Author on the ascendant Jo Hogan asked me idly one evening last week on Twitter if I’d be blogging about the London launch of What a Way to Go. Thanks for the idea, Jo, and here's my post in response...
I hate being late to things. I'm not sure where this anxiety stems from, but sometimes it means that I end up being almost an entire half-day early for things. The added bonus is that unexpected things happen to me, which is rich fodder for us authors. True to character, I got to Notting Hill on the night of my book launch with two and a half hours going begging...
Standing outside the tube, I honestly don’t know what came over me, but I found my feet walking towards a hairdressers. I then did something that I have never done, and I swear (especially to Tom) that I will never do again. I paid over £30 for someone to wash and blow-dry my hair. Mainly, I *think* I decided to do this because it took my mind off having to do a speech later on in the evening; I could just concentrate on the nice beige ceiling and not think about how many pounds per minute were dribbling out of my wallet while conditioner was being massaged into my scalp.
Frankly, it is lucky that I didn’t have my credit card on me, because then I walked along to Lutyens & Rubinstein bookshop, where the launch would be held aeons later, and I met the lovely Tara Spinks who could have sold me the telephone directory with her gentle manner. With only inches to spare in my rucksack, I could only afford enough space for The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North which I decided I would read on the train journey home the next day. In the event, I didn't read a sentence, but that is an entirely different story which involves my friend Angharad, buttered rice cakes, going up and down in elevators aimlessly in Waterstones, splattering people with coffee and sprinting to Platform 4b in Birmingham New Street with a raging hangover.
Back in Notting Hill, I still had an hour to kill. I thought I’d better get my glad rags on so I found a little café nearby - which I won’t name for reasons which shall become clear - and got changed into my little black dress which I was pairing with black tights and black ankle boots. Unbeknownst to me, not only would my editor Margaret Stead be wearing a LBD with black boots, but my agent Sophie Lambert was to choose this outfit, too. Individually, I am think we may have looked rather chic. But as a trio, I think we probably looked as if we were kitted out for a funeral. If I have one regret from that evening, it is that we didn’t get a group photo of the three of us.
In the cafe's tiny cubicle toilet, I changed into my vintage dress which was wrapped in a plastic bag and at the bottom of my rucksack. At the counter, I then ordered a peppermint tea and went on Twitter to take my mind off my speech. The anxiety began to rise, despite trying to drown it in herbal tea and well-meaning tweets.
As a student at university, it was one of my well-known traits that I’d leave a trail of cardigans, coats and scarves dotted around other friends’ houses in Leamington Spa. This was usually because I was so head-in-the-clouds that I just plain forgot about them. Sadly, this wasn’t the case with my £3 jacket which I’d bought from CRAFT in Aberystwyth. As I sipped at my tea and tried to think of something arrestingly charming to write on Twitter and, later on, to seemingly ad lib that evening in my speech, a large black beast of a cockroach emerged from underneath the table next to me and pointed its little antennae in my direction.
It was at this stage that I decided it was probably time to get a wiggle on. Sadly, in the rush to exit, I forgot my jacket. I hope somebody in Notting Hill is wearing it. The jacket may have only been three quid, but it was lined, and was a silk-wool mix. Plus there was an Arts Emergency pin badge on it.
With twenty minutes still in the balance, I happened upon a charity shop which was lightly stocked with designer brands displayed as if they were still in the boutique from which they had originated, probably just one or two seasons before: sparingly and in colour order. I fingered a Dolce and Gabbana belt for sale at £30 and talked myself out of buying it, and then out of the shop.
Instead, I stumbled into Holland and Barrett next door and put some frankincense calming balm on my wrists and stood right next to a misting machine which wafted essential oils around my already quite slick hair. By then it was six o’clock and time to arrive at the bookshop. I was blow-dried, be-calmed and frankincensed-up. I was ready for anything.
The day before the launch, my eight-year-old daughter had been off school with a mystery stomach cramp illness, so I hadn’t been able to practice my speech out loud at home; her beady eyes were watching my every move in case I went towards the biscuit tin. So instead, I’d driven half a mile down the lane with a blanket and a cup of tea to practice my speech in the car. A local farmer had stopped, wound down the window and asked me if I was OK. I clearly didn’t look OK. I wasn't OK. I said I was fine.
I had memorised the first line of my speech. It went something like, ‘Although my Mum and Dad split up when I was five because they didn’t love each other any more, they always loved me unconditionally and told me I could do or be anything without placing expectations upon me. This book is dedicated to them…’ However, not only was this a bit too schmaltzy for a first line, it was also to be delivered with my Mum in the audience. And my Mum is the Queen of the Withered Eyebrow Raise.
In fact, as the words began to come out of my mouth, her eyebrow seemed to rise above the fifty-plus audience and quiver in the air atop peoples' heads. I panicked and glanced at my friend Cate for back-up. Cate had already started to cry before I’d even begun to speak. This wasn't helping matters. I metaphorically tore up the piece of paper in front of me right there and then, and just spoke from the heart instead. My mum shouted out, when I'd finished the bit when I mentioned her and dad, 'You're welcome.' Love her.
The rest, frankly, is a blur because from there on in, I decided to freewheel, to hang loose and enjoy the fruits of many years of writing, sweating, worrying, over-thinking and arriving epically early for things. What a Way to Go is in the wild, and I am grateful that I got the opportunity to publicly thank those people who made it possible, especially my agent, publisher, editor and publicist. In fact, let me correct that, especially everyone.
To celebrate the book's publication, I took part in a little Blog Tour – all the posts are available at the bottom of this page. Do check them out if you have an idle half hour; posts range from 1980s fashion faux pas to mixing pop music and politics to what I'd resurrect from 1988. Thank you to all the bloggers who supported the book on this tour, and to Diana Morgan at Ruth Killick Publicity for putting it together.