Jilly Cooper is an enormously popular writer of novels. And sometimes because of this popularity, people don't give her credit for her skill as a writer .
"It's funny: Jeffrey [Archer] and I hang around longing for a kind word in The Guardian, and people who get kind words in the The Guardian long to have our sales. [TATTLER, 1996]One reason for Jilly's enormous popularity is that her books always leave the reader energised and uplifted. Jilly's characters, both heros and villains alike, are stalwart and tenacious, muddling through to surmount every challenge. This could merely reflect a very British attitude. After all, Jilly was born in Yorkshire to Brigadier W.B. Sallitt, O.B.E and Mary Elaine Whincup.
"My own parents loved each other very much. My father was a wonderful man. A gentleman, strong and silentish, who treated women wonderfully. My mother, who was a lovely person, had a saying that, 'If you are unhappy, surround yourself with people who love you'. Like most mothers, she was right. [OK, Autumn 1995]She grew up in Yorkshire and Surrey. Her family was solidly middle class. Her father worked in the War Office during World War II and then, later in an engineering firm. She was educated in the Godolphin School in Salisbury.
"upper middle class, darling, my mother said" [THE IRISH TIMES, April 1997]Or it could reflect that she is a Pisces born on the on 21st day of February.
"ponies, books, music, parents that adored each other" [TATLER, April 1996]
"I'm hopeless about tax....typically Pisces. I'm totally disorganized. I can't remember where things are, I'm very devious, I'm pretty feeble and cry a lot. Also I can't bear atmosphere - another typically Pisces characteristics - and spend most of my time trying to keep the peace." [SAGA, July 1998]The pacing of Jilly's books is exquisite, never bogging down, while juggling intricate story lines that always come together at exactly the right time, very much like Dickens. She makes it look so easy. But Jilly's clean, straight-forward prose undoubtedly reflects a writer's discipline learned in her long tenure as a journalist. She was a columnist for The Mail on Sunday from 1982 to 1987, and worked for The Sunday Times from 1969 to 1982. She started as a reporter for the Middlesex Independent newspaper in Brentford, England from 1957 to 1959, and also worked as an account executive, copywriter, publisher's reader and even a receptionist. Jilly moved into the writing of fiction, almost by chance, when a friend asked her to find some fiction for a teenage magazine. Jilly couldn't find anything suitable, so wrote some stories herself."And all these magazines started buying them. And my agent - my now agent - wrote to me and said these would make wonderful novels. They were about 16,000 words long, and I extended them to 50,000 (a series of "permissive" romances, Emily, Bella, Imogen, Prudence, Harriet and Octavia). And the short stories were published as a collection." [THE IRISH TIMES, April 1997]They were successful, and from there, she moved on to Riders. After spending a year writing Riders, Jilly took the completed manuscript with her when she went out to lunch, and lost it on a bus. She never found the first draft again. That was 1970."And I always wanted to write a big novel about showjumping, and I lost it on a bus - it's true, a bus, the first draft of Riders, which had taken a year to write. I took it out to lunch because I was so pleased with myself, to put in a few commas and fiddle with it, and then I lost it. I was just saying: Oh dear, I live in London, how can I write a novel about showjumping in the country? It was a terrible, awful thing to happen." [THE IRISH TIMES, April 1997]She didn't complete re-writing Riders, and get it published, until 1984. Riders was enormously popular, as were Rivals, Polo, The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous, and Appassionata that followed it.
"The bank told us we ought to sell this house to pay off our overdraft. Riders saved the day. I was so pleased when it got to number one, I went all around the fields crying and crying. [OK, Autumn 1995]Jilly's characters are often glamorous, globe-trotting celebrities. But part of the charm there is Jilly's stories contrast these glamorous people with surroundings familiar to the rest of us. She draws lovely vivid pictures of the day-to-day details of domestic life. And happy domesticity may be closer to Jilly's own life, than globe-trotting celebrity. Jilly has been married to Leo Cooper, a publisher of military history books, since 1961. The two have known each other since Jilly was eight.
They met at a party when a young girl named Louise who was "rabbiting on", according to Jilly, about how may acres her family owned. Leo's response was to throw a jelly at her. "I thought it was incredibly stylish," she says. Years passed before they met again. By then she was 24 and he was 27. "And that, " she says, was it." [SAGA, July 1998]
What's Leo like? "He's lovely, he's very funny, and he's vulnerable and fearless and a darling man..." [THE IRISH TIMES, April 1997]I would really like to spend more time with the family. Every time I go abroad I miss them all dreadfully. And I would really like to be a grandmother, but only when Felix or Emily meet the right person and are ready. [OK, Autumn 1995]"You've simply got to go on and on with your family and friends and tell them how much you love them because you never know whether they'll be there tomorrow, do you? People seem afraid of sentimentality, more's the pity." [SAGA, 1998]She has two adult children, Emily and Felix. If her later novels mention the contracting business frequently, it may reflect the fact that her son Felix is a property developer.
"They're adopted, but they are both mine. Both of them knew they were adopted from the very beginning. I never made any mystery of it. At this stage in their lives, I think it would be lovely for them if they could meet their mothers. I think they'd be incredibly proud of the way they've turned out. [SAGA, July 1998]If her descriptions of the Cotswolds seem as familiar as her own back yard, it may be because they are.
"When I started writing, I thought the only way to write books that were set in the country was to go and look at the primroses on Putney Common. I'd never have written the big books in London. The whole thing is very much rooted round here. If you look across the valley, you can see exactly what I mean: about four beautiful houses, and you think something is happening in each of them. It's like a mural." [TATLER, April 1996]Jilly lives in a ten-bedroom 13th-century Gloustershire house, that is the model for Rupert Campbell-Black's house, in several of her novels.
"My character Rupert Campbell-Black's house is like ours only much bigger. We overlook a valley called the Todsmore which in the books I call Frogsmore. Down it runs the Frogsmore stream beside which Rupert has pulled so many of his girlfriends." [OK, Autumn 1995]If you've noticed that Jilly's characters love animals and flowers, it is because Jilly loves animals and flowers."I love the long grass coming up to meet the willows," she says. "Earlier today I noticed all the cows were sprawled out on the wet grass. I thought I ought to tell them to get up because they would get rheumatism. Then I realised that they wouldn't live long enough to get rheumatism, which is very sad." [OK, Autumn 1995]Jilly has loved and had animals all of her life, and always owns several dogs.
"I fret about them," she says. "It's probably silly but I only feel they're safe when they're beside me." [SAGA, July 1998]Jilly still works at her manual typewriter every day, but breaks away from work at two p.m. on the dot, to walk her animals.
This is a vital part of Jilly's routine and important to her work. "That's when I do most of my serious thinking," says Jilly.... [OK, Autumn 1995]She hand-writes and uses a manual typewriter, but keeps meaning to become computer-literate: "But I always seem to finish a book and then think, oh God, I've got to pay a tax bill, so I'd better write a novel, so I tend not to stop and learn word processing." [THE IRISH TIMES, April 1997]If you've read one of Jilly's books, you probably think of her as a friend. Her books give the impression of someone very energetic, kind, level-headed, humble and fun.I'm basically a very happy person and I don't have to be anybody else. I live at home and, if I want to start work at 11 o'clock, I can. It must be a terrible pressure to have to go to the office. [OK, June 1997]Every published interview with Jilly confirms this impression. By all accounts Jilly is an enormously engaging person.
"She's really lively and witty and she makes you feel at ease immediately, " [Stephen Billington, CORONATION STREET MAGAZINE, Issue 51.]Her personality is such that, when Jilly was a young housewife, the editor of the Sunday Times colour magazine asked her to write a feature about being "a young wife" after a chance meeting at a party. Jilly's very successful career as a humour columnist and interviewer (having interviewed, among others, Margaret Thatcher twice) grew out of this chance encounter.
"I wrote my earliest piece for The Sunday Times about being a young wife. A week later, I received a phone call from a publishing friends of Leo's called Michael Turner saying 'Would you like to write a book on marriage?' I was so flattered that someone wanted me to write a book, I said I would. It was published in 1969. [OK, Autumn 1995]
Jilly's newest book is called WICKED! and was just released on the 3rd of May 2006. To go to amazon.co.uk, and order WICKED!, Click HERE!
Another of Jilly's books is coming to the screen: RIVALS! In conjunction with that event, she and Rivals Pictures LTD are launching a website: http://www.rivalspictures.com The website promises to have news of Jilly and the movie, quotes from Jilly, merchandising, Reviews, a Fan Newsletter and more! So check it out!
Last Updated: 8th May 2006
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