THEY say that to write a novel, you should write about what you know.
Wendy Holden was working late one night, sitting wearily at her desk as it turned midnight, when she realised she had the contents of an entire novel staring her in the face.
As deputy editor of the Sunday Times style section, Wendy was ghostwriting a weekly column by IT girl Tara Palmer-Tomkinson. “I got fed up hanging around late at night waiting for her to ring me from parties. Then I suddenly realised I had a book right there,” says Wendy.
The result was Simply Divine, Wendy’s debut novel about the contrasting lives of an overworked, underpaid journalist and a celebrity socialite with a charmed life. Published in 1999, it was the first of 10 bestsellers penned by the author, who grew up in Cleckheaton.
From yummy mummies to uber-WAGs, bad boy artists to size-zero starlets, Wendy takes the zeitgeist and injects it with a deliciously witty dose of social satire. Her latest novel, Honeymoon Suite, delves into the world of wedding planning, while her next book, Laura Lake and the Hipster Weddings (out this spring) was inspired by the changing nature of nuptials.
“When writing Honeymoon Suite it struck me how the way people get married is so varied now,” says Wendy. “You can get hitched on top of the Shard or in a zoo, then there’s the meticulously rehearsed first dance and ‘urban-themed’ wedding pictures against a graffiti wall. I saw funny potential in all of that.”
In Honeymoon Suite, jilted bride Nell escapes to the romantic country hotel where she’d planned to spend her wedding night. Instead, she takes her best friend along and they encounter various colourful characters, including a handsome writer with a mysterious past. Nell, whose own nuptials didn’t exactly go to plan, ends up staying on at the hotel to organise weddings.
The book was inspired by stately homes of Derbyshire, where Wendy lives. “It’s still very much an upstairs, downstairs world, with staff running guided tours, the farm shop and weddings,” she says.
Wendy's initial success came at a time when the chick lit genre was taking off, in the wake of Bridget Jones's Diary. But rather than dwelling on "the single girl sitting in her flat waiting for Mr Right", Wendy's focus is on class-related social satire, in glitzy locations.
Her books - which include Bad Heir Day, Azur You Like It, Pastures Nouveaux and The Wives of Bath - are set against glamorous backdrops, from Tinsletown to the Cannes Film Festival, and she says her journalism career - she has worked on such titles as Tatler, Harper's Bazaar and the Mail on Sunday - was "invaluable" experience.
"I worked in very glamorous places; visiting palatial homes and attending fabulous parties and dinners, and was able to draw on that," she says. "My books offer uplifting escapism, something we need these days. I've always been drawn to glamour and comedy."
It's a far cry from Whitcliffe Mount school in Cleckheaton, where Wendy fell in love with literature. "I have my English teacher, Mrs Symons, to thank for that," smiles Wendy. "She made me realise it was my subject - I wouldn't be writing today if it wasn't for her. I used to love going to Cleckheaton Library and losing myself in books. It's such a beautiful building, I'm so glad it's still there. I still meet up with Mrs Symons, I owe her a huge debt."
Wendy read English at Cambridge, where she met her husband. Now a mother-of-two, she often returns to the Spen Valley to visit her family. "I'm genuinely thrilled to be in the T&A because my parents got it every night. I grew up reading it," she says.
She approaches writing as a daily discipline. "You have to sit down and do it, whether it flows or not. It doesn't write itself," she says. "I have an idea for a setting, then it's a case of how do I get the characters there? Often it doesn't work out how I thought; something insignificant ends up making a massive difference. As long as it's amusing and tells a story, with characters we care about, it works.
"Afterwards comes the process of re-doing it again and again. It involves a lot of work."
Does she tire of the solitary aspect of writing? "It has to be like that, but I've taken up fencing which is a great way to unwind!" she laughs.
Wendy credits her West Yorkshire upbringing with her gift for satire. "I'm from an irreverent, funny family; I was a pretentious teenager and thank goodness they didn't take me seriously. That instilled sense of humour enables me to see through social pretensions and satirise them."
* Honeymoon Suite is published by Headline Review, priced £8.99. Released January 26