Alexandra Shulman, OBE, editor-in-chief of the British edition of Vogue, and also the longest serving editor in British Vogue history. Shulman is one of the country’s most oft-quoted voices on fashion trends, however is known as a respected journalist rather than a fashion editor, cultivating a magazine with a strong features backbone as well as a dynamic fashion vision. In addition to her work with Vogue, Shulman has written columns for The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, as well as publishing her debut novel Can We Still Be Friends in 2012.
Fast forward to July 2nd 2015 and the editor extraordinaire is releasing her second novel The Parrots. Inhabited by London’s moneyed elite: gallerists and collectors, oligarchs and trophy wives, the novel is carefully constructed to explore in the finest, yet subtlest, of detail human nature. Satisfyingly, Shulman uncovers a world of shabby intentions beneath the shiny veneer as into this society swan the beautiful and louche scions of an Italian fashion dynasty, siblings Antonella and Mateo Fullardi.
“With their etiolated physiques and combined androgyny,” the pair have stepped from the pages of a fashion magazine. Like the exotic birds of the title, they establish themselves with an attitude of entitlement in the London lives of Katherine, a calligrapher, her gallery owner husband Rick, and their son Josh. They soon cause havoc among the native population. Infidelities and entanglements ensue. The novel clips briskly along and offers a well-observed tour of London’s posher postcodes: Maida Vale, Hampstead, Mayfair – the “moneyed core of the capital”, where “if you listen to your footsteps on the pavement, they might even sound different”.
Praised for the great atmosphere in her previous book, Shulman hasn’t disappointed with The Parrots. Her detailing, particularly in how the characters interact in the world around them, leaves you enthralled as though she is literally painting a picture around you. Admittedly this can either turn you on or off depending on how you like your fiction. For those who like dramas that are action-packed from start to finish then you’ll find this a bit slow starting, but for those who love to really get into the characters and escape into their world, this is perfect for you.
“To me the book is about, to some extent, people not being what they seem to be or not being themselves. People not knowing themselves and finding that they can surprise themselves with their behaviour,” she said, explaining that The Parrots is “more my natural genre of writing,” compared to her first book, Can We Still Be Friends. “But it’s also about youth and age as well. I don’t expect everyone to like my characters particularly, but I do think they’re quite real and real people aren’t necessarily likeable.”
In an exclusive Vogue interview, Shulman spoke frankly of her experiences with anxiety and self-doubt whilst penning her second novel, revealing she often panicked to her partner David saying “It’s not going to happen, I don’t know how to do this.” As the UK editor of the world’s most respected fashion magazine, it may shock you that Shulman is a little unsure of herself; however to us mere mortals it comes as a refreshing admission, a thoroughly relatable admission, that she is just as human as the rest of us, despite her long list of awe-inspiring achievements.
She noted that publishing a personal novel and an issue of Vogue are two very different entities. “There are two stages with a book – there is delivering it, at the point that you can’t change it, and then there’s the publication when it’s exposed to other people – and they’re both very daunting,” she said. “I don’t have that same feeling of ownership of the magazine as I do of that book. I mean, everything in that book comes from me and I can’t blame any of it on anyone! Also, by the time that the August issue of Vogue is out, my mind is really on September and October, so I don’t have that same emotional engagement at the point of publication.”
Now with two tomes to her name, more fiction – as well as a possible foray into non-fiction – are on the cards for Shulman, although don’t expect her to be penning anything fashion related any time soon.
“I’m sure my publishers would like me to write a book about the fashion industry, but I wouldn’t do it as it wouldn’t be any fun while I’m doing this,” she divulged. “I would like to do more as I do enjoy it. Once this book is born, as it were, I will sit down and start thinking about another story.”
The Parrots, published by Fig Tree, is available now at Amazon.co.uk, Waterstones nationwide and local independent bookshops.