Bernadette, much prefers to be called Bernie. If I call her Bernadette, she will assume that I am telling her off. Hmm... now then Bernadette...
I suppose I should forgive Bernie for the delay in this interview (even though she was the first one on my 'To Do' list, as I'm a massive fan of hers) because she's an incredibly busy woman.
I bumped into Bernie in the leafy suburbs of London, just as she was returning home from an afternoon at the theatre. Wrapped up in a huge knitted scarf, Bernie grinned guiltily and invited me in.
After waiting a moment for a response, I followed Bernie to the place where she likes to hang out the most - her desk - where she is 'normally locked in an unholy partnership with her Apple Mac', as she would say.
I was aware that she often falls asleep the moment she sits down, hence the urgency to get the interview started. Bernie blames the design of the seats for her sudden lapses into slumber. Personally, I just think she's like a cat and could sleep anywhere...
1. Could you describe, in your own words, the molecular changes and structure of dough, once it has been cooked?
Yes, I could, but I choose not to.
Oh, well that's a disappointing start Bernie! I would have thought that a woman with your creative expertise would have known the answer to this simple question and be willing to share it with your readers.
Nevermind, let's move on swiftly, I can see that your eyes are beginning to droop...
Hmm. My wedding reception was held at the House of Lords. (Did you know that?)
Ah, no, I did not know that. How interesting! You must feel very important. Was it actually in the chambers? Hmm... I'm guessing that there must have been a very small dance floor... but plenty of seats for your guests Bernie!
Every novel is a group effort. Yes, the author creates the tale from her own imagination, and sets it all down, but then there are hundreds of decisions to be made about the title, the cover, the publication date and each of these decisions can have an enormous bearing on the eventual sales. My publishers felt my books weren't reaching as many readers as they should, and wanted me to go in a slightly different direction. So Juliet Ashton was born - doesn't she sound sensible? - and I wrote a less comic, more emotional novel, The Valentine's Card, under that name. When I returned to pure chick lit farce, I became Claire Sandy for What Would Mary Berry Do? and the upcoming novel, which will be out next summer. No title yet for that one!
Ooh, can't wait Bernie - I love all of your books!
The musicals are co-written with my husband and I get to do the fun bits i.e. the dialogue. The screenwriting is breezy once you've nailed down the story arc, but the process of getting things made is long winded. So my favourite has to be novels. It's rewarding, intricate, absorbing
I honestly can't choose one. The first one is always memorable, I guess, because it's written with no real expectation of publication. I recall writing The Reluctant Landlady at my kitchen table, stirring dinner with one hand and scribbling with the other.
That book seems to beg that question. I would love to do a sequel, as I felt very close to those women in that batty commune. They were game, doing their best, getting by. So, yes, one day I might return to their stories, although it's tricky doing that; readers don't always like what you decide to do with favourite characters' lives!
7. What books did you enjoy reading as a child?
I read non-stop. I remember reading cereal packets at the breakfast table; I couldn't countenance not reading while I sat there with my boiled egg. I was a huge Enid Blyton fan (I read them to my daughter now and they bore the arse off me) and I was obsessed with Little Women.
I can tell you that on my very first day I lost a pearl ring I'd had since I was seven years old in a ball of wool. That's not funny, though. I loved that shop. Myself and my assistant - who's still a great friend - used to sit outside in the sun, knitting and enjoying a Pot Noodle. (And yes, I do realise how sad I'm making myself sound by putting this forward as some kind of wonderful memory.)
I think it's a lovely memory Bernie. I can see you and your friend sharing this memory for years to come...
Possibly the one that I sent to the wrong station and almost got sacked over.
Lots of work. I want to keep improving, keep seeing ideas come to life, keep losing myself in the company of characters. And chips.
I really don't know. She might!
12. Do you have a dog, if so, what type is it?
I have not one but two dogs and they're both Cavalier King Charles spaniels. Mavis is orange and white, Zelda is black and tan. Mavis is unspeakably stupid and very shy. Zelda is cheeky and a bit of a git.
I'm reading The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. I'm toiling on the second draft of a funny novel and I daren't read anything too upbeat in case the style is 'catching'. Margaret Atwood's incredibly intense and moving story is just what I need.
DO I? That's a yes. One of my favourite bakes is a very plain sponge that I trot out for birthdays and then decorate to suit the birthday girl/boy. The last time I made it I covered it with chocolate ganache and stood a little cut-out of Jon Hamm from MadMen on it for a friend. But when in doubt, make brownies.
15. As your husband is a composer, would you say that your home is constantly filled with music?
I certainly bloody would. As I type this, faux hip-hop is booming through the ceiling.
I have a study at the back of the house. It has a fireplace and french windows to the garden and bookshelves and a rather nice old fashioned desk. It also has a dog bed containing two dogs who, between them, can snore up a storm.
Hmm... I see what you mean Bernie. They certainly are very noisy pooches.
David Bowie is my favourite recording artist. (His shirts were delivered to my hotel room by accident, once: I tried them on before I called room service to let them know.) But my favourite kind of music is shallow, trivial, life affirming: DISCO!
Ah, I can just see you now Bernie... dressed in a sparkly, lime-green leotard and lemon legwarmers...
I'm ashamed to tell you we've been, en famille, to Sorrento for three years running. But if you were to shout "Quick! Fetch your passport!" I would hope you were taking me to New York.
Quick! Fetch your passport!
End of interview, bye folks...
The South Bank, strolling along, pretending to be French.
I made lasagne for the first time this evening. I took Jamie Oliver's advice and put cinnamon in it. Damn you Jamie.
I'd take my Mum out shopping, tell her I love her and then probably have an argument with her, as that is how it generally went with the two of us.
Truly saddened by this Bernie - big hugs x
Apart from the people I love, I couldn't live without the promise of everything looking better in the morning, which I find it usually is.
I have tons of hobbies. Too many, as I constantly feel guilty about neglecting them. I could knit forever. If I talk to you for more than ten minutes I think of you as a friend I must knit for. You need to like scarves if you hang around me. I sew, also; my daughter is ten and an avid player with dolls. Those plastic girls have vast wardrobes courtesy of me. The beauty of making doll clothes is you can whip up an evening dress while watching half an Escape to the Country. I repurposed the leatherette kneepatch of some old leggings in to a fierce Beyonce-style dress just the other evening. I also cook and I crochet and I paint. All of these hobbies are rather, ahem, sitty downy, aren't they?
Wow - a multi-talented lady!
25. Could you explain why sandwich meat is always round, when bread is square?
Because they are all b*****ds, Tara, and they are out to get us.
Ooh, you seem to have a very strong opinion on this matter Bernie. I do hope it isn't an issue in your house.
Well that's it Bernie, thank you for joining me in this chinwag interview today - now clear off and make me a luncheon meat sandwich!