He lived life through the lens. That was just the way it was – Elaine Robertson North.
If you are looking for an easy read about showbiz and scandal, I Can’t Tell You Why is that book. It isn’t the best in terms of character development, and the writing won’t sweep you off your feet, but you will want to know what happens next. At least I did, and if a book can grip you like that, it can’t be all bad.
I Can’t Tell You Why is about a successful agent called Dani who lives and works in the heart of London. She is at the top of her game with a roster of actors and influencers who are doing great things on screen, and not-so-great things off screen. She is bold, brilliant and has that air about her which captures every eye in the room. Actually, she demands it. Her life spins off-course when she enters into an affair with Alex, a married man and one of her clients. As it deepens, she finds herself caught up in a frenzy of emotions, which doesn’t help her when she meets Sean, a paparazzi photographer. The best in his field.
I questioned Elaine Robertson North about her book, what she thinks of career women and the entertainment industry.
How did you make the jump from marketing and communications to writing?
Very slowly! Writing was something I always wanted to do but work was always pretty full-on which didn’t leave much time or headspace for anything else. I had two spells working freelance when I did give writing a go, but it wasn’t until I gave up work and my youngest son started school, that I fully made the transition.
I Can’t Tell You Why is based on truth – how much truth is there in the novel? Are the careers accurate? The reason behind the entire affair? Do you know the people personally? Is it a reflection of part of your history?
The career stuff is based on my own experience but for me, the basis of the story was more about the idea that a perfectly reasonable and likeable person, can cheat and lie, even when objectively speaking, they know it makes no sense. So the reason behind the affair was really to explore this as an idea. The characters aren’t based on anyone real and while I may have observed similar situations to some of those in the plot, that’s as close as it gets to my own life!
Do you believe Dani and Alex should be forgiven so quickly on a moral ground? I’m glad Dani has her spark of hope at the end of the novel, but I can’t help but think that she knowingly made a lot of awful mistakes which made her hard to relate to in that aspect of her life. I felt a lot like Billy and Amanda.
And therein lies the biggest challenge I faced! Personally, I have a very black and white view of affairs. They’re wrong. Simple! So it was a conscious decision to explore why people have affairs, whether it’s ever possible to say that good can come from an affair, and also how our childhood experiences can have a massive impact on our own approach to relationships. Dani makes some terrible decisions and not once, but repeatedly. Fundamentally, she’s a good person (her friends are there as a reminder that her behaviour is out of character) but she’s damaged and flawed too. Yes her actions might have you screaming at her to wake up to herself, but I do hope it’s still possible to root for her while she gets her head straight.
Dani’s career was my favourite part of the novel, as was her no-nonsense attitude. Do you see yourself in her character after heading such prestigious publicity campaigns?
I think it would be impossible for a little bit of me not to creep in on occasion. I’d certainly liked to have been a bit more like her on occasion!
What do you think about women working in the entertainment industry? Is it harder to be taken seriously? Do you have to have Dani’s kind of attitude to “make it”?
There are lots of successful women in entertainment, so I very much hope that no, it isn’t harder to be taken seriously and that what matters is to simply be good at what you do. In the media world, a strong attitude always helps but it’s rarely enough on its own. In my experience, the winners in the end are those who are also fair, honest and have integrity.
Do you believe women who see themselves as “career women” can have it all?
The simple answer is yes, I do. But first you have to define what having it all means to you and accept that it’s different for everyone. If you’d asked me a few years ago when I was running a small company, with one child in school and one in nursery, I’d have said no, because I didn’t feel like I was fulfilling any role well. Ask me today and the answer is a resounding yes. That’s because having it all to me means being around for my sons, being able to take them to school and be there when they come back out, being free to help out in their classes, attend their assemblies and go on school trips. But I also now have a developing career as an author, which is all I ever wanted professionally, so for me, I absolutely have it all.
I know lots of women who have amazing full-time careers and still manage to be great mothers; I know others who have retrained so they can still be fulfilled professionally, but also work flexible hours to suit their family lives. No solution is better or worse, or more or less impressive. It’s making it work for you that counts.
You mention influencers as clients of Dani’s. What do you think of the current influencer market? Do you believe they are a crucial part of marketing today?
I’m in awe of influencers and love how successful they’ve become. They are definitely crucial to marketing – they have the eyes and ears of a young audience that for brands, is increasingly difficult to reach through traditional means, which definitely makes them all powerful! But their independence is what makes them popular so I think finding the right way to work with brands is a really delicate balance.
Journalists in your novel are portrayed as people who would do absolutely anything for a story – making and breaking deals with agents and photographers. How far have you gone to make sure your campaigns made the headlines?
The nature of the business is that there’s always a certain amount of game-playing but ultimately, trust is key. To have any kind of career longevity you have to build relationships and be seen as someone reliable who’ll deliver what they’ve promised. So, apart from the odd bit of spin, and being a little creative with the truth when required, I don’t think I ever did anything too outrageous!
When you first thought about writing this novel, what was the first spark of inspiration?
While working on an entertainment show, I watched a guest and his agent chatting to a paparazzi photographer. It was all very polite but there was a definite air of reticence. I remembering thinking what an interesting triangle they would make and that was it – seed duly sown!
Are you planning on writing any more contemporary books about showbiz life? Do you have any other stories to share from your experiences?
I’m about two thirds of the way through book number two. The central theme is about taking control of your own destiny and having the confidence to just be yourself, whatever life throws in the way. The tension comes from a ruthless desire for revenge and the backdrop this time is a newspaper, which is where my own experience will come into play.
Are you intrigued to read I Can’t Tell You Why?
Love, Faye xo