Me: Dearest friends and parasitical family members, thank you, thank you, for joining me in this little celebratory gathering. Now that we have feasted and made our libations to the gods of literature [well, I laugh anyway], the time has come for us to sit back and remember why we are here: to celebrate the birth of a new “book”. My new “book”. As I look round this restaurant table at your faces, I realise that in a way you all had a role in creating this latest offering.
Charlton: Don’t try and shift the blame.
Me: It’s a funny old thing, writing a book. However much effort you put into the fictional world you have created, there are elements of your psyche that creep in without you knowing it. People say they see themselves in my “books”. I cry: surely not! And yet when I read back I am myself surprised to notice similarities, little familiar character quirks running through the piece.
But I can honestly say, with my hand on my heart, that I don’t want any of you buggers in any of my books. You roam so freely through my home and my life that there has to be some sacred place that you can’t trample over. And you can’t enter these worlds of mine. So there.
Connie: Well that’s nice.
Me: Connie, you and Lyre are exceptions. I count you as good and dear friends. My companions. People I choose to have around me.
Peony [standing]: Mum, you’re going off message. I’ll do the toast. Ladies and gentlemen, I am very proud of my mum. All my life she’s been banging away at writing her “books” and I’m so pleased that she’s finally put two fingers up to the rest of the world and published them herself. I give you: Mrs Tempest’s Marriage Bureau.
Everyone [except me]: Mrs Tempest’s Marriage Bureau!
Lyre: Oh you’ve written a new one, have you?
Me: Yes, that’s why we’re here. Right… it’s a funny thing writing a book… oh I’ve done that. As I look round this table… Mother, I know why you’re looking at me like that. I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to say [whining old lady voice] ‘It’s not a proper book, though, is it.”
Mother: I never said a word! But it isn’t, is it? What’s the point of having a book launch when you can’t actually hold the book in your hand? At proper book launches the guests get to walk around holding the book, giving the impression that they might read it one day.
Me: Ah. Aha. Ha ha. I’ve thought of that. May I present you each with a little gift. Here, hand them round Charlton, would you. I have purchased for each and every one of you your very own e-reader.
[Gift-wrapped tablets handed round]
Charlton and little John [slapping hands]: Yay.
Peony: Mum. Wow. This is so cool. They must have cost a fortune.
Me: They did. But at least you can’t now tell me that you have no means of reading my work. I had to free a little more of my redundancy money, that’s all. When you, your uncle or your grandmother finally get round to paying me properly for your board, I might feel a little recompensed.
Mother: I pay my way.
Me: Not with anything that resembles money you don’t. But let’s move on. Please do switch on your readers and progress to your list of books purchased. There you will find already settled on the little virtual book shelf a copy of An Evening with the Dymond Sisters.
Peony: Mine’s not charged.
Lyre: Mine neither.
Peony: Is yours charged, Grunma?
Mother: Charged to whom?
Charlton: Look’s like nobody’s has any battery.
John: Mine has! Can I buy a game?
Peony: Oh yes, let’s! I don’t like the shooting ones. But I’m alright with skeletons or fruit.
Me: Are you sure? I swear I charged them. Didn’t I? Peony please find the book on John’s reader. We can all look at that one.
Mother: I hope this new story of yours doesn’t carry out the same character assassination of me as the last one did. I don’t know how you had the heart to do it, to depict me as a cantankerous old hag of a mother. Such a burden on her daughter.
Me: I’ve already said that it wasn’t you. She had absolutely nothing in common with you – I’m sorry to say. The old mother in Mrs Tempest’s Marriage Bureau didn’t insist on living with her daughter, gave her daughter a huge amount of money and was dead for most of the book.
Mother: That’s nice. I hope you all heard that.
Me: They’re all fiddling with their devices. They haven’t listened to me, let alone you.
Mother: Do you have to keep standing up? Having to look up at you at this awkward angle is bringing on my condition.
Me: I was rather hoping to read a passage from my “book”.
Connie: Oh there’s no need for that surely.
Lyre: Shouldn’t we be thinking about digestifs? I’ve got to go in twenty minutes.
Me: But it’s a book launch. I’m supposed to give you a flavour of what you can expect to read, get the old juices going. And, while we’re at it, you’re supposed to at least pretend that you’re happy for me.
Charlton [wearily]: Oh let her read it, if she must.
Me: Thank you. John, kindly hand me your e-reader. I can read aloud from that one.
John: No thank you.
Peony [pulling device from child’s grasp]. Be good, darling. Your grandma wants to read us a story out loud.
Me [leaning down to Peony’s level]: I’m not his grandmother. You know it. He knows it. Why do you insist on referring to me in that way in his presence?
Peony: Bit harsh, Mum. I do it for you. Thought you might like it. Might give some meaning to your life, now that you don’t have a proper job or anything.
Me: What do you mean ‘don’t have a proper job’? This is my proper job now.
Pause. People laugh. They bloody laugh.
Me: Right give me that e-reader. I’m going to make you sit up and listen. If you’re not appreciating what you hear in two minutes, well then, well… then I’ll admit I’ve failed. Right… just press this… go onto here. Ah here it is. An Evening with…what’s happened? Why has it gone off?
Peony: Let’s have a look. It’s out of battery. Look you can tell.
John [crying]: My game!
Peony: Did you bring any chargers?
Mother: You know I can’t cope with peripheral sound. It collides with my synapses. It’s bringing my condition on. There’s a very strong chance that I might collapse now. Hang on, yes. I can feel it coming on.
Me: You’re not going to collapse. You’ve never collapsed in your entire life.
Charlton: We’d better take her home. Are you alright, Mum?
Peony: I’ll do it!
Connie: I’ll help. Don’t worry, Peony. Your uncle and I can take care of this little crisis. Shall I call a taxi? We can share a taxi, Charlton. I know how to deal with these situations.
Me: What on earth are you doing?
Connie: Bracing myself for a fireman’s lift.
Me: Are you out of your mind? Let go of her. There’s nothing wrong with her. She just wants to get home early to watch the Lottery numbers.
[Everyone rises at once. Some forget their e-readers altogether]
I don’t recall the rest. All I remember is my brother taking me aside as I’d just paid the bill and telling me: “Don’t be such a misery. You know you’ll have to learn to take criticism if you want to be a good writer one day.”
You see, there was absolutely no need to add that snide little “one day”.
And while we’re at it, I’ve just noticed that I’ve put apostrophes around the word “book” every time I’ve referred to my new launch. There I’ve done it again. They’ve driven me to these levels of self-doubt. From here on, I revert to hiding my light under my bushel. How on earth does one publicise one’s work?