Joan Ellis: Why I Set My First Novel In Soho

Joan80s Soho. So sexy. So sassy. So sordid. So the right time, right place to set my first novel.

Soho was never so-so. What better backdrop for my first book: I am Ella. Buy me?

Working in advertising agencies in the heart of the city allowed me to get up close and personal with one of the most exciting places on earth.

Boys dressed as girls, and women competing in a man’s world – everywhere I looked sisters were ‘doing it for themselves’ to quote the lexicon of 80s cool, Annie Lennox.

By night, Madame Jo-Jos was, and I hope always will be, home to the beautiful people – impossibly tall, exotic creatures sashaying across the stage in vertiginous heels and feathered frocks.

By day, after a bad morning, my analgesic of choice was usually a glass of something cold dispensed by the latest bar. Staggering out of one of those dark, smoky caverns, my eyes slowly adjusting to the stark afternoon light, I would often collide with an ageing celebrity darting furtively from a sex shop, clutching guilty pleasures in brown bags.

But there was so much more to Soho than sex. Like Ella, I fell in love with one of the best patisseries in town, Maison Bertaux. It’s still there, on Frith Street as gloriously anachronistic as ever. Thirty years on, it remains my spiritual home, baking the best almond croissants this side of Paris. Where better for Ella and Adam to forge their friendship than in this delightful tea-room over a shared slice of heaven?

Soho has always embraced bohos and hobos, actors and admen and treated us all the same. When I was hungry for fame, it fed me. When I wanted to disappear, it hid me in the shadows.

The place buzzed and oozed inspiration. Cinemas, galleries and theatres were all there for the taking, even the streets awash with talent. I remember brushing hands with divine actor, Rupert Everett as our paths crossed on Dean Street. ‘Do I know you?’ he asked with that devilishly delicious smile. I wish. I’m still kicking myself for not asking him to do a voice-over for me. I was lucky enough to work with likes of Harry Enfield, Penelope Keith and Miriam Margoyles. The late, great Paula Yates had even managed to make my C&A radio advert sound cool.

What a wonderful life-long friend Soho has turned out to be. No matter how far I roam, I always go back. As with all the best friendships, it’s like we’ve never been apart as we simply pick up where we left off.

Soho. I salute you. Thanks for being the perfect setting for my 80s tale of mad, bad Adland.


About Joan:

Joan is a copywriter, comedian, columnist, lecturer and a writer. Her novels include I am Ella, Buy Me and The Killing of Mummy’s Boy.

To find out more about Joan, follow the link to her website: 

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Novel Kicks
About Novel Kicks/Laura...
Novel Kicks was founded in 2009 and is run by Laura who is currently living in Hampshire, and lives with husband, Chris and her cat, Buddy. She would love to be a writer. She’s trying to write the novel she thinks so much about. She’s loved reading and writing since ‘Creative Writing’ classes in primary school. When not trying to write the novel or writing snippets of stories on anything she can get her hands on, she loves reading, dancing like a loon, and watching Project Runway and Ugly Betty (her two TV guilty pleasures.) She also has an obsession with chocolate and Jammie Dodgers.

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