1. Merryl, it is such a pleasure to welcome you to the Links Community! You have recently published a wonderful piece of fiction around a Celebrity PA called Maddy Sparks. Was the character based on you and your career? (perhaps tell us a little about the book)…
Thank you so much and I am absolutely delighted to be joining this fabulous community. Writing a novel was a childhood dream, but life gets in the way, you start working and in a blink 25 years have sped by – and those 25 years for me were spent as a celebrity PA so the pace was frenetic and the hours endless. Maddy is not based on me – and neither are her clients based on my clients (I hasten to add), but the world she inhabits, from popping into the dressing rooms at the London Palladium to answering an alarm call at 4 am, were very much part of the world I inhabited, and having her live in leafy Muswell Hill brings it very close to home! It’s called Don’t Make a Scene.
2. What is your favourite quote from your book and why?
Great questions! I think it’s this; ‘My life may be a mess right now, but I can’t rely on anyone else to sort things out for me. Isn’t sorting lives out what I’m supposed to be good at?'
Maddy’s friends and clients see her as resourceful and practical and they rely on her to put everything right, but she doesn’t necessarily have that same faith in herself. When her own life hits a sticky patch and she feels lost but realises that if she digs deep and asks for help where she needs it, she can take control and get her life back on track.
3. Are there any valuable lessons or insights our own PA/EA community can learn from reading your book?
I hope so! A key theme is friendship and the support of a network. Maddy ends up using all her resources, including her professional network, and is moved and uplifted by the way people swing into action for her. She also learns to be true to herself and follow her instincts and not be coerced or bullied into doing things she knows are wrong.
4. How did you first get published?
I tried the traditional route, but it wasn’t happening, so in typical PA fashion I took matters into my own hands and have self-published making me what they call an 'Indie author'. This gives me total control over things like the book jacket but also means it is up to me to promote it. This is where I am calling on all of my network to help me spread the word, and so far, I have been blown away by the support of fantastic people like Bain and Gray supporting me and giving me a platform.
5. You are a key player in the current PA/EA community having been a panel speaker at PA conferences, wrote a few blogs for the likes of PA Life Magazine and even ran a PA training course. Do tell us how you were able to become such an active member in the first place?
At first, working as a celebrity PA back in the day it was very isolated – no office resources to call on like IT or HR but also no colleagues. I really missed that shared experience, so I dipped a toe in the world of networking. Like Maddy, I found most people to be not only supportive but also interested to hear about my role as compared with theirs. A fellow celebrity PA and I joined forces to set up a course to share our hard-won knowledge but also show the similarities PAs in all walks of life share. PAs are such huge wells of wisdom, sometimes becoming an expert in something very niche only to never use those contacts again, but happy to save someone else the trouble by passing them on. I have always been very open about my role and keen to show the reality as opposed the glamour people sometimes imagine it to be.
6. Why is it so crucial get involved with the PA/EA community and how can it help an admin professional’s career?
See above! It’s great to have people who just ‘get it’ when you say you are a PA/EA and that you can let off a bit of steam with. Equally great if you have a bank of trusted colleagues you can share contacts with, and in Maddy’s case turn to when you need help.
7. What was the most rewarding job you have ever had and why?
I was with one client – Julian Clary (part-time) - for 25 years. He was my first and last although I had others at various times over the years. We went through several stages of life - funerals and weddings, including his secret wedding which I planned and executed – even taking the photo on my phone that appeared in all the national papers when word got out. No photo credit sadly… but that’s the life of a PA.
8. What was the most difficult time during your career and how did you persevere?
Things were pretty rough for me in Covid as my clients were all in the entertainment industry and everything just stopped dead. I had no work, and neither did they. It was scary as we had no idea how it would pan out and there was very little support for the arts. That was when I decided to turn to writing properly. I had been doing a bit as a hobby but had the seed idea of my novel and that’s when Don’t Make a Scene was really born.
9. Now that you have published this book, what are your future?
At the start of this year, I decided to stop working as a PA and focus on the writing. Book 2 is planned, staying with some of the key characters and in the Celebrity PA world. Lots of people have asked me what happened to Maddy next, and I grew to know the characters so well, I can tell you!
10. Who are your favourite authors? Did they potentially inspire your current books?
Although I only read fiction I read very widely – I love the classics like Muriel Spark and Elizabeth Jane Howard, and in modern day fiction Freya North and Taylor Jenkins Reid for some pure escapism.
11. What is the one piece of invaluable advice you wish you knew as a young admin professional just starting out?
I wish someone had told me I didn’t always have to say yes!