The following is taken from my speech at the launch party for Exiled by Shireen Jilla, which took place on Wednesday night at the Halcyon Gallery, Mayfair.
One of the irritating factors of getting old is finding you have suddenly forgotten a most important word, or someone’s name, or even the title of a book.
However, forgetting doesn’t come into it with Shireen Jilla.
No one, young or old, could possibly forget her name or anything else about her once they have made her acquaintance in person or through her writing.
Shireen has instantly stepped forward to become Quartet’s most vibrant and irrepressible author. Hence, I have put together these notes most carefully to ensure I don’t leave out anything essential. The publication of her book, Exiled, is, for us, an illustrious event to be celebrated.
I met Shireen only about four months ago, having read her manuscript, found it an absolute page-turner and decided we must publish it. Our first encounter was more than pleasant, more than enlightening – it was indelible.
She is a dynamo of enthusiasm and energy, and she left me reeling with admiration.
In my life I have interviewed more than 600 powerful women, originating from all walks of life, but never did I come across one to match Shireen, who can turn up the heat so forcefully as to render you numb for the rest of the day.
The story she tells so brilliantly in Exiled is also something to set your brain buzzing overtime. You will have to read the book to see what I mean about its frightening power, and how its author spins a story with a rare edge to it.
Boris Johnson, our guest here this evening, has summed it up as: ‘Pacey, punchy, with a climax that slaps you in the face. A twenty-first-century version of Rosemary’s Baby.’
I would go further. Think of Edith Wharton imitating Ira Levin, crossed with Stieg Larsson – and that’s just the book’s Foreword!
Shireen knows what it is like to live as an expat. She has done so in Paris, Rome and New York. People say New York is a town where you go to recharge your batteries before returning to London full of vigour and steely determination to conquer new territories.
Shireen has done just that, and now shares the results with us, having fulfilled the task.
Exiled, her debut novel, is all set to do very well and hopefully to figure in the bestseller lists. It shows its author as a bright new talent on the literary horizon, who writes with flair and a perceptive mind. She is to be nurtured and encouraged and we must give all credit to her agent, Caroline Michel, another delectable and formidable woman, for bringing Shireen forward to stand in the limelight.
Shireen, meanwhile, has unleashed her charms on the startled booksellers of London, who have been finding it very hard to resist her demands. She is truly a woman for all seasons and a force of nature.
That’s enough words from me, except to say that each one in this gathering should buy not just one copy of her book, but several, to give away to friends to help spread the good word.
Anyone who defies Shireen’s call to arms will do so at her or his own risk. I can only add that I wouldn’t care to be in their shoes, for fear of being chastised by her – unless of course, like most men, we tend to enjoy the experience.