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Hillary Rohde’s Memoir, The Other Side, Launched at The Book Lounge

Hillary Rohde

“It’s sad, it’s funny, this yarn will have you in stitches!” So said Sebastian du Plessis at The Book Lounge earlier this week when he introduced and welcomed Hillary Rohde, new author and former knitwear designer. In her memoir, The Other Side, Rohde, who grew up in South Africa, tells a wry story of how she came to be a woman of the world. The book covers the adventures that eventually saw her building an international knitwear empire and losing it.

Hillary Rohde and Stacey Stent The Other SideRohde went to the UK as a young adult to study art. She soon found herself in the company of “the aristos”, high society gypsies who meandered the country on beautiful horses.

She told a hilarious tale of how she bought a horse unwittingly at an auction. She got carried along thinking, What fun! “But after the sale, when I calmed down, I tried to explain that I didn’t really want a horse. I said I hadn’t really understood. I said I lived in London. ‘I can’t possibly have a horse.’ The auctioneer said, ‘Lady the horse is yours. Please pay for it and arrange to transport it out of here. You have until close of day…’”

She had the horse delivered to a large estate in Cornwall where the rest of the crowd of aristos hung out. “They were all titled, all very rich, and were in many ways like the gypsies we travelled with occasionally too. The gypsies were outside the law but the aristos saw themselves as above the law. As soon as they introduced themselves as Count This and Lady That, the police moved away. They were all very tall and very good looking, witty and charming. It was very attractive. They had freedom to do exactly what they wanted to because they didn’t care about anybody else and were very disdainful.”

She socialised with Andy Warhol and Ralph Lauren, and stayed with Mick Jagger for a couple of years until she met her husband, Rick. They travelled on together to a lonely part of Scotland, where she discovered that the local women loved knitting so much that they’d unpick the garments they’d just completed only to start all over again.

Rohde was joined by Stacey Stent in a fascinating and enjoyable conversation that covered some of the amazing turns her life has taken. Stent, a political cartoonist, spoke about her connection to the author that went back to their girlhood. She had been on the receiving end of Rohde’s hand-me-down clothes a child. “Hillary was a trailblazing legend already as a teen,” she said.

Rohde discussed how she came to writing once she’d sold her business. “I was living in three different places and needed continuity. “I embarked on an open university course and started writing. It didn’t matter then where my body was because my head was always in the same place,” she said. Over the years people had told her she should write down the stories she told them. “Once I started writing I was never stuck for a subject. I drew on my own experience. I wrote bits and pieces, strung them all together, and here we are.”

Rohde read various extracts from the book including a remarkable tale of how she came to supply handknitted sweaters – each of which took some 100 hours to knit – to Bloomingdale’s. The author signed copies of her books for the host of eager readers that filled the shop.

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Liesl Jobson (@LieslJobson) tweeted from the launch using #livebooks:

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