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.
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
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.
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.
Our 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.
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
Yet, 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.
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.