"So, Monsieur Leonard, you have written a book for young adults, yes? A crime novel?"
"Called Crusher, yes..."
I'm being interviewed by a French TV crew. I don't know if my book's even coming out in France, but like most first-time novelists I'm a shameless publicity whore.
"I was going for a contemporary Raymond Chandler. I'm trying to evoke some of that noir cynicism in a modern context."
"Very good. So, tell us..."
"What's it like being married to EL James?"
As I have said before, being married to EL James, author of international bestselling erotic romance The Fifty Shades trilogy, is mostly like being married.
It's 7:10 on the first day of school term, Herself is in the bathroom, the older son is still asleep and the younger, more organized son has emerged from his room in his new uniform, spotless - apart from the disintegrating shoes.
"What happened to the new shoes Mum bought you?"
"These ones are fine."
"There's a hole in the toe!"
"It's OK. I'm wearing black socks, no-one will notice."
"Go put your new ones on, and throw those away."
My novel Crusher comes out in eight days, and the wife's trilogy has been at one, two and three in the Sunday Times Bestseller List as long as any of us can remember. The woman hogging the bathroom is now officially the UK's bestselling author ever, and according to deeply unreliable sources, our red brick semi is a throbbing temple of lust with a fully-fitted dungeon in the basement, and I am the inspiration for the lithe, inexhaustible sex god she depicted. I must be the first podgy middle-aged Irish Catholic sex god since... hold on, is Chris de Burgh a Catholic?
7:20: I stomp downstairs to make breakfast, followed closely by the dog, clearly hoping I'll drop a piece of bacon on the floor. There's barely room for breakfast on the kitchen table, scattered with prints of the PR shots from last week when I led a photographer round the local neighbourhood where I based Crusher. He wanted to snap me against a gritty urban background, except the council have disobligingly been cleaning the place up. We did find some graffiti depicting a massive knob, but decided two of them in the one photo might have been confusing.
Underneath the pictures I find a provisional driving licence application half filled-in by my older son. It's been there since June. Now I think of it, he's been in bed since June. I go chuck a boot up the stairs at his bedroom door.
Piled on the bench on the far side of the table are sample editions of Fifty Shades of Grey in 20 different languages. Most foreign publishers have stuck with the simple iconic cover, with the notable exception of the Bulgarians. They clearly thought the original tie lacked class and have replaced it with what appears to be a polyester number from the bargain bin at Sofia C&A. I wish this house did have a dungeon; it would be somewhere to put all this stuff.
7:35: The older son is out of bed! He's still asleep, yes, but it's progress. As an actual teenager living in London I consulted him when I was writing Crusher. "So my hero, he's 17, from a single-parent family..." "OK." "He finds his Dad murdered and sets out to find the killer." "Sounds cool." "The thing is... the way I've written it, he gets a lot of sex." "Right, yeah," says my son. "So what was your question?" "Never mind," I said.
7:40. The cleaner's arrived. Why is the dog always so pleased to see her? I'm the one who bloody walks him. Maybe today I'll work up the nerve to ask her to pair off the hundred and fifty odd socks heaped in the spare room.
"So, Monsieur Leonard, your wife and you are now both novelists. Is there any rivalry between you?"
"No, not at all. We each tell our own distinctive stories in our own distinctive voices. She does her book tours and I do mine."
"Ah, she is going on tour! To where?"
"She's starting at LA, moving on to San Francisco, then on to Seattle, Portland, Houston and Minneapolis. But she's not leaving until I come back from my book tour."
"And where are you going?"
7:50. The younger son has left for school in his clompy new shoes. The older one is dressed, and awake, if texting your mates from the breakfast table is a sign of higher cognitive functions. But he doesn't want to eat anything apart from a banana. The dog seems to know this and is eyeing up his bacon. The wife is on her laptop answering emails from the U.S. that have piled up overnight, and there's one from my UK publisher about the Nottingham trip I am making with three other authors to talk about our work.
I've really been looking forward to this - a chance to escape the madhouse briefly, to hang out with fellow writers, to drink beer and earnestly discuss our favourite books and whether Crusher is a crime novel or a murder mystery and where first-time novelists can find the tweediest jackets.
"Just to let you know," says the email from my publisher's PR bod, "the other authors on the panel will be Graham Garden, Barry Cryer, and John O'Farrell."
Sweet Jesus Christ.
The wife wants to know why I've slumped into a chair.
"Are they insane? I'm a first-time novelist, the husband of EL James, and they're putting me on a panel with three of the funniest men in the UK. Me, whose biggest comedy moment was a gag about a kilt in Monarch of the Glen. They'll rip me to shreds."
"No they won't."
"Have you heard I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue? They rip Jack Dee to shreds, and they like Jack Dee."
"If you'd rather not do it, don't."
"Hey... it's publicity, isn't it?"
Niall Leonard is the author of Crusher [Delacorte Books for Young Readers, $17.99].
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