Thursday, July 24, 2008

Next week, Agatha Christie

I have suddenly become acutely self-conscious about walking into bookshops. If I do it with anyone else, you can guarantee my book is either not there or stashed on a dusty shelf on the third floor under the heading "We've put it here because we don't think you're going to want to buy it." I walked into a London store for a signing and my Penguin minder told the assistant behind the desk: "We're here for the author signing" and the assistant behind the desk said: "What's the name?" and the nice girl from Penguin said: "Judith" and he said: "Judith who?". That gave me a nice warm feeling. (Infinitely better was the shop we went into which said one of the books had been stolen.) If I am left to walk in on my own, I am forced to wander the shop till I see the book on a table or a shelf; then I have to look at it for a long time to make sure it will not disappear into thin air. When I find a copy, I have been known to move it around to a better place in the bookshop which is a bit sad and apparently what Jeffrey Archer does with his books. The other day I was in a bookshop in the nearest city and was standing next to two women. I was trying to take a photograph of my book because the bookshop had kindly put it in their chart (I know it's not a cool thing to do but hey what do I care? Next time I go in, there will probably be the history of the SAS or a TV cookbook in its place.) The problem was, the two women were right infront of it. I manouvred my mobile phone infront of them by dislocating then telescopically extending my left arm, and just as I pressed the "take-a-picture-complete-with-flash" function, I realised one of the women actually had a copy of Wife in the North in her hands and was saying to her friend something along the lines of "I don't know how she did this." Now, it could have been a prelude to a conversation along the lines of "...set up a blog while being sad and wrote a funny book and had kids and got this shop to sell it. Good on her." Or, it could have been a prelude to another conversation completely which would have sounded more like "...persuaded someone to pay her good money for her wittering, moaning-minny, geek diary." The flash went off at the exact same moment I realised what was happening leaving me no time to scurry away between the 3 for 2 summer reads. I did that breathy laugh thing that announces you to be an utter tosser as they turned around, and said: "That's my book. I wrote that book. Heh, heh." How sad did that look? One of them said: "Really this is your book?" It was definitely one of those moments where you think: "Oh my God. Can I get any more uncool here?" It turned out the girl who was about to tell her friend exactly what she thought of my book (little knowing writer-polizei stalked the shop waiting to pounce on shopfloor critics) also used to live in London and moved to Northumberland. Her friend made me sign the copy. I said: "If I sign it, you'll have to buy it." She said that was OK. I signed it with my name. I felt like signing it: "Walls have ears y'kna."
(On holiday for a week. Back in a while.)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Richard and Judy

I think maybe I was destined to get the train and not the plane because in the taxi, I realised that the red skirt I was wearing is in fact a very old one in which the elastic has perished. I have been wearing it for publicity purposes because even if I am talking about death, tragedy, isolation and depression, if I wear a red skirt and say the book is funny, people seem to believe me. Sitting in the front seat of the taxi though as we swung round the hairpin bends en route for the train station, I looked down and the skirt was around my thighs. I had this sudden vision of me walking onto a live studio set with my skirt hobbling my knees and my magic knickers on display for the nation. Fortunately, nothing seemed to phase my cab driver. Arriving at the station, she dug around in her first aid box and came up with two of the biggest safety pins I had ever seen, thereby saving me from YouTube "wardrobe malfunction" posterity.

The train made it in time and there was even a car to meet me at the station and take me to the studio. It turns out you get your own dressing room when you are on TV. I would have been quite happy at this point just to stand outside the dressing room door reading my name over and over again, but an army of attractive, no-nonsense girls wearing headsets with microphones, and carrying clipboards keep coming to tell you things. While I was in make-up (sitting next to the undercover journalist Donal Macintyre - I just about resisted saying "You're that bloke from the telly arent you? You are, aren't you?" over and over), the assistant producer came in to get me to sign a piece of paper. This could have been a legal disclaimer, or it could have been a mortgage application form for a property in the Algarve Richard and Judy have their eye on. Who knows? By this time, I was too petrified with fear to focus on the words long enough to read them - I just signed it. She said: "Please don't swear. Really. Please don't swear." I had already been told by another girl with a clipboard and headset not to swear. My mind immediately filled up with every obscenity I had heard since the age of five. I said: "Oh God.I swear a lot." Her pretty face tightened. She looked away and said: "Well, please don't." The make-up lady finished and then the hair lady took over transforming my hair into something vaguely reminiscent of a Charlie's Angel (the first series). Then far too soon it was time to tiptoe into the studio and await my turn on the couch. What I wonder is so scary about appearing on TV? Is it the thought millions of people might meet you for the first time and decide you are an idiot? Would that matter in the scheme of things? I looked so striken with nerves, I think even the girls with clipboards were beginning to worry for me. I watched the tail-end of the appearance of the guest infront of me - a silver-haired, urbane and charming Italian historian. He gave Richard grappa and Judy chocolates; in the darkness, I felt like I was nine years old again, arriving at a friend's birthday party without a birthday present because I forgot to bring it to school that morning. As Richard and Judy moved from one sofa set to another, I concentrated on trying to regain the use of my tongue. I thought: "At least my skirt can't fall down." And then I was on.

Judy asks about the book and I look into her eyes which are a piercing sapphire blue, and two words come into my head "Wise woman." I attempt to answer her while thinking: "Oh my God, Judy Finnigan is the reincarnation of a wise woman from the 17th century. And I don't even believe in reincarnation." I cannot shake this thought out of my head for the rest of the interview. At one point Richard fires the question: "Would you describe yourself as a housewife?" If you say "No", it implies you chose not to align yourself with women who do not earn a wage but work themselves to the bone 24/7 as wives and mothers. If you say "Yes", it is disingenuous because I am earning money writing a book and as a journalist. I mutter something about being a working mother and working at home. He won't let it go. He is determined to see me as a housewife. He says: "Do you think you are a very modern edition of a housewife?" I am thinking: "You really are Richard Madeley aren't you?" Their previous guest had undertaken "an epic journey" sailing from Venice to Istanbul over a three month period in a 19th century schooner. According to publicity, his journey "is a fabulous fusion of history, culture and travel as he takes us around the Mediterranean Sea – in the wake of his ancestor, the explorer Alvise da Mosto – to discover the cities and islands where Western civilisation was born." Richard liked him. He is less impressed when I tell him I moved to the country and ran out of petrol five or is it six times? He said: "That's stupid." My behaviour has officially been declared "stupid" by Richard Madeley on national TV - if only he knew I was wearing safety pins to keep my skirt up. He wouldn't think I was stupid then. Judy defends me when he asks why I do not carry a jerry-can in the boot - she even tells him to "shut up". I explain I did learn to fill the car with petrol and he laughs and says "You are funny." I say that in London I used the Tube and the Tube never ran out of petrol. That's the joke. The Tube never ran out of petrol. He says: "No it won't - because it runs on electricity." I think: "I know that." Pretty soon it is over; I go home with a goody bag of Molton Brown toilettries and a thank you card with a lovely picture of Richard and Judy on the front. And you forget the terror - you just think: "They're very nice. I could do that all over again" and "I wonder if Richard Madeley knows he is married to a wise woman?"

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Wifey in the twilight

Am feeling rather nervous about writing anything again in case I am exposed as a big fat fraud who should never have been allowed to write a book. Anyway, here goes - the last fortnight has been a ride.

At any number of points, it would not have surprised me if my husband had shaken me awake and said: "You're snoring again and it's half past eight."

Weird moment number 7: travelling to the launch party on a double decker London bus. This particular bus normally ferries golfers up and down the Northumberland coast, and is called Kenny after the former London mayor who sold him. I clambered up the steep stairs and collapsed into the seat. The bus was full of friends and family; oh yes, and we weren't going to Trafalgar Square despite what it said on the front, we were heading to the local market town and my book launch.

Weird moment number 13: wore the plain black silk frock.(Not weird in itself.) I meant to wear high heeled vintage(that is to say my very oldest, worn-down-to-the-nap) black velvet and glitter rose shoes with it, but forgot to change. Consequently wore beaten up, buckled biker boots that smell if you get too close. We ate haggis balls and ham and pease pudding sandwiches, and I had to keep telling my 80-year-old mother to sit down because I was worried she might keel over with excitement. I said some thankyou's and signed my first books. The whole party was like a cheese and cracker dream where your kindergarten teacher appears with your first acne-smacked boyfriend, and the woman down the road who never liked you, and your driving instructor who had the drink problem. That is to say, the party was a mix of my family, my old London life and my new Northumberland life. Oh yes, along with a smattering of customers from the second-hand bookshop where the party was being held, who stayed on past closing time. These people smiled incredibly warmly at me across the room, then very sweetly bought four copies of the book and asked me to sign them. It took me fully 20 minutes to realise the chap in the waterproof coat had not taught me geography when I was a teenager and come to wish me well.

Weird moment number 26: lying like a lady and her crusader in our marital bed with my husband late last Monday night. Obviously, we were not having sex because we were listening to Radio 4's Book of the Week, and they stop reading if you do that. The episode we were listening to involves my husband and I standing at the window in the self-same bedroom. In it, he wraps his arms around me and says "Don't worry. This is not the thin end of the wedge. I'm not going to ask you to live here." I turned to him in the bed and said: "You heard that right?" The actress reading out my diary is also not me. That is to say there is a woman reading out my diary on national radio. And it's not me. And it's my diary. This Radio Wifey is also much nicer than me, infinitely sweeter and more patient. In fact, if I had ever spoken to my real children the way she spoke to her radio children, they would accuse me of being a green-blooded clone of their bad-tempered, infinitely grumpy and dark-spirited real mother.

Weird moment 39: now this one was straight out of the sitcom pilot loosely entitled "My world has a ragged tear in its space-time continuum and my life is now lived in real time and in an alternative universe which is both the same and not the same at all". Otherwise known as "My appearance on Richard and Judy". An invitation to appear on Richard and Judy when you have a book to promote is huge. So huge that you might be slightly reluctant to admit you have a bad case of laryngitis when "the call" comes from "their people". "Your people" then keep calling you to talk about the fact that it is critically important you stop talking and rest your voice. You think: "Well if you stop calling me, I'll do that." The Richard and Judy cameraman who travelled up the night before for some local filming, warned the very nice Richard and Judy producer about the bad throat. When she rang me, I asked her what Richard and Judy did when they had laryngitis. "Polly" said she believed Judy gargled with salt water. That night I gargled with salt water. It made me vomit. I thought: "Thanks Polly." I suspect I was the guest from hell. Not only was I flirting with the idea of doing my half of the interview with a combination of mime, jazz hands and charcoal sketches, I also missed my flight down courtesy of the fact my husband confiscated my passport a week and a half before. He took it from me saying "I'll put this with the others so you can't lose it." I realised in the taxi due to drive me to the airport that I did not have the passport after the nice cabdriver said: "Have you got everything - got the passport?" (Needless to say, I do not have a photocard driving licence.) I tore out of the cab, ran into the house and ransacked the study and the bedroom. Nothing. I called my husband's mobile several times to no avail. (It turned out he was asleep on the train down to London). After 25 minutes of CID standard searching, I decided it had to be a dash to the train station for the last possible train which would just get me into London in time providing there were no delays. I rang the production team on the mobile. I said: "Slight crisis." It was poor reception and I still had a really bad throat - all she caught was "shhhhhh..crisis." I said: "I couldn't find my passport so I can't get the plane." (I am not sure this has ever happened to the Richard and Judy production team before judging by the intense listening silence on the other end of the phone.) I said: "But the good news is I am on the way to the train station and we think there's a train."
(more follows)

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Making do

Have been shopping for "an outfit" for "the do" - that is to say, Saturday's launch party. The problem is I need to commit a day to it rather than doing it in snaps. I gave it an hour and a half in London which included walking into a couple of designer shops where instead of a cheery "Hello," you get that sweep down-and-up-again of mascara-heavy eyelids to see if you really belong. My tactic when assistants do this is to stand very still and wait for them to meet my eye, then smile as if to say "I may not look it but in reality I am the wife of a Russian oligarch and enormously, hideously, obscenely wealthy - do not be fooled by the Marks and Spencer's handbag." In the past week or so, I also checked out a boutique sale in a hotel in the local market town where you had to try things on between the sales rail and a frosted window and a man gazed at me in blank horror as he appeared round the end of the sales rack with his small child to find me undressing (20 minutes - bearded spectators do not encourage you to linger in your lingerie thinking "Shall I try that just once more?" ). I have also scooted round a department store in the nearest city (1 hour) and yesterday visited a store where silvery-haired ladies obviously go if they fancy "a run-out" (long enough to start seriously considering wearing feathers on my head). I am not entirely convinced I will end up wearing it but I have now bought a plain black silk frock and a buckled leather belt. My mother will complain because it does not shout "Look at me" very loudly. My mother likes me to be looked at, which is possibly why I spent a substantial part of my adolescence in knitted jumpers with pictures on the front - these included a tiger, cherry blossom, an entire willow pattern design once. It is amazing I ever went anywhere.