Paperback Writer

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An experience to ponder – and I welcome your comments.

On Tuesday evening my husband and I had dinner with some colleagues of his and their companions. In the company was a woman I had never met before. When we sat down to talk, she leaned across the table and said, ‘I hear that you’re a…..wri-ter.’
She said the word slowly, struggled with both syllables and I had the distinct impression it was giving her mouth ulcers.
I said, ‘Yes, I am.’
She shook her head to clear her ears and then scanned the restaurant for the Bonjela nurse. ‘But…I’ve never heard of you.’
Neither has the pope. I do not doubt his credentials for a minute.
As nobody appeared to have a solution to this mystery, we started on the breadsticks.

After the third one, she had it figured out. ‘Em, are your books hardback?’
‘Apart for the large print editions, no, paperback.’
‘Ah ha!’ she said, wrinkling her nose in digust at the physical proximity to a person whose book cover bends. ‘That’s it – I only read
hardbacks. That’ll be why.’

I am a pacifist and generally save my ire for situations when it can actually do some good. Nevertheless, it was on the tip of my tongue to mention that Big Brother is so confident of its sales that all the spin-off books are in hardback, to my knowledge, and don’t require reading. All you have to do is look at the pictures. I don’t think that’s what she meant.
Instead I said, ‘Oh.’

After that, the food came and I have seldom seen a starter so assiduously chewed by grown men. They kept their heads down, I chewed my lip, she pontificated.

When the main course arrived she had another go.
‘So have you met Stephen Fry?’ she asked smugly.
I think the correct response to this is Omigod! You’ve met Spephen Fry, tell me all about it but the wine was lovely and the waiter was refilling so I just said. ‘No.’
‘Umm,’ she said. ‘I don’t suppose you move in literary circles.’
(Stephen Fry – if you’re out there I’m sorry about this. I think you’re very literary and I love Twinings Tea but she’d pushed it too far with the tone. )
I said, ‘Goodness, do you consider Stephen Fry literary? I always think of him as an actor/entertainer who writes rather than the other way round. And I love his tea commercials.’
(Stephen – I really am sorry – you’d have found her difficult too.)
I don’t think she’s a tea drinker. She said, ‘So who have you met?’
Ha! In the interests of brevity because we didn’t have all night (and I just knew we weren’t going to be invited back for a nightcap)
I offered just a few names.
‘At the Guildford Festival in October, I met Sarah Dunant, Nicholas Evans and Patrick Gale…’
She didn’t move a muscle.
‘…and Elizabeth Buchan, Santa Montefiore, Katherine McMahon…
Not a twitch.
‘…Harry Bingham?’
‘Jane Yardley?’
There was deadly silence. For goodness sake – are any of you in hardback?
My husband, who doesn’t read fiction, ever, but can read people to within an inch of their last indiscretion, leaned forward and said, ‘Have you read Meg Gardiner?’
Alleluia! Her face cleared, her demeanour lightened and she beamed. ‘Ah, yes, I like Meg Gardiner.’
I didn’t pretend she is a friend of mine -that would have been pushing it.
I’ve read her books – that was enough.

For the rest of the meal we discussed Meg’s Evan Delaney series – the thrills, the high-octane action, the humour.
Even the men joined the conversation.

I didn’t have a dessert or a coffee.
I had Lady Gray.
A lively little number.

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