So, this week was another memorable one for me. Sadly, it wasn't because I was inundated with huge bunches of red roses on Valentines Day. I don't care that it's nothing more than a materialistic consumer-driven celebration. It's up there with the rest of my utterly unrealistic future relationship goals. Nor was it because my sons (aka The Captain and The Colonel) managed to go longer than 48 hours without squabbling. Nope. It was because I went out. Not 'out-out' to quote the fabulous Micky Flanagan; just out. With a friend. For the first time in over four years. In the evening. Without my parents, or The Captain, or The Colonel. And it was great.
The Healing Power of Cake and Mild Tudor Porn.
You would think having escaped from the most horrible relationship back in 2011, that I would have been chomping at the bit to explore my newfound freedom, but that's not how it worked. Not for me and I know from emails my readers have sent to me, not for many who have been through a similar experience. As I've spoken about briefly in my previous posts, my 'healing' route of choice was one that involved mostly hibernation (translation - hiding) and eating humongous amounts of cake (translation - self-medicating). I had many other choices of 'crutch' available to me but quite frankly, none hit the spot quite as well as losing myself in endless sessions of The Tudors on Netflix (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, I'm indebted to you, you have got me through many dark and lonely nights) whilst devouring several slices of Victoria sponge. However, looking in the mirror a few weeks ago, I realised I was fast approaching some important markers. One was the five year anniversary of said escape, and the second was an unmentionable number on the scales.
Too much hibernation and too much cake.
All undertaken in the name of self-protection but now, not working so well anymore, in fact, causing more damage than anything. So when a friend asked me if I would like to join her at an author's event, I jumped at the chance.
I should never rely on any parts of my body co-operating with one another.
Actually, that's a fib. Kinda.
The words "I'd love to" fell out of my mouth. Seconds later that little voice inside my head scolded me severely. "What the hell are you playing at?! You aren't ready for this!"
In all honesty, I probably wasn't ready, but I don't think I ever would have been.
There comes a time when you have to stick your toe in the water.
And so I did.
I agreed to go. Handed over the cash for the ticket. Went and bought a new top to wear, in a bid to make myself feel more confident (it didn't work but, at least I didn't leave the house running the risk of arrest by the fashion police).
There were three weeks between the point of purchase and attendance.
I must have cancelled half a dozen times in my head.
The thought of mixing with the world sent me, as usual, into a cold sweat. Having to meet people I don't know, go to a place I've never been, drive on roads I've never driven ... it all leaves me clinging to the edge of my safety zone for dear life. For starters, I didn't know the author. I'd never even heard of her! In my defence, I've had my head stuck so far up my own a**e for so many years that I've barely heard of anyone these days. I've been safely sticking to everything I already knew. Everything that was already familiar. Everything that made me feel safe.
To purchase or not to purchase?
Then I found myself wrestling with whether I ought to buy her books (of which there are many) and read them (all of them) before we went, or should I wait until afterwards? Is it bad etiquette to turn up to an author's event not having read a single word created by their hand? Or is it worse etiquette to do so only because there's a chance that you might meet them and you know you have no chance of blagging your way through? (And I can't blag. My mouth goes into gear so far in advance of my brain that words have a nasty habit of falling out long before I've so much as acknowledged their existence.)
In the end, I did what most respectable people would do in those circumstances and made a panic-purchase on Amazon Kindle an hour before we left for Nottingham Playhouse; swiftly followed by cramming in as many views as I could of her interviews on YouTube before my lift arrived. I already know that I'm never going to make it in the world of the rich and the famous simply based on this performance. I would likely die of 'fluster-itus' if I needed to attend anything much grander.
Despite all my self-created drama, I did go. I didn't die. I had a fabulous night, and I have a new favourite author. The lady of the evening was Marian Keyes. Yes, that international best-selling author (33 million copies level of best-selling) was the one I hadn't heard of and the one I was terrified at the possibility of meeting. Anyone out there who is rolling their eyes at me right now, I can guarantee that I am rolling mine more. Even my editor asked me where the hell I'd been doing my shopping for the last decade and whether it had involved walking down the book isle in the supermarket with my eyes closed.
The event surpassed all my expectations and delivered on so many more levels than a simple 'meet the author'.
She is simply lovely. I'm sure she has her testy moments, as we all do, and while I certainly wasn't expecting any traits of monster, I was unprepared for just how warm, and friendly and open she was. The 'Questions From The Audience' session was offered 'without bars'. No restrictions. Conversation covered everything from her time at university, her past struggles and management of her mental health, her take on being an 'extreme introvert', the characters of her novels, her family and friends and I can't forget to mention her love of Strictly Come Dancing of which I do believe she is officially their Number One fan.
Should I address her as Ma'am as in ham or Ma'am as in farm?
The time passed far too quickly. I could have chatted with her for much longer, at least until she pushed a pink coin across the table to indicate that she'd had enough and needed to go to sleep. (In my opinion, this method of communication proposed by Marian in her latest book, Making It Up As I Go Along is quite ingenious and meets a need that has been ignored for far too long by civilised society.) My friend and I queued up for the signing afterwards. I so wanted to say something profound when we finally got up to her table. Instead, I just asked her to 'sign To Anna J' and 'pop the date by it'. She smiled and asked me if I wanted a photo. I refused and muttered something about being even more extremely introverted than her, and then I scarpered while blushing so profusely I could almost feel the Double Day Wear sliding off my cheeks from the heat.
Many people have messaged me after reading my book Fools' Words, commenting on how brave they think I am to have shared such a story with the world but I'm really not. I wrote that book because I had no choice. The words grew bigger than me to the point where they burst out onto the paper. I couldn't stop them. But that is all I have shared. The story of the person I used to be. I have fiercely clung onto every other particle of myself and my life, rarely letting anyone from real life in, let alone on paper for fear that I might 'get caught' and 'lose myself' all over again. For one evening, I sat and listened to, and laughed with, Marian, a lady who has 'got lost' (my choice of words, not hers) on numerous occasions, and who openly admits she knows she will never escape the risk of it not happening again. I was in awe; both on a personal level and as a writer. Anyone who puts pen to paper and then decides to share it with the world goes through the 'what if's pain barrier. What if they hate it? What if I can't really write?' What if they like it (and I have to start doing things like books signings?), 'what if they don't like me?' And that, is the crux of it. 'What if they don't like me ... who I am ...?' Fear of judgement. Fear of rejection.
'The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.' Franklin D. Roosevelt
I lost count of the number of times I vomited the week before my book was published. It was a stress that out stressed any stress I'd been through before.
And yet here she was. Having gone through that numerous times.
Laying her life bare, cards on the table and not the slightest hint of rejection anywhere (and I think 33 million book sales is a fairly good measure that the love for her went way beyond the room).
I have, of course, since that evening, read her latest book (and put her previous offerings on my TBR list). I was able to relate to so much of it. In the space of a few hours, she's helped me realise that it's okay to open up a little bit more, to share a bit of Anna as she is today. And that whatever happens, I'll both survive and have more tales to tell.
Marian is my new hero, and it has nothing to do with the fact that she also loves cake ... but that helps.