The Launch Party, Summer 2000
I remember very well the night we came up with the idea for Girls’ Night In. I was at the Groucho Club with Fiona Walker. We had been talking about how much competition there was in the chick lit world and were wondering if we might harness some of that competition by editing an anthology, which we would sell for pots of cash. While we were plotting world domination, Jessica Adams arrived.
I’d never met Jessica before but she knew Fiona well. As we were introduced, Jessica said, ‘Have you just been dumped?’ I told her I hadn’t. ‘Well,’ she said. ‘You will be. But don’t worry because you’re also going to have a best-selling book with me.’
I didn’t take much notice of Jessica’s pronouncement but just three days later, my long-term boyfriend did break up with me. So, I decided that Jessica must be onto something when she suggested that Fiona and I do our anthology for charity rather than personal gain. Specifically, for War Child. Ringing around the whole chick-lit community, asking them for stories, kept me from dwelling on my break-up for sure!
Pictures from the party bring back such a happy time in my life. New friends and a great sense of community. We three editors – Jessica, Fiona and I – decided to accessorise with pink to match the book cover and the party invites. I think that’s the one and only time my pink cowboy hat had an outing.
I’m ashamed to say that I can’t for the life of me remember where the party was held. I think it was some sort of art gallery in Fitzrovia. But I do remember that it was a great night and I floated home with a wonderful sense of achievement. From a conversation in the Groucho Club to a real book stuffed full of the best of women’s commercial fiction. It’s amazing what you can do with enough chardonnay.
The First Royalty Cheque, Autumn 2000
These pictures were taken at the headquarters of our publisher Harper Collins in West London, where we gathered to hand over the first royalty cheque from Girls’ Night In to the team at WarChild. That cheque represents over two hundred thousand sales and there were many more to come. It was an incredibly proud moment.
Trip To Kosovo, October 2000
The team at War Child soon put the money raised by Girls’ Night In to good work and in October 2000, Fiona Walker and I travelled to Pristina in Kosovo to see the first of several safe play areas built with the GNI funds. The playground in most of these pictures was right in the centre of Pristina, on an area of land that had been cleared of mines and unexploded ammunition. The idea was that Muslim and Christian children would be able to come together to play in safety.
You can see from the photographs that Kosovo was still under the care of the UN at the time we visited and we spent a lot of time with the Royal Marines, who were helping to build War Child’s playgrounds as an exercise in building links with the local community.
It was an eye-opening trip. We stayed with War Child’s local representative, Dardan, and heard how his family had been separated during the war. His mother and sister spent months hiding in the basement of their house in Pristina, not knowing if the men of the family were dead or alive. We met many children who had lost their parents and were living from hand to mouth.
Yet, Pristina felt full of optimism that sunny October weekend. I know I came away from the experience feeling energised even as I realised that there was still so much to do. Seeing War Child in action in Kosovo was the impetus for continuing the Girls’ Night In series.
On a personal level, it will go down as one of the high points of my life. We opened the playground on my birthday and not only did all the children who’d gathered there that day sing to me, I got the bumps from the Royal Marines! Best birthday ever for sure!
Chris Manby December 2014