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Jilly Cooper recalls her earliest Essex memories

PUBLISHED: 12:21 18 October 2010 | UPDATED: 17:58 20 February 2013

Jilly Cooper recalls her earliest Essex memories

Jilly Cooper recalls her earliest Essex memories

Hornchurch-born Jilly Cooper recalls her earliest Essex memories and reveals why she believes her books have become best sellers. Pamela Spencer spoke to her

Although Jilly Cooper and her husband Leo have lived in the Cotswolds since 1982, Jilly is at heart an Essex girl. She was born in Hornchurchs Osborne Road in 1937 and lived there for two years.


Mummy, having had my brother in hospital, was determined to have a home birth. She paid the midwife 5 and afterwards said the whole birth process was lovely compared with being in hospital. Mummy loved Essex and was happy there with lots of friends. My father worked at the nearby Ford Motor Co, but when World War II started he went abroad in the Army and mummy took my brother and I back to Yorkshire, explains Jilly.


I have the Osborne Road house number somewhere and next year Im going to take time off to make an Essex pilgrimage to have a look at my birthplace. I dont remember it at all, so I want to return and take lots of photographs. All I really recall of Essex is a white rabbit with pink ears against a very blue sky. The sky was always blue in Essex!


As we speak, Jilly has just returned from walking her two dogs, Feather and William, in the Gloucestershire countryside near her home in Bisley. Feather is her rescue centre greyhound and William (a husky, Labrador/collie cross) was also rescued from the streets of Essex.


William was found wandering through Essex streets and was taken
to Battersea Dogs Home where he was so unhappy he wouldnt eat, so he became the office dog and has now come to live with us. Hes sweet a real Essex personality. He likes to be in every photograph and pushes Feather out of the way to get to the front. They say Essex people have attitude and William certainly does. Hes my Essex boy! adds Jilly
with a laugh.


Part of Jillys schooling was at Godophin School in Salisbury, where she was known as the Unholy Terror.


I was a pest, so naughty! I was missing my pony, my parents, my brother and my dog. Jilly recalls one incident with her deputy housemistress, Miss Harris.


We undressed Miss Harris, got her down to her petticoat, poor thing, and just jumped on her. She was wriggling on the floor like a fly. Poor woman!
So we were punished and not allowed to have cake for tea that day!
Jillys writing career began in 1956 when she got a job as a cub reporter on the Middlesex Independent. She then moved to public relations and ended up in book publishing.


There was always ink in the family blood. My great, great grandfather founded the Leeds Mercury which eventually merged with the Yorkshire Post. He was so beloved by the people of Leeds that they had a statue made of him. They placed him in an alcove at the back of the Town Hall, so I went to Leeds and tried to buy him. I want to put him in my garden, but they wont let me have him. Im so furious!


In 1961, Jilly married publisher Leo Cooper and in 1968 met the editor of The Sunday Times colour magazine at a dinner party.
I was talking to him about being a young wife and what hard work it was, one made love all night, then shopped all day, then died of exhaustion, and he said, write about it, and I ended up with a regular column as a result.


This was to last for more than 13 years during which time Jilly produced a range of entertaining pieces together with a series of more serious interviews with Margaret Thatcher, Dame Rebecca West, George Best and Jill Bennett. Later she joined The Mail on Sunday for whom she wrote a bi-monthly column until 1987.


Im a great believer in forget the facts and stick to the story. I love writing journalism but find it hard work. I havent written a piece for ages. Id take at least three weeks, Im sure. Id re-write and re-write it. People like Rachel Johnson, (the editor of The Lady), write a piece in an afternoon. Im so jealous.


Eventually, Jilly turned her attentions to writing fiction. One
day I went to the doctor and was so sad when I was told I couldnt have babies. He advised Leo and I to adopt. Afterwards, full of misery, I sobbed all the way down Harley Street, bumping into lamposts. Then,
almost overnight, I started to write short stories and, flabbergastingly, they got accepted in magazines like Petticoat, 19 and Womans Own.
Jillys most recent blockbuster, Jump, was published in September and has taken her four years to write. Undoubtedly, as with all its predecessors, this will be a best-seller.


The book promotion has been going wonderfully well. Writing Jump for the past four years, I began to feel like a hermit, hardly going to London at all. I felt as if Id been left out in a molehole. Now, suddenly, all sorts of journalists and photographers have been talking to me and its gossip, gossip all the time Heavenly.


So what is the secret behind Jillys astounding success? I dont know. Im just terribly grateful. I did a massive amount of research and talked to so many people (the acknowledgements at the rear of Jump bear witness to this). I try to take the reader by the hand and introduce them into a new world. I also think people like to laugh and cry, and I do too.


Usually, Jilly gets up in the morning early and after walking Feather and William, works from around llam until 5pm. Then she will walk
the dogs again and work through until 8pm.


Once Leo goes to sleep I then might work from 10pm until 2am. When Im up and running I work very long hours and like to listen to music as I write, Beethoven or Mahler are favourites. During these long spells of work I grumble a lot, but I have lovely people looking after me. Ive a fantastic housekeeper and an excellent personal assistant. Also, what keeps me going is getting out to walk the dogs in the beautiful country around my home.


For nearly three decades, Jilly and Leos home has been an old house overlooking the Toadsmore Valley, near Stroud. Basically, its the sort
of house that the character Rupert Campbell Black, who features in many of my books, lives in. Its ravishingly beautiful, but its falling down now because we havent done much to it. Its called The Chancery and was a monks dormitory, and where they used to sing. I think the abbey was up in the village, but were slightly down the road. I love the
idea of the monks sitting out on the terrace looking at the glorious
sunrises and sunsets.


Jilly and Leo now have three grandsons, Acer, Lysander and Jago, and a granddaughter, Scarlett. I was thrilled to bits to become a granny. Both my children were adopted so these were their first blood relations. Its so precious the grandchildren look so like their parents and
thats magical.


We were punished and not allowed to have cake for tea that day!


Although Jilly spends large amounts of time writing, she admits she does enjoy a good party. Im a party animal. I love people coming around and opening a bottle or two.


Now, with Leo being ill with Parkinsons disease, its more difficult. He was the ultimate host wonderful. With Jump now on the shelves, Jilly is already looking ahead to her next book. Im going to write a novel on flat racing and feel quite excited by this. I hope it wont take too many years to complete my family keep saying, Please mum, write a short book.


By now, Feather and William are getting restless and Jilly tells me its time for their next walk across the green fields of Gloucestershire.
Give my love to Osborne Road she trills, as we say goodbye.


Im going to make an Essex pilgrimage and have a look at my birthplace'



Get the book
Jump by Jilly Cooper is published by Bantam Press
and is priced at 18.99

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