"When you look at it in the cold, hard, light of day, you don't feel that much emotion. It's very strange." I am on Skype with the writer Plum Sykes and we are talking about dead bodies. Specifically, we are talking about the "absolutely disgusting pictures of people killed in the most horrible ways" that she saw as part of the research for her new murder-mystery series, the first of which will be out May 9. It's called Party Girls Die in Pearls.
"I've always thought, actually, a dead body or death is not as frightening as people think," she says. "The thought of a grisly death is much more frightening than an actual death, I suppose."
I remember reading Plum's stories in my mother's copies of Vogue when I was a teenager. I remember seeing her photos in the magazine's party pages. Unbeknownst to me, the fact that she often appeared in those party pages meant people did not take her as seriously when she eventually wrote a book, the deliciously funny Bergdorf Blondes. A party girl who is also a writer?, everyone thought, but like, hello, did they never read Eve Babitz? She released another novel after that, The Debutante Divorcée, which was one of the first novels I read after the election, when I was desperate to escape reality even if just for a couple of hours. Her novels always feature glamorous women flying around in PJ's (that's short for private jets, darling), so you can imagine that talking about "grisly deaths" is not one of the topics I would've ever imagined discussing with Plum. Yet here we are.
There's good reason for this, as Party Girls is about Nancy and Ursula, two girls who meet on their first day at Oxford University in the late '80s and become obsessed with solving the murder of one of the popular girls at school. I devoured it in two days.
A few weeks later, I talked to Plum over Skype about fancy fowl, It girls, and the one time she saw a dead person ("This guy died next to me on an airplane of a heart attack. I remember thinking, Wow, that man's dead."). It was an absolute dream.
Laia Garcia: When did the idea for Party Girls Die in Pearls first come to you?
Plum Sykes: I went to Oxford University in the late '80s. I think even when I was there, I always thought it would be kind of a funny novel because the experiences were so extreme and amusing, and it was so cliquey and so silly. A little bit like Manhattan, actually. So I always had it in the back of my mind that I would love to write a book about Oxford.
Then, about four years ago, I wrote a Kindle single for Amazon.com which was called Oxford Girl. It was actually a nonfiction, 10,000-word download. I wrote that, and then my agent kept saying to me, "Why don't you turn it into a novel?" At the time, I'd just had my second child and I was feeling quite tired. I'd had very, very bad endometriosis.
LG: Oh, really?
PS: Yeah. I'd had like three operations. At the time, when they had said "Turn it into a book," I didn't have the physical strength or the concentration because of my two children. Then, a couple years ago, I took out that little bit of writing and reread it. I thought, What am I doing? This is so funny, of course this can be a novel.