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The Truth About Summer

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And here it is…I give you…Summer.  Ta da!  After a couple of false starts, it finally feels as if the rain is over and summer can begin.  Brighton certainly thinks so.  On the way back from the school run, I saw people with towels under their arms, walking towards the sea like zombies, pre-nine o’clock.  What is this?  The Med? 

 

You can’t knock the dedication of the sun worshippers.  These are the girls and boys, who know that they can strip off and lie on a beach in a bikini or shorts all day, reading a book, or lying with headphones on, just simply looking great.  They make the art of doing nothing seem not only impossibly glamorous, but blissfully effortless too.

 

I never been one of those people. 

 

Don’t be fooled by the sun-worshippers.  In my experience, of all the seasons, the summer bills itself as the most effortless, but is actually the most effort.  And once it starts, there’s no respite from barbeque preparation and beach trips.

 

And there’s personal effort required, too.   Whilst everyone else is oooh-ing and ahh-ing at the weather, the bikini season fills me with dread.  I always think that when summer hits,  I’ll be ready.  I’ll be waxed, tanned and sorted with funky little skirts and tops, but it never happens.  The sun comes out and Bam! I go into a full-scale panic.  That denim mini-skirt?  With these legs? You’ve got to be kidding. 

 

Then I go through the guilty stage and start muttering to myself: Why didn’t I go on a diet when it was raining? I could have been to Pilates, yoga three times a week and now it’s too late, because any second now I’ll have to expose upper arms.  Thighs even.  Eek!

 

I scour women at the school gates.  Oooh, she’s got nice Birkenstocks.  Are Havaiana flip-flops still in?  Why is she wearing that T-shirt and not sweating?  Actually, why is nobody apart from me sweating? 

 

It’s not the stripping off thing that worries me about summer.  Don’t get me wrong, I like nice weather, but during the day I’m indoors working and looking at it through the window.  Nobody talks about it because we’re supposed to be happy, but looking out at nice weather, when you’re too busy to be in it, is slightly depressing. 

 

No doubt, I’ll do what I usually do and pluck an old favourite frock from the cupboard and hit the English Riviera in my large sunhat and shades, assuring myself that it’s OK, because you get all sorts down on the beach.  There’s even some whiter than me.  Besides, it’s hardly a fashion parade, when a beach trip is a military operation with three kids and a husband in tow.

 

Within minutes of arrival, I have replicated what looks like crash site as the kids strip off.  Then I field-marshal multi-directional questions, delving to the bottom of my bags for sun cream, hats, jelly shoes and swimming costumes.  In seconds they want sandwiches, drinks, crisps, then it gets chilly and they all want jumpers and towels.

 

As the carnage spreads and my entourage race around with pots of sea water and squirty water guns, and slimy sea-creatures for me to examine, the tanned girls in their skimpy bikinis and little towels usually leave.  I should feel sorry for them, but I don’t.  Go on, love, that’s it.  Go and read your book in peace.  Skinny cow.

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Foisting myself out into the great unknown

Well Hello! This is my first ever blog. I feel a bit weird about writing it, foisting myself out into the great unknown. Somehow with books, it’s more civilized. By the time my words are written, edited, polished and published I feel a reassuring distance from them. If I happen to see a punter in a bookshop pick up one of my books, then after the initial adrenalin rush, the only panic I feel is because I can’t recall the character’s names or remember how to pitch my novel well. There’s a vague sense of pride, but the words in the book have nothing to do with me anymore. Whereas this…well this is immediate. Scary. There might be…feedback.

As a writer, feedback is a tricky area. Asking for it never turns out as you expect it to.  I’ve learnt never, ever to ask someone in a bookshop if they’re going to buy my book. It terrifies them and puts them in a horrible spot. Quite often they refuse to believe that you’re actually the author, as if anyone might pose as an author for fun.  People also don’t expect authors to actually talk, as if talking and writing are mutually exclusive. I suppose people assume that female authors ought to be bouffy and dressed in a white power suits and bespectacled and tweedy if they’re a man.  The last time I told someone they were holding my novel in their hands, they demanded proof of ID.  So I had to get out my bank card, dropping nappy wipes and baby milk in the process.  So terribly glam.  They didn’t buy my book.

But nevertheless the desire for feedback is undeniably strong. When Come Together came out, Emlyn and I stalked a man in Manchester train station who was reading our book. He remained glued to the pages all through the ticket buying, through the barrier, onto the train. He didn’t stop reading, but he didn’t laugh once. By London, even though he hadn’t looked up from our carefully crafted comedy, we were both despairing and Emlyn refused to let me grill the poor bloke as to why he hadn’t so much as smiled. It was just as well, as it turned out later that he was a critic.  He said our book was hilarious. Never trust the critics, I say.

The next time I saw someone reading our book, Emlyn wasn’t on hand to stop me. I marched up to the poor unsuspecting woman on the beach and asked her if she was enjoying the book in her sandy hands. She said that she was, but was quite confused that I’d asked. Again, I guess you don’t expect to see an author in a bikini. When I told her that I’d written that very tome with Emlyn, I turned to introduce him and saw that he’d disappeared into the sea with our daughter and looked as if he was swimming the channel to get away from his embarrassing wife. And this is a man who hates cold water. The woman left the beach almost immediately and I was left standing there, scratching my head.

So I guess you have to be thick-skinned when it comes to feedback. I saw one of my books on a second-hand stall on the beach front the other day. My eldest asked the stall-holder how much it was. He said a pound, but she could have it for fifty pence, as it wasn’t very good!

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