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Excerpt: The Other Side of the Story

This summer's great beach read is set in the world of London publishing.

By Marian Keyes - April 30, 2004

7:10 p.m. Monday evening.

Most people had already gone home when Jojo started to fill in the Book News questionnaire.

Name
Jojo Harvey

Age
32

Career path?
Three years in the NYPD (no, really.) A few months barmaiding when I first came to London, six months as reader in Clarice Inc., before being promoted to assistant, then junior agent. Made full agent four years ago and moved to Lipman Haigh Agents a year and a half later.

What's your favorite smell?
Mark Avery, Jojo scribbled, wishing she could inhale him right then.

No, wait; she could not write that. Quickly she scored so many lines though it the page almost tore. What had others put? A quick flick through previous editions showed that some bow-tied old guy had written "the aged must of a rare first edition." Another, his tie even bigger and floppier, "The fresh ink of a new author's first novel."

Richie Gant (no tie at all because who wears ties with a t-shirt) had written "Money" and his crassness had had all of publishing buzzing. But, Jojo thought reluctantly, she had to admire the guy's honesty...

Next question.

What makes you depressed?
Richie Gant.

A pause, then more heavy pen scoring.

What's your motto?
Richie Gant must die!

Nope, couldn't put that either.

Jesus. She'd wanted, really badly, to be asked to do this questionnaire, but it was way harder than she had expected.

Which living person do you most admire?
Mark Avery

Which living person do you most despise?
Mark Avery's wife? No, no, no. It's got to be me—see next question.

What traits do you dislike most in others?
Women who hit on married men.

What would you change about yourself?
Apart from my boyfriend having a wife and two children?

How about her perfectionism? she wondered. Her tenacity? No, she thought: It had to be her calves. They were too hefty and leather knee-boots were a no-no for Jojo. Even stretchy sock boots were a bit of a struggle. A common enough complaint perhaps, but on Jojo, the zip wouldn't go all the way up even on ankle boots. Worst still, she insisted her calves had the mottled consistency of corned-beef. As a result she nearly always wore tailored trouser suits to work. They had become her trademark. (Another goddamn one.)

How do you unwind?
Sex with Mark Avery. Or, if he's not around, a bottle of Merlot and a wildlife program, especially the ones about baby seals.

What makes you cry?
A bottle of Merlot and a wildlife program, especially the ones about baby seals.

Do you believe in monogamy?
Yes. Yeah, I know, how can I ? I'm a hypocrite. But I never meant for this thing with Mark to happen. I'm not that kind of person.

Which book do you wish you had agented?

Easy, she thought, not that she'd ever fess up, even under torture. It was Fast Cars, the current talk of the town. A great novel except that Richie Gant was the agent—not Jojo—and he'd secured a £1.1 million advance at auction. Jojo had had similar coups but nothing as high and she had been disgustingly envious even before Richie Gant made a special trip down the hall to her office to wave the contract at her and crow, "Read it and weep, Yank."

Where do you see yourself in five years time?
As a partner in Lipman Haigh Agents. And hopefully a lot sooner than five years. Like, as soon as someone retires.

At Lipman Haigh there were seven partners—five based in London and two in the Edinburgh satellite. Then there were a further eight agents who weren't partners, and while there was no way of knowing who the board would pick to replace the next retiree, Jojo had hopes that it might be her. Although there were three agents who'd been there longer than she had, she brought in a lot of income to the agency—for the last two years she'd generated more than any of the other agents.

What's your favourite phrase?
What doesn't kill us makes us funnier.

What are your distinguishing qualities?
I can whistle for a taxi and swear in Italian. I do a great Donald Duck impression and I can fix bikes.

What five things could you not live without?
Cigarettes, coffee, vodkatinis, The Simpsons... what else? A regular heartbeat? More cigarettes.

What achievement are you proudest of?
Quitting smoking. I think. It hasn't happened yet.

What's the most important lesson life has taught you?
Bad hair happens to good people.

She paused. This is total crap, she thought, sticking her pen back in her hair where it was more useful. Manoj would have to do it. It was time to meet Becky.

This is excerpted from The Other Side of the Story, by Marian Keyes. Copyright © 2004 by Marian Keyes and published by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Excerpted with the permission of the publisher. Keyes will read from The Other Side of the Story at the Lincoln Center Barnes & Noble in Manhattan on Monday, May 3, at 7 p.m., and you can buy the book at Amazon.com.



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