Yesterday was the twentieth anniversary of Writers in Oxford. I’ve got to write a bit of background for WIO, so will put it on this blog tomorrow. But just to say, what bliss it is being able to talk to fellow writers. I meant to find out if others have, like me, had negative experiences with their families when their books were published, but there was so much else to talk about that the subject did not come up.
On the day that my first novel, Cobwebwalking, was published I waited, wild with joyous anticipation for the congratulatory phone calls from my family. We are descended from the family of Henry Fielding, and every generation since had thrown up a handful of authors. My mother, a best-selling novelist at the end of the second world war, was the first to ring. ‘I have gone right through the ms and found twenty-six spelling and grammar errors,’ she said. I waited for something else. After a silence she said, ‘I just thought you ought to know.’ The second call was from a furious cousin accusing me of stealing her father. My uncle was called ‘Basil’, the same name as my protagonist’s father. And incidentally, my own father is called Basil too. The third accused me of using my cousin’s suffering to make me rich and famous. As I mentioned in my last post, Morgan in Cobwebwalking is based on the situation of my cousin, Harriet.
Book groups are never as bad as this, but sometimes nearly. At one each member arrived with a lists of the errors, factual and grammatical, they had found in the book. One even asked ‘Don’t you have spell check on your computer?’ ‘Cobwebwalking’ was published in 1989.
It was Halloween. I had scraped out a pumpkin and put a candle in the shell I came home really upset and cheered myself up by turning the scraped out pumpkin flesh into soup. I love cooking. It always cheers me up.
I refused all invitations to reading groups after that till my first six books, including ‘Cobwebwalking’, were reissued, last month, by Bloomsbury Reader.
And have now met a reading group who, over glasses of chilled white wine and delicious little eats, asked constructive and intelligent questions about ‘The Wedding of Jayanthi Mandel.’ Thank you. I really enjoyed my evening with you, though I had to admit at one stage that because the book was written so long ago, I had forgotten some of the finer details.
If there is an author out there reading this, does this happen to you? I can remember books written by other people, but the ones that I wrote myself fade easily from my mind.
You can made pumpkin soup in about ten minutes flat not counting the baking part. It’s not Halloween any more, but you can freeze the scraped-out flesh till you want to use it. Otherwise, cut the pumpkin into half, or if it won’t fit in the oven, quarter, and bake in a moderate oven till soft. Scoop out the flesh, put it in a blender with a couple of stock cubes, a green chilli, few scoops of home-made yoghurt (see my blog about ‘Dahi’.) a couple of table spoons of double cream, some chopped coriander leaves, a good grind of black pepper and nutmeg and a splash of olive oil. Blend till it’s a puree. Taste it and add salt if necessary. Dilute with water till it’s soup consistency, heat and serve with rye bread (see my blog recipe for Sour Dough Rye Bread). Spoon more cream before serving so that it floats on the surface and add a sprinkle of chopped coriander leaves.