The lovely James Hannah.

I met James Hannah at his launch party for The A-Z of You and Me. I’d already been fortunate enough to read a proof copy of his beautiful debut. I know when I like a book, and within pages I knew that this would be on my favourites of the year. He writes with beauty, eloquence, and compassion. The A to Z of You and Me is the story of Ivo who we soon discover is dying, that’s not a spoiler by the way. Sheila is the nurse who cares for him. She gives him the idea of the A to Z whilst he lays in his hospital bed. For each letter he must come up with a body part and a story about it. This is where we discover Ivo’s back story and of Mia. It is tender, heartbreaking, and also funny.


I shook my literary pom poms for it from the first read and know others that share their love for it. Anne Cater and Leah Moyse I’m looking at you. We are the ‘super fan trio’.


Twitter is such a wonderful place for books. Talking about them, sharing the love, and interacting with authors. James is exactly the same on Twitter as he is in real life. I was thrilled when he asked if he could come for a haircut.

One thing life has taught me is that there are so so people you come across in your life, and then there are those that are truly lovely. James is one of those who is truly lovely.

We had a marvellous time whilst I cut his hair. We talked books, writing, life, and more books. We were both adamant of our love for beautiful writing in a book, of those exceptionally crafted sentences or paragraphs that make you stop and gaze off into the distance.

Now I can talk for England in certain situations, and am still concerned to this day that James could have missed his train home with my constant rabbiting. He has since assured me he didn’t.

I also saw James Hannah at a Waterstones Picadilly event with Jason Hewitt and Emma Hooper about Narratives of Memory. It was great to hear James talk more in depth about his writing process and why he wrote The A to Z of You and Me. This I attended with the ‘super fan trio’ (see above), and we were all in agreement that James should do more events.


James is also the discoverer of Toblorange, which took Twitter, and then the rest of social media by storm in January 2016.

 

 

Here is lovely James’s Q&A…

Where are you going on holiday?

I haven’t been on a week-long holiday since 2006, and it doesn’t look like I’m going to break that duck this year. If I can manage, I’d really like to spend three or four days in St Ives, Cornwall, where I once made my wife cry with laughter by the simple expedient of being shat on by a seagull. It thumped me so hard in the chest it made my voice jump mid-sentence.

My wife howled her way to a nearby chemist to procure some tissues, and by the time she’d got to the front of the queue she was so hysterical she couldn’t say anything. The woman behind the till thought she was having an episode.

Anyway, we like to go back to St Ives again and again, and my wife often wanders around looking hopefully at the sky.

How many books would you take for a week away? Favourites or new reads?

I’d take a couple, hopefully very different from each other. Holiday is absolutely my favourite place to read and write, because you have that whole sense of “maybe I could just do this and eat ice cream and chips forever”. It’s wonderful. And now I come to think of it, they’d tend to be books I’ve been meaning to get round to reading.

I have great memories of reading a copy of Great Expectations that belonged to the holiday cottage on the Warren, St Ives. I needed to finish it by the time we left, which is absolutely the best way to read it.

What shampoo do you use?

If you leave your hair long enough, it starts to clean itself doesn’t it? That’s what they told me when I was a teenager. And all shampoo’s the same, isn’t it? It’s all soap. So if I’m going out to a posh do I might scrub my head with a bar of Imperial Leather*.

please see note at end of post.

Are you doing anything nice at the weekend?

Most Saturday mornings I can be found jumping around on the bouncy castle with my two-year-old at the local soft play area. Most Saturday afternoons I can be found groaning on the sofa holding my back. Sundays is Antiques Roadshow.

What book are you reading at the moment?

You mean PUBLISHED book? *winky wink*

I have four on the go. I’m reading American Housewife by Helen Ellis (during the day — it’s sharp and very funny), A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale (audio, for washing up and ironing to — it’s immersive and brilliant), Get It Together by Zoe Williams (audio, for driving — which is very inspiring about how the NHS might be approached) and One Man Band, the third of four volumes (out of a projected two) of an Orson Welles biography by Simon Callow (for bedtime, after I’ve finished writing — the text is extremely tightly tracked, but the biography is marvellous).

If anyone alive or dead could tweet about your book, who would you like it to be?

OK… I’m going to say Nick Drake. He’d perhaps just link to it at Wenlock Books (http://www.wenlockbooks.co.uk/jameshannah) and have a laughing emoji and a sad emoji and then a guitar emoji. And then a thumbs-up emoji.

By a series of amazingly serendipitous events, Nick’s sister Gabrielle Drake [clanggg!] came along to my book launch, and I was able to press a copy into her hands. It was one of the major moments in my launch year for The A to Z of You and Me, and I’ll certainly settle for that.

What’s the worst hair disaster you’ve had?

Ah, it’s complicated. I’d bought some Hubba Bubba from Tooth Newagents on Landcross Drive, Northampton. That night, I hatched a plan: I cleaned my teeth properly, kissed my mum goodnight, hopped into bed, and surreptitiously popped a fresh Hubba Bubba in my mouth and began chewing away. Then I fell asleep. Sure, I mean, I could have choked to death, but what happened was in some ways worse.

The Hubba Bubba flupped out of the side of my mouth as I slept, and I spent the rest of the night rolling and mashing it between my pillow and head. When I sheepishly crept down the stairs for breakfast the next morning, my mum had to cut it out of my hair with the kitchen scissors. She then took the altogether too-drastic step of arranging with Tooth Newagents that I should never be sold bubble gum again, which meant I became notorious in the district.

To this day I still get that frisson of danger when I’m buying my weekly quarter of Hubba Bubba.

The A to Z of You and Me is published by Doubleday.

* James does NOT wash his hair with Imperial Leather!

 

And FINALLY, inspired by The A to Z of You and Me here is my own hairdressing related A to Z.

A: Anagen

The growth phase of hair.

B. Bob

Iconic cut. Think Louise Brooks and Vidal Sassoon

C. Cutting.

 

D. Dandruff

Best treated with a shampoo that contains Ketaconazole.

E. Edgy

A word ‘hairdresser’s’ use to make something cool ie ‘edgy’ bob, ‘edgy’ colour.

F. Fashion techniques….

Dip dye, balayage, ombré.

G. Green

The colour you don’t want your hair to be, unless it was requested (see F).

H. Happy hair

 

I. Ionic

The new technology for ceramic irons.

J. Jargon

Reverse graduation, invisible layering, asymmetrical, pre-pigmentation.

K. Keratin

The composition of hair.

L. Layers

…and no you can’t just have 1.

M. Magician

With my scissors and comb I sometimes am.

N. Nutrients

So important for healthy hair.

O. Over processed hair

This is not good, so be kind to your hair.

P. Pantene

Just no! At least lie and say you use something else.

Q. Quiet time

I honestly don’t mind if you don’t want to talk.

R. Recommending books.

 

S. Secrets

I get told them and I keep them.

T- Trichoptilosi

The other name for split ends

U. Umbrella

A must on a salon visit just in case….

V. Very lovely clients

…who then become very lovely friends.

W. White hair

Those that clients don’t often like. Not necessarily a sign of ageing, it’s hair that has lost its pigment.

X. X rated stories

…which I hear a lot.

Y. Yes I would love you to bring me a coffee!

 

Z. Zzzzzz

how I sometimes feel after standing for 8 hours plus without sitting down.

 

 

 

 

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The lovely James Hannah.

It wasn’t a silent hour in my chair……..

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Do you ever feel like you know someone when you meet them? As in a separated at birth moment??? Or maybe if you believe in that afterlife stuff that you knew each other in a previous life? This is a little how I felt when the very lovely Cesca Major sat in my chair. Dark hair, fringe, same sense of humour. Think we were more alike than my older sister and I! Cesca had asked through the Twittersphere whether I’d cut her hair. Obviously the answer was yes, as I LOVE having book people in my chair.

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Cesca’s debut The Silent Hours published by Corvus, is out on 5th November in paperback, for those of you that haven’t read it I highly recommend you do. I’m a huge geeky fan of wartime set novels and this is based on a true event that happened in France. The story takes place during and after the war and is told from different viewpoints. With dual timescale and varied voices this was a big thumbs up for me. It’s definitely not an easy read, and made me feel horrified and sad at times, but a book that evokes such strong emotions is a book worth reading!

Cesca has stunning hair and reiterates my theory that writing is good for the follicles! We talked books (surprise surprise). The ones we love and why? How big the TBR pile gets sometimes…….and saying which ones should be popped to the top of the pile. As Cesca was off on a holiday soonish we discussed the intricacy of picking the right books to take. We also giggled a lot when she was telling me about her books written under Rosie Blake. I even volunteered my friend Emma for research purposes as to hunting down your exes. (Yes, she did!!!!)

I had a wonderful time with her in my chair and she left with happy hair!!

Where are you going on holiday?

Well I have just come back from the most incredible holiday in the Maldives so am yet to plan the next one. I keep thinking back to it though. We saw turtles, sharks, rays… it was a stunning place.

How many books would you take for a week away?

I took 5 away and that was only just OK..! One was a 750 page Jilly Cooper too so I am a book worm. Fortunately the husband was reading the latest Jack Reacher so I stole that too.

What shampoo do you use?

Same as before..! The brunette one… I forget the name… (John Frieda)

Are you doing anything nice at the weekend?

This weekend I am working furiously on edits for THE LAST NIGHT – I went back to Devon to do some more research last month and now I am working on the ‘Historical Note’ at the back of the book. A large part of the book is based on a true story from 1952 and the details are quite harrowing.

What book are you reading at the moment?

I’m currently reading Sarra Manning’s AFTER THE LAST DANCE – very, very slowly due to editing. It is a lovely read so far.

If anyone alive or dead could tweet about your book, who would you like it to be?

I think if the lovely Mary Shaffer who co-wrote my favourite novel THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY had been able to read it I definitely would have wanted to know what she thought.

What’s the worst hair disaster you’ve had?

My friend highlighted my hair for me at home but we fell asleep and I had to go to the hairdressers the next day as I looked like a dreadful zebra. The blonde stripes had all leaked too and it cost a fortune to fix. I refused to take the hat off in the hairdresser’s chair at first. Dreadful.
It wasn’t a silent hour in my chair……..

The Inspiration that is Cathy Rentzenbrink…..

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I met Cathy for the first time at the Pan Macmillan Women In Fiction party in February 2015. We talked books and Twitter and I was really chuffed that she recognised me as Matinee Girl, (don’t think I’ll ever be able to get rid of my fringe.)

I’d previously read on The Bookseller website that she had written a memoir and was interested to read it. The Last Act Of Love is her story of her and her brother Mattie. He was knocked over by a car when he was 16 and left in a permanent vegetative state.

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It is her story of life after the accident, of how she dealt with it , and how it affected her family.

A few months later, Cathy asked if I would cut her hair, which was obviously met with a resounding yes!

I was reading The Last Act Of Love on the tube the day she was booked in. It was an emotional read for me and I was close to tears (again) that I had to put it back in my bag. Walking from Baker Street station to the salon I had to keep telling myself to pull myself together as I had visions of her turning up for her appointment and me throwing my arms around her sobbing. Probably not a reassuring impression for a first haircut…..

I spent the most amazing 90 minutes with Cathy talking about The last Act Of Love , her life, my life, relationships, books, love, and hairdressing disasters, all whilst cutting her hair. She has ridiculously great hair to cut by the way.

I told her that her story had really resonated with me for personal reasons as I was extremely ill the same year that Mattie was knocked over. Like her family, my family had never really talked about what had happened or talked about how it had affected them. I felt encouraged to talk to my younger sister and find out how she’d actually felt throughout that whole time.

Without reading The Last Act Of Love we would never have had that conversation.

I bought copies for my Mum and sisters as a testament to how precious life is.

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Cathy is an incredible woman and courageous to write and share her story. She is truly one of the most inspiring women I have met! I have the utmost respect for her. I feel that so many people will get something out of this book. It lingers with you for a long time…….

Now for the questions……

Where are you going on holiday?

I’ve just been to the South of France for a week to stay in a big farmhouse with my friend Sophie and lots of her other friends and family. It was wonderful, we played lots of games, swam in the lake and stayed up too late.

How many books for a week away?

I need more than a book a day for a holiday. I usually take an ereader full of manuscripts and then a few real books. I much prefer reading physical books but can’t manage to carry them all.

What shampoo do you use?

I change around a bit. I like anything that smells fruity. Occasionally I buy something muddy and sludgy from Lush.

Are you doing anything nice at the weekend?

I’m going to Edinburgh to do Literary Death Match – a terrifying prospect – and an event about the science of reading. My husband is coming with me so it feels a bit like a holiday. I don’t know Scotland at all well but am going there lots for the book and have fallen in love with Edinburgh – there are so many good bookshops there.

What book are you reading at the moment?

I’m a Costa Judge this year so have to be mysterious about what I’m reading. It’s causing me pain not to be be able to tweet about a good book when I find one. I’m also dipping back intoA Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara as I’m interviewing her soon. That’s a spectacular book.

If anyone alive or dead could tweet  about your book who would you like it to be?

Haha. Actually, it’s sort of happened in that Henry Marsh, author of Do No Harm has written an amazing review for the New Statesman. He’s a neurosurgeon and a brilliant writer and I’m so pleased that he admires my book. I also have a huge crush on Sali Hughes and it was a great day when I woke up to see she’d tweeted about the book. She interviewed me and we went boozing afterwards and talked about everything ever.

One of the best things about writing the book is the tweets and emails I’ve had from strangers saying that the book has resonated with them and helped them to come to terms with a loss of their own. That makes it feel worthwhile.

Have you ever had a hair disaster?

So many! Even thinking of the sun-in years of the late eighties gives me the shivers. I was hairdresser phobic until I found you. I once ended up with a mullet that my mum fixed for me by cutting off more hair. For years my friend Sophie used to cut my hair when we were both drunk and it looked okay. Sometimes I tried to do it myself when inebriated with less good results. I once woke up with no fringe left…

I’ve been really fortunate to have seen Cathy at numerous book events including Damian Barr’s Literary Salon, In Conversation with Max Porter at Dulwich Books, and In Conversation with Matt Haig at Foyles.

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The Inspiration that is Cathy Rentzenbrink…..

My first……

Patrick Gale was my first. I remember the tweet asking if I was free to cut his hair prior to his ‘A Place Called Winter’ launch party. I did a little Twitter *fist pump* and shouted a yay then calmly replied that I would be honoured to snip his hair.

I have to admit that I was a tad nervous despite having been a hairdresser for 20 odd years and probably able to cut hair with my eyes closed, although that wouldn’t be a sensible thing to do I know.

He is, afterall author royalty, having written 17 novels. His latest A Place Called Winter was published in March of this year with the paperback being published in September.

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I love it A LOT!

The assistants that I work with, who are aged between 17-20 couldn’t quite understand my excitement at meeting him and having him sit in my chair for a whole hour to talk to.

The only way they understood was when I likened it to one of them meeting Kim Kardashian…..then they understood. I’m fairly sure that Mr Gale has never had this comparison before……

Because Patrick was on a massive book tour I compiled some questions in case he wanted to talk about something else:

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Although I wasn’t sure how I would talk about TOWIE as I’ve never watched it…….

It was such a pleasure to spend time with Patrick. We chatted about A Place Called Winter, Cornwall, books, book tours, and First Great Western rail services.

He is a truly delightful man and has FANTASTIC hair!!!

So here is the hairdressing chat…..

Where are you going on holiday?

This year I’m too busy with bookpluggery to take a proper holiday. This particularly irritates as I’m having to miss our annual trip to the Wexford Opera Festival in November. As compensation I’ve been awarding us some serious opera treats. We just had a lovely long weekend in Sussex so as to take in Die Entführing Auf Dem Serail and Poliuto at Glyndebourne. And last night I cracked and booked us a naughty night away in the very glam St David’s Hotel and Spa on Cardiff Bay so as to see Welsh National Opera’s new production of I Puritani, the only opera (I believe) set in Plymouth. I am an opera nut, as you probably guessed. It’s why I normally economise on haircuts!

How many books for a week away?

At least two. I always pack an extra in case of sudden disaffection with the one I’m reading.

What shampoo do you use?

I alternate between Touch of Silver (highly effective but Aidan says it smells worryingly of old ladies because of the lavender in it) and Happy Hair’s delicious Pomegranate and Mint Moisturising Shampoo.

Are you doing anything nice at the weekend?

I’m speaking at the Winchester Festival which is actually a bit of an honour as it’s where I grew up, and also a great pleasure as it means I can see my mother and sister, who live there still.

What book are you reading at the moment?

I’ve almost finished Paul McVeigh’s funny-ouch The Good Son and am about to start Tara Guha’s debut novel, Untouchable Things (any novel with a charismatic hero called Seth and the words tangled and secrets in the blurb immediately has my attention…)

If anyone alive or dead could tweet  about your book who would you like it to be?

Well a tweet from George Eliot or E M Forster would be life-changing but I’d be pretty damned thrilled to be praised by Mary Beard or Jackie Kay.

* Haha. I got the shampoo wrong! It’s Happy Hair Days Pomegranate and Ginger
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My first……