It started like this. I have a travel diary.
Here it is, below.
It’s an old visitors book, regifted to my husband’s mother by someone who didn’t want it, and, as she never kept a diary in her life, she gave it to me. Every time we’ve been away, I’ve taken it with me. It’s the notebook I write in when I’m a visitor.
At other times, it lives in the loft in the suitcase, until it’s time to travel again.
So Husband Dave and I went away for a week in December 2016, and on the first night we poured some wine and opened the book.
Past adventures were there, waiting. The time in Lincolnshire when the car window got stuck open on the coldest day of the year and we had twenty miles to drive to get it fixed. The time when we got stranded in Craven Arms and couldn’t find the town’s sole taxi. The tour guide in Glastonbury who told us he could read minds and had fallen in love with a reincarnation of Nimue.
Dave said:’You should put those in a book.’
Me: ‘Yeah, they’ll be useful in a story, someday.’
‘No, publish them as a travel diary. ‘
‘Oh sure. Ha ha ha. Here’s the time we were suckered into visiting the craft fair that sold vintage Weetabix.’
‘I’m serious,’ said Dave. ‘People like that kind of thing. Like David Sedaris, David Rakoff. Bill Bryson.’
‘I haven’t worked as Santa’s elf.’ (Remembering Santaland Diaries.)
‘You worked as a dancer in a mobile phone commercial.’
Yes I did. ‘You think I should include that?’
Well if I’m honest, I thought it was the most self-indulgent idea anyone could imagine. These pieces were just jamming, really. I’d written them for myself; they were things I wanted to keep because they were curious, or amusing, or alarming, or annoying or bizarre or wonderful. But by the time we returned home, I’d begun to like the idea.
So I did my best to find people to talk me out of it. Author friends who could be relied on to speak bluntly. ‘Yes, do it,’ they said. My bookseller friend Peter Snell: ‘yes, when’s it ready?’. The editor of the magazine where I regularly freelance: ‘Yes.’
Nobody’s said no, or at least they haven’t dared to.
And so I got to work. As the pieces were written looking inwards, or for a tiny audience of friends, a certain amount of massage was necessary. I enjoyed it hugely.
I also wondered how I had the temerity because there are no fictional characters to hide behind and I wasn’t used to writing about myself.
So is it a memoir? I suppose it is, a bit. A collection of essays? Too pompous. A voyage? A set of true short stories?
It’s certainly not the kind of book I imagined I’d write, but with hindsight I realise I needed to. I don’t know anyone who didn’t feel battered by the time 2016 ended, and 2017 isn’t letting up either. This is my amuse-bouche, a confection to restore joie de vivre before getting back to more serious work. It’s a je ne sais quoi – and that’s just fine.