He waited to see you and then he died. If you want to know what love means, it is that.”24598_101777316529563_3127801_n
To be honest I still don’t really know how his death will affect me, because even though I have met countless people who keep telling me they’re sorry, and I’ve been to the funeral parlour and I’ve met the doctor who treated him and I’ve even seen his body, it just doesn’t seem real that he’s gone. Forever. That’s it. Finito Benito as my father would say. To me he just doesn’t seem to be gone if that makes sense.
He is now lying in state like Stalin (whom he once played in a film). Unlike the other dead there who all have pictures of themselves aged about 80, my father has adopted the columnist’s trick of using a picture from about 50 years ago. So instead of looking like some old codger, he looks like a cross between a young Richard Burton and a less gay Burt Lancaster.24238_108594169181211_1327112_n















Friends and relations are invited to come and pay their respects until tomorrow when he is driven to the crematorium in Ravenna. When the funeral director told my aunt that was where it was she told him that Benedetto would be so pleased, because it was the capital of the Western Roman Empire from 402 to 476. The funeral director nodded and looked sympathetic.
“Take a card,” he said, I suspect in an effort to change the subject.
“I’d prefer not to,” said my aunt.
I am on my way to England where I have the difficult task of breaking the news to the children. The girls especially were really close to him, they loved his zany ways and crazy imagination. No one could make them laugh like he could. I’m just so happy they all saw him as I want to remember him, sitting on a rock in a beautiful garden close to Rome reciting Dante.
In life as in death my father did as he wanted. I believe he decided when to die, and I guess that makes it easier to bear.
He has one last act of rebellion too. We forgot to bring his underwear. So although he is dressed in his Sunday best, he’ll be heading to the crematorium commando.
He wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

The great style conspiracy…

Is it purely coincidence that when 50 Shades of Grey topped the bestseller lists all over the world, leather was suddenly back in fashion? Even M&S has now come up with a pervy underwear range. I sometimes wonder if there is a conspiracy by some all-powerful fashion force to create the perfect storm every season to seduce us into shopping for new items of clothing we really don’t need.
I have never really bothered about what’s in and what’s out, but recently a fashion photographer friend of mine pointed out that, at my age, one needs to make a bit more of an effort. With friends like that eh…?
So I was quite worried when I looked at the trends for Autumn/Winter. Leather and capes seemed to be the stand-out ones. To be honest I can’t remember when I last wore either of them. A cape on the school run would seem a tad overdressed, and leather in 40 degree heat over here in Abu Dhabi is just plain perverse (which of course fits in with the 50 Shades trend). images
I wonder how Anna Wintour does it? I mean every time anyone sees her their first question must be ‘what is she wearing and why?’ How do you cope with that kind of pressure? I guess she has a lot of help (free clothes maybe?), and I have heard she has a hairdresser who creates her perfect bob every morning. I can’t bear people fiddling with my hair, so that’s not an option. And I have yet to be offered any freebies at all, so I am going to have to rely on myself.
I have decided to ignore the cape and leather trend. I figure as I have read 50 Shades of Grey (utter tosh, wait for the film is my advice) and also have a cape (vintage Dior no less, handed down by my aunt who wore it to La Scala) in my children’s dressing-up box I have that side covered.
With children at public school in England there is no spare cash for designer kit, unless of course it comes from my favourite shop, the Red Cross shop in Chelsea’s Old Church Street. Some kindly lady who is the exact same size as me donates her designer kit there on a regular basis, so every time I am in town I pop in and pick up some bargains.
So my top tip for this season is go charity shop shopping (but of course tell everyone it’s vintage) and remember what Coco Chanel said: “Fashion fades only style remains the same.”
A reminder that we should not be dictated to by the fashion forces, whoever they are.

What you should be reading instead of 50 Shades of Grey

A couple of weeks ago I ranted on about what not to read, namely 50 Shades of Drivel. Meaningless, humourless, trite, sentimental and badly written. I have just finished a book that is the exact opposite and I urge you all to read it.

I am not the only person to love the author of this novel; he has been compared by critics to Wilde, Wodehouse and Waugh. But for some reason he is not well known and his books have yet to be turned into films or become huge best-sellers. He is an English writer called Edward St Aubyn and is probably best known for his Booker nominated novel Mother’s Milk. I have just finished the first book in what has become known as the ‘Patrick Melrose novels’, called Never Mind.

Rupert got me on to him. I have never seen him devour a series of books so quickly, or read so many choice bits out to me.”He’s as brilliant as Martin Amis wishes he was,” he told me.

Never Mind is not an easy read; it is terribly cruel and quite disturbing. But it is hysterically funny at the same time. The characters are not really the sort of people you would want to meet, but they are compelling, brilliantly believable and terribly amusing. I suppose the book is a little like a Cold Comfort Farm on steroids; sharper, wittier, more cruel and ultimately more memorable.

Here is one of my favourite quotes from the book, one of the main characters talking about her French neighbours: “Eleanor was intrigued by these people. She imagined their austere and fruitful life like a stained-glass window in a medieval church – labourers in the vineyard with grape-filled baskets on their backs. She had seen one of the Fauberts in the Credit Agricole and he had the sullen air of a man who looks forward to strangling poultry.”

I am about to start on the second novel and can’t wait. And once I have finished them all, I am going to go back and read Never Mind again, in the hope that some of St Aubyn’s wit and brilliance rubs off on me.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2012

50 Shades of Frustration

I used to say there is nothing as dangerous as a frustrated author. I should know, because I used to be one. I could barely stand to hear about someone who had had their book published, it would send me into a frenzy of jealousy and frustrated angst. Now that I am a published author though, I see another dangerous breed emerging. Or at least another kind of envy; best-seller envy. OK so I have had one best-seller (Two Lipsticks and a Lover), but best-seller envy comes when you see such publishing phenomena as 50 Shades of Grey overtaking you by millions and then being made into films and changing the life of the author in ways you can only sit and imagine.
Obviously I had to read it to see what all the fuss is about, and more importantly to see if I too could write such a successful book. A few days ago one kind reader compared my book Love in a Warm Climate to another one set here in France. “Her’s is chick-lit without the sex,” he said. “Yours is sex without the chick-lit.” So I figured I could up the ante so to speak and go for full-blown sex-lit next. Best-sellerdom beckoned.
I was amazed at just how bad the book is. And this is not best-seller-envy induced sour grapes talking. It is SO badly written. It reads like it’s written by a teenager, for a teenager. The main character keeps saying things like ‘Oh my‘ which drives me insane. Who the hell (especially aged around 20) says ‘oh my‘? And even more especially when they’re about to be tied up and whipped?
Added to which, she is so typically American I want to scream. She wants “more” from her relationship with the six-pack bearing, hung-like-a-mule, stunningly beautiful billionaire Christian Grey. She practically has a multi-orgasm every time she sees him, he buys her cars, clothes and first editions of classics. He flies her around in a helicopter, and he clearly adores her. But this is not enough for the young lady. She wants to know where the relationship is going, whether or not he loves her, will they have children etc etc. So she leaves him, and is utterly miserable. So is he. Great.
That is where part one ends and although I admit that the story is compelling in the sense that I do want to know what happens and exactly how he ended up so mad, I am not prepared to read part two because if I see one more ‘oh my‘ it might just tip me over the edge. But if you do know what happens, please feel free to tell me.
As to emulating the book to create my very own publishing sensation, well as far as I can see the key ingredients are a thwarted relationship and lots of sex. That shouldn’t be too difficult….
Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2012.

What’s in a name?

Naming a book is in some ways a bit like naming a baby. There is no copyright on book titles, so rather like a child’s name, you can copy whatever name takes your fancy. It also has to suit your baby or book, and reflect a bit of its character, or content.
As regular readers will know, for my latest novel my publisher liked How to turn your husband into your lover. I couldn’t really say it without cringing, but could see the benefits of the sales it might generate. I would probably at least look twice at a book with that title. But what I wanted was something a bit more elegant. And less like a ‘How to’ book. There are so many possible great titles, I didn’t want to end up with something I didn’t love. So I looked to other titles for inspiration. Some of my favourite titles, in no particular order, are:
A Streetcar named Desire
The Devil Wears Prada
Like Water for Chocolate
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Pride and Prejudice
The Age of Innocence
The Postman always rings twice
So the task is to combine the intrigue and the subtlety of these, with sex. Because my publisher is adamant that we need sex in the title. Sex sells books. Although 40 Shades of Grey, which has now become the fastest selling book since Harry Potter has no sex in the title. Unless I am missing something. Lots of sex inside though apparently, not that I have read it yet. I have it on my ipad and keep meaning to, but just haven’t got round to it. Maybe if I really wanted to write a best-seller I should just write a book with lots of sex in it and not worry about the title at all?
Anyway what I have come up with is the following:
The Nostalgia Trap: How sex with an old boyfriend can get you into real trouble

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2012

What next?

I know I only just finished the latest novel, but I am thinking about the next one. There are a few options I would love your thoughts on.
Option One: Ciao Bella in novel form, modelled on Bonjour Tristesse, obviously not the same as Ciao Bella, but with similar themes and of course the central character of my Dante-reading, opera-obsessed and womanising father.
Option Two: Another chick-lit, this time with a strong tennis theme. Central characters include Rafa and Roger types but they hate each other, think Jake the gypsy and Rupert Campbell-Black in Riders.
Option Three: A novel based here called The end of Mahara, which is a comment Olivia came up with while describing the coming-of-age of a friend of hers, meaning that for Mahara her carefree childhood days are over now she has to cover herself. Three central characters; one expat wife, one housemaid, and one Emirati whose lives somehow intertwine. Will probably also end up being chick-lit as any fiction I try to write tends to turn into chick-lit.
Or none of the above, suggestions welcome….

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2012

The Viva Mayr Diet Part II

Here is part two, linked to the publication of the book in Germany. A condensed and easy way to follow the Viva Mayr Diet. Happy chewing!

Viva Mayr Day 8

Eat early: Sometimes it’s really difficult not to eat late but today we are about to discover why it’s much healthier to eat early in the evening. If you cannot avoid a late dinner invitation the trick is to try to concentrate on eating a little and CHEWING. The wonderful side effect is that breakfast will taste even more delicious the next morning.

Viva Mayr Day 9
Why it is so important to drink a lot of water – just not during meals. The good news is that Dr. Stossier does allow you a glass of beer or wine with your meal…

Viva Mayr Day 10
We are to discover how wonderful and helpful it is to massage your stomach yourself. It seems a bit strange in the beginning but after a couple of days you will feel and notice  the wonderful benefits…

Viva Mayr Day 11

Stress free eating – eating stress-free can help you to remain healthy and slim. I feel really stressed I eat nothing or try to wait until everything around me has calmed down and I can have a quiet meal. Much better then to wolf down your lunch at your desk while under pressure.


Viva Mayr Day 12

Hello alkaline, goodbye bloating – the importance of maintaining a healthy acid – alkaline balance.In general I eat a more alkaline diet, concentrating on fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and try to avoid chemically processed food such as ready-made meals. Once a month I have a complete alkalizing day. Only drinking broth, herbal teas still water, eating ripe fruits before lunch followed by steamed vegetables. Very important to use only organic veggies and fruit.

Viva Mayr Day 13

Looking and feeling younger (looking after your skin) – there is a lot we can do, for example avoiding smoking and that evil stuff sugar. Antioxidants are very important to protect your cells, I love almonds, avocados, porridge, sunflower seeds, pumpkinseed oil and so on…

Viva Mayr Day 14

The Viva Mayr way and you. How to assess your health and well being from top to toe. Make sure you stay on the Viva track. Viva changed my life – even though I don’t always follow all the guidelines religiously, I never eat anything raw after 4pm, I drink gallons of water and always use cold pressed omega 3 oil such as hempseed, linseed or olive oil. And of course I CHEW…..good luck!

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2012