According to Jilly Cooper, the key to a successful marriage is the sound of creaking bed springs, as it signifies the laughter shared between partners.
Jilly Cooper, 86, was born in Essex, grew up in Yorkshire and began her career as a journalist. She started publishing romance novels in 1975 and found fame during the 80s with bestsellers Riders and Rivals, part of the Rutshire Chronicles series. She’s also written many nonfiction titles and the Little Mabel children’s books. Her new novel, Tackle!, is set in the world of football. An eight-part TV adaptation of Rivals is scheduled for Disney+ next year.
Did former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson inspire your new novel, Tackle!?
During lunch, I was anxious sitting next to him, fearing he would be intimidating. However, he turned out to be very charming and humorous. We laughed uncontrollably and had a wonderful time. This inspired me to write a book about football, and I quickly came up with the title due to its clever innuendo.
Who are the players that you admire the most?
I am a big fan of Manchester City, with a particular admiration for Phil Foden and Jack Grealish. I find [Tottenham’s] Son Heung-min to be quite charming. In my role as a journalist, I had the opportunity to interview Rodney Marsh and George Best. Unfortunately, they failed to show up for our scheduled lunch and when I did finally meet them, they were quite rude and unpleasant. Consequently, I wrote a scathing article about them. However, many years later, I was surprised on This Is Your Life by Rodney himself, who had flown in from America to apologize for his previous behavior.
Did you communicate with any soccer players for the purpose of gathering information?
I had frequent conversations with my kind ex-neighbor, Tony Adams, as well as with players from my nearby team, Forest Green Rovers. However, when a new manager took over, all of my acquaintances were let go. While it may seem harsh, this aspect of the sport adds depth to storytelling.
What are your thoughts on the portrayal of a romantic relationship between a player and manager, given that homosexuality is still considered a taboo in football?
I was disappointed to discover that my earlier books did not include any gay characters, so I was determined to include them in my book about football. However, I was also concerned about my character Dolphy’s background of growing up in a children’s home. This ultimately became one of the main themes in the book. It is disheartening to think about the many children who do not have a family and yearn for one, but for Dolphy, he finds his family in the world of football.
Is “Tackle!” your ultimate book?
Many people have suggested that I should write about Sparta, as it was the only city in ancient Greece where adultery was permitted. While other places punished adultery, Sparta had a different approach with its strong and masculine culture. This sparked an idea for me to write about individuals visiting Sparta to experience this unique aspect of their society. I am interested in exploring how men and women organized themselves in Sparta, as our modern society is often confused on this matter.
Writing sex scenes can be a challenging task. What is the key to crafting effective sexual content?
Making it enjoyable. Create a glamorous environment and generate a sense of thrill. Imagine yourself sharing it with someone. My late husband, publisher Leo Cooper, was fantastic in bed and passed away 10 years ago. I would often fantasize about our intimate moments together.
What was your reaction to Rishi Sunak’s statement that he enjoyed your novels?
Wasn’t that thoughtful? I shared a copy of Tackle! with him and received a pleasant letter in return – or perhaps it was from his secretary – expressing his excitement about receiving it. I have invited him to attend my launch party. I recall mentioning in the past that I greatly admired John Prescott but wasn’t overly enthusiastic about Tony Blair. He found this amusing and joked about being overshadowed by Prescott. I have also had the opportunity to interview Mrs. Thatcher, so I’ve had the chance to interact with multiple prime ministers.
Sunak referred to your books as something that brings pleasure but may also make you feel guilty. Do you believe in the idea of guilty pleasures?
The idea may seem strict. Why should we feel shame for enjoying ourselves? However, I receive delightful letters from young adults who confess to reading Riders while hiding under their covers. It’s truly satisfying to provide others with indulgent pleasures in this manner.
Can you provide any information about the upcoming television adaptation of Rivals?
Not much. Disney want me to keep my trap shut. But I’ve seen the first episodes and it’s wonderful.
Will it bring your books to the attention of a new generation?
I am optimistic that younger generations may recognize me due to my advanced age. However, I came across an article stating that the youth are no longer interested in reading about love and relationships. It seems they are not sexually active and have no desire to get married. I hope this is not the case.
Are you bothered by pretentiousness in literature?
In the past, I would often claim that the literary community can be categorized into two groups: those, like myself, who crave positive reviews in the Guardian, and those in the Guardian who yearn for successful sales like mine. Isn’t that disheartening?
What have you been reading lately?
I recently enjoyed reading Why Mummy Drinks at Christmas, a fantastic book written by Gill Sims. Caragh Bell is an excellent author. I am a fan of Jojo Moyes and Helen Fielding, and I also like to revisit classic books. Currently, I am rereading works by Anthony Powell and Proust.
Does the process of writing become simpler as one gets older?
Unfortunately, I no longer have the opportunity to see my loud friends as I live in rural Gloucestershire. These are the individuals whose every utterance I used to feel compelled to record.
Are you still using your reliable manual typewriter, Monica, to write your books?
Yes. She’s old and grey now, like me. Her type comes up rather grey but I’ve written every book since Riders on her. She’s a star, is my Monica.
Did you previously refer to yourself as a “rackety wench”? Is this still the case?
Was I present? All individuals enjoyed themselves in the 1960s. I had an enjoyable experience but tied the knot at the age of 24. I am no longer a wild and lively woman. However, one of my acquaintances, who is 89 years old, recently joined a dating application and found a new romantic partner. She was previously married to a dull husband. Now, she is experiencing the most satisfying intimacy of her life. I am not going to engage in such activities as I have forgotten how, but it is remarkable that she is able to do so at her age.
Do you still consider yourself a romantic?
Certainly. While currently centered around canines. I have a strong affection for creatures. I provide meals for the avian species twice daily. At noon, doves descend to receive their sustenance.
What is the secret to being happy?
Feeling loved and having a job where others acknowledge your efforts with praise. It may seem insignificant, but it holds value. I have always believed that the key to a successful marriage is the sound of creaking bed springs – from laughter, not just physical intimacy.