Karen Wheeler is an award-winning fashion and beauty writer and successful novelist.
A former fashion editor of The Mail on Sunday, she is a three-time winner of the prestigious Jasmine Literary Award and is celebrating the publication of her second book this month.
Karen grew up in Ellesmere Port before studying modern history at King’s College, University of London.
Karen, whose first book – Tout Sweet – based on her relocation to rural France, was published in July 2009 – worked at Sotheby’s before joining trade fashion magazine Drapers Record as a trainee fashion journalist.
During her career she has interviewed many of fashion’s top names including Karl Lagerfeld, Giorgio Armani and Calvin Klein before she decided on a distinct change in tempo and renovated a farmhouse in Poitou-Charentes, central western France.
Tout Sweet and her new offering Toute Allure: Falling In Love In Rural France
chronicle her adventures in creating a new home and a new life.
What are your memories of growing up in Ellesmere Port?
Well, I probably shouldn’t say this but some of my most vivid – and hazy – memories are of nights spent in the Woodies and The Strawberry, once I’d reached the age of eighteen of course.
I had a great gang of friends at school, some of whom I really miss even now. I also remember the many hours I spent in the reference library in Ellesmere Port town centre, in a desperate attempt to understand O-level physics – I was a bit of a swot.
I’m really proud of the fact that I grew up in Ellesmere Port and I miss the northern sense of humour.
What or who has been the greatest inspiration behind your career?
I never had a mentor as such, but as a child I had a hardcore Enid Blyton habit and I think it was my love of her books that made me want to be a writer myself.
Did any particular teacher inspire you?
There were several teachers who inspired me and I will always be grateful for the wonderful education I received at Ellesmere Port Catholic High.
My history teacher Michael Jolly was a very inspirational teacher, as was Andre Berzins who taught English.
It was the practice of writing last-minute history essays at lunchtime that stood me in such good stead for a career in journalism. And we all though Mr Berzins was the last word in cool. He once caught me doing my homework for another subject in his lesson and simply said, ‘well you’d better get on with it then’.
What do you consider your greatest achievement professionally?
Apart from writing Tout Sweet in six weeks, it was probably surviving four years as fashion editor of the Mail on Sunday. I was working with some of the most talented names in newspaper journalism but, unfortunately, I wasn’t one of them!
In fact, I was probably the worst newspaper fashion editor ever. I remember starting one piece on the return of the choker necklace with a long quote from Germinal, by French novelist Emile Zola – not exactly snappy! I feel hugely privileged to have worked there.
What’s the best advice you could give to young people starting out in their career? Think big and know that you can do it if you are determined.
To date, what is your biggest regret professionally?
Hiring a beauty assistant who seemed sweet and enthusiastic but who turned out to be a Rosa Krebb in hipsters and stilettos.
Do you have a personal philosophy?
Yes, seize opportunities when they arrive or, to put it more succinctly, just do it!
I also believe that you should heed your gut feeling wherever possible.
What are your plans for the future?
I’ve just started working on book number three, provisionally entitled Sweet Encore, which should hopefully be published next year.
Looking back can you identify a turning point in your career where you started to believe in your own success?
Wow – I don’t think I’m in that enviable position yet. Mostly, I manage to focus on the failures.
But probably when the emails and messages began to roll in from readers of Tout Sweet, along with the wonderful reviews on Amazon, I realised that the book was going to be a success.
Recently an offer was made for the film rights to Tout Sweet and the US rights have just sold, which feel like significant turning points of sorts.
When times have been tough, what has motivated you?
When times are tough it has only ever made me more determined. And I’m a great believer in the mantra ‘keep calm and carry on’ though in fact I never manage to achieve this myself. I practically have a degree in panicking and if there something to worry about I will find it.
Karen’s latest book, Toute Allure: Falling In Love In Rural France, is published by Summersdale, £8.99, this month. She also has a blog that details her everyday life in France www.toutsweet.net.