Still rid­ing high

The much-loved writer on do­ing proper re­search and equine love lives

Country Life Every Week - - Interview -

Glouces­ter­shire) Chron­i­cles se­ries, she has writ­ten 27 non-fic­tion books, start­ing with How to Stay Mar­ried (1969)—spend suf­fi­cient time in the bed­room—and in­clud­ing works on an­i­mals in war, dog­walk­ing on Put­ney Com­mon and cricket. She ad­mits that she used to be ner­vous about who typed up the fic­tional se­duc­tion scenes: ‘Peo­ple ask how I know these things, but there is such a thing as imag­i­na­tion, for good­ness’ sake.’

The books are crafted on a man­ual type­writer called Mon­ica and cut-and-paste means lit­er­ally that —para­graphs are moved around with scis­sors and glue. ‘I work ev­ery day—i’m very stupid. I’ve been sacked from 22 jobs and I can’t do any­thing else.’ She’s end­lessly self-dep­re­cat­ing, like her nice hero­ines (who al­ways get their man de­spite be­ing a bit soppy). ‘Peo­ple want my women to be more con­fronta­tional and less wet, but I don’t want to do that; I like men.’

Mount!, pub­lished this week, is set in the blood­stock world and took six years to write. This made her pub­lisher fret, but her de­fence is her as­sid­u­ous re­search, which ra­di­ates through the piles of tan­gled clothes and de­cep­tively clever eye for farce; her set­tings, char­ac­ters and plots ring true. ‘It’s like tak­ing an A level or a de­gree. I im­merse my­self in it. I love the re­search—i’m a jour­nal­ist at heart.’ (She had a Sun­day Times col­umn for 13 years and in­ter­viewed Mar­garet Thatcher, who was ‘ter­ri­bly kind’.)

For Ap­pas­sion­ata, Mrs Cooper fol­lowed the Scot­tish Na­tional Orches­tra on tour—‘they played like angels and then went wild with epic par­ties’—night­club owner Mark Bir­ley fixed for her to go to Ar­gentina for Polo and Sotheby’s chair­man Henry Wyn­d­ham in­vited her to a lunch of fine-art con­nois­seurs for Pan­dora: ‘You could smell the money.’ Im­pres­sively, she taught in a girls’ pub­lic school for Wicked!: ‘It was ter­ri­fy­ing. I don’t know how teach­ers do it. Have you seen a re­port re­cently? It goes on for three weeks.’

Mrs Cooper’s own rid­ing ca­reer ended abruptly when she in­jured her arm badly in a nose­dive off her cousin’s pony. ‘I couldn’t ride any more, so I wrote about it; it gets in your blood.’ Nonethe­less, she found Rid­ers the hard­est book to re­search. ‘The rid­ers and the press were un­friendly— they’re sus­pi­cious of ca­reer changes—but a dar­ling man called Ron­nie Mas­sarella [long­time showjump­ing team man­ager] helped me.’

Un­sur­pris­ingly, the rid­ers thawed. Har­vey Smith, of V-sign fame, told her that, in her dun­ga­rees, she had ‘a bum big­ger than Ted Edgar [an­other le­gendary rider]’. ‘Har­vey was feed­ing pop­corn to his horse, but told me not to tell any­one or it would have dam­aged his hard-man im­age.’

For rac­ing au­then­tic­ity, she ob­served Sheikh Mo­hammed and his en­tourage in Dubai and vis­ited the peer­less race­horse Frankel, bor­row­ing the idea of his sta­ble com­pan­ion, a cat, all the time stor­ing up even the small­est tableaux, such as a horse in­con­ve­niently ly­ing down in the start­ing stalls, for fu­ture use. ‘This pompous stew­ard said to an Ir­ish jockey “I think I knew your fa­ther” and the jockey replied “You can’t have be­cause I haven’t an eff­ing clue who my fa­ther is”.’

She was shocked by the ruth­less­ness with which jock­eys can be re­placed, wor­ried about the two-year-olds in Flat rac­ing—‘they seem so young and then they re­tire and the pub­lic don’t get the chance to fall in love with them’—and amused by the cov­er­ing (mat­ing) process. ‘Mark John­ston [trainer] had a sweet horse called Juke­box Jury; you think stal­lions, like men, are ma­cho, but he was lonely in his box, so he had two wives. Off he goes and cov­ers other mares, then he re­turns to them in the evening. Any man would like that.’

I could lis­ten for­ever, but it’s time to leave. The ever-kindly Mrs Cooper thanks me for cheer­ing her up, but, re­ally, it’s been the other way round. Kate Green

‘Peo­ple want my women to be less wet, but I don’t want to do that– I like men

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