Imperfect Past of Romantic Author

fog of memoryThis week I have been contemplating the imperfect past of a romantic author, namely me.

It is imperfect in two distinct ways. First – it was often a pretty messy present at the time. Second – I’m not at all good with recalling precise details. In fact, the only bits I remember with any clarity are the stuff where I went badly WRONG.

London skyline with St Paul's dome and skyscrapers in fogExample: I’m drifting with a vague image of some day, pleasantly foggy, footsteps on wet pavement maybe. And then BAMM!! I’ve fallen over a stranger’s suitcase.

I’ve probably pushed the poor chap into the gutter, to boot. And he’s bleeding and going to miss his train and I can’t even apologise properly because he doesn’t speak enough English…

You get the picture? Wince-making, right?

Selective Memory and Imperfect Past

But can I remember anything else about that time? No. It’s faded into the imperfect past.

In fact, the day after, I had a meeting at Random House about the book that turned into To Marry a Prince.

Now, that is a novel I wrote in white heat over Christmas and the New Year. I turned out 96,000 words in something over six weeks from a standing start.

It’s set in a contemporary but alternative universe, where the Prince Regent’s daughter survived and the V&A is called the Charlotte and Leopold Museum.

And it’s funny and believable and I love it.

BUT can I remember what anyone said to me about it at the publisher’s then or later? No.

wedding handsCan I remember what readers said about it? Well, one said she was disappointed that there wasn’t a big wedding scene in the Abbey.

But that’s the sum total of weeks of work and post publication PR activity; not to mention a lot of very nice things that people said to me at the time.

Yet I can remember every damn mangled word of that non-conversation with the unfortunate foreign visitor I barged into.

Memory Jogger to the Imperfect Past

And then this week, my old friend and one of the Romantic Novelists Association’s Vice Presidents, Catherine Jones, was published twice: her new book, Fates and Fortunes in Little Woodford, being preceded by a letter in The Times on Tuesday. (Woo hoo!)

She was commenting on a precious Times article about lack of equality on University Challenge.  And, oh dear, it so reminded me, sent me crashing again into the elephant trap of the Imperfect Past.

Yet as she reminded me in an exchange on Facebook, the RNA team did incredibly well. Much better than anyone expected.

The Good Stuff the Imperfect Past Pushed Out

First, I remember that the RNA team had to audition to demonstrate that we had an acceptable level of general something or other. Clearly no one expected us to get through that. As I remember it, the four of us met with a dozen or so other candidates.

Then we all sat round a board room table and took a written test. The TV people treated us gently, as if they expected us to use quill pens. And plied us with consolatory coffee.

The four of us went to Manchester to film the various legs of the quiz – twice. There was a lot of waiting around, especially on semi-final day. Our friends and well-wishers in the audience had to be there at 10.30 and – if we got into the final – wouldn’t be released until 4.00pm. We told them to bring sandwiches.

Annie Ashurst – Mills and Boon best seller, Sara Craven – had won Mastermind in 1997 and was in her element. She was also very funny.  By the time we got in front of the cameras, I was too high on laughter to worry too much about the cameras.

RNA University ChallengeOur New Writers’ Scheme representative, Stephen Bowden, was then writing a mediaeval royal flight in Norman France under the leadership of a soldier-scholar who sounded pure James Bond but was actually an historical person. When we found ourselves drawn against a team from The Economist in the semi-final, Stephen said, “Now we’ll know who rules: Love or Money.”

J Paxman enjoyed it so much, he used the gag to introduce the match.

Catherine, RNA PR Officer at the time, was on a crusade to demonstrate that romantic novelists were not, in her words, “pink, fluffy and dim.”

By the end of the exercise, we all agreed she had pretty much nailed it.

We had a very nice puff in The Bookseller and there were rumours that the Edinburgh Book Festival might consider a panel of romantic novelists in a future programme.

And the publishing industry seemed equally amused and delighted.

The Sting of the Imperfect Past

Christmas Reading Robin HoodYet, having said all that, when I read Catherine’s letter to The Times, my first reaction was to pull the covers over my head and stay there, like Bertie Wooster surprised by an aunt before his morning tea. And groan. For I did not remember the fun, the games we won, or the general celebrations that followed.

Why?

All I could remember was one of the questions I got wrong. Because it was something I knew, that I’d known since childhood, like I know that the Scarlet Pimpernel was Sir Percy Blakeney, that Little John pulled Robin Hood into the river after they’d wrestled, that Ratty was the kindest, sweetest, most practical animal in the forest. Only I had a brain freeze and said the wrong name. And, yes, it still makes me cringe.

So this blog is by way of exorcising that. We had fun. We did what we set out to do. I tripped over my virtual feet in the process. Nobody cared but me, even then.

It. Doesn’t. Matter.

Free at last.

Sophie Weston Author

Sophie

12 thoughts on “Imperfect Past of Romantic Author

  1. Joanna

    I can SO identify with this. I do exactly the same and I wish I didn’t. But I think there may be two kinds of people: the ones who remember their own stupid mistakes, like me, and the ones whose memories are more balanced. I wish I were the latter but, sadly, I’m not.

    Reply
    1. Sophie Post author

      Thought I’d replied to this but it obviously didn’t stick. No doubt the Dreaded WiFi of Kensington again.

      Basically I said that I’d always thought you were much less of a flake than I was and am delighted to find that even you share this horrid habit. Gives me hope!

      Reply
  2. Liz Fielding

    I remember all the awkward, clumsy things I ever said, Sophie. And the memory helps with awkward moments in books, because I can actually feel the excruciating embarrassment fifty years later. Take notes. It’s all material… (I’m misquoting Nora Ephron’s mother._

    Reply
    1. Sophie Post author

      You are so right, Liz. And some of those horrors get magnified so much by the years that they do service for really big stuff in books, instead of the piddling little clumsiness they were at the time.

      It reminds me of the PG Wodehouse short story where the (romantic) author builds a afternoon’s squabble with her boyfriend into a 10 year separation in her novel. Ouch.

      Reply
  3. Elizabeth Bailey

    Can so identify with this. I still remember a cringe-making moment from my teens when I was on board ship and slighted the captain. Trivial and I am sure he didn’t even notice, but I have never forgotten. There are others, but they will remain decently veiled, thank you!

    Reply
  4. Catherine Jones

    I remember it being quite fun… right up to the moment when we had to walk into the studio and then there was an appalling ‘Oh f**k’ ten minutes while I thought, ‘what have I done.’ And the next memory is of the lovely researcher bouncing about, thrilled we’d done so well. The HIGHEST score of any team in the first round. Yeah, we did ok.

    Reply
  5. Jenny Harper

    I so agree with you about only remembering the bloopers. But all I remember of the University Challenge venture is how well you did – and Stephen’s face as he did some impenetrable calculation and got the right answer. You could almost hear Paxman’s jaw hitting the floor. Happy days!

    Reply
  6. Mrs Julie Vince

    I remember the RNA team going from the 2005 conference to travel to record this programme, Sophie, it was so exciting and different. And as for cringe making moments – we all have them. I think it comes with ‘having a go at things!’ Better cringing than regretting you never had a go in the first place. My friend and I were on the train to London for an RNA do – and she had a liquid yogurt for the journey, put the bottle between her knees whilst looking for something in her handbag – the lid flew off right across the crotch of a suited gentleman opposite. I can honestly say, his poor face when my pal dragged a packet of wet-ones from her handbag and started mopping him up was … well yes his expression was filled with pure horror! Actually – I think I need to use that – soon! I think I blanked that memory out until I read your article! Thank you for sharing and have a lovely Sunday x

    Reply

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