On the tube
The only drawback to e-books is that – unlike print books – an author cannot sit opposite a reader of one of her books, recognise it from the cover and watch the reader’s every facial tick, smile, head shake, stony stillness, ear twitch. So, I tend to sit on the tube and imagine that any reader with an e-book who appears to be enjoying themselves is reading one of mine. It’s not an entirely convincing leap of imagination but it gets you through the Piccadilly Line.
Would, for instance, the handsome young man with his earring and his designer trainers sitting in the seat opposite really be reading M.Cheek’s finest? Well – why not? I was once teaching an Arvon course and one of the participants was a tough looking youngster in his early ‘twenties – leather jacket, hair shaved at the sides, quite a lot of tattoos, reflective shades and a four day growth… He had been fairly silent in the workshop so far. I was talking about the art of combining emotion with autobiographical detail while keeping control of the text – and – looking the young man straight in the sunglasses – I took a deep breath and quoted one of my all-time favourite books – J G Ballard’s gentle, perfect hymn to the women he had loved and had been loved by – ‘The Kindness of Women’ – of which there is nothing of the Elmore Leonard or Irvine Welsh – and, given the softness of the title, expected a curled lip from my hip young student. Instead he removed his sunglasses and said ‘It’s one of my favourite books – it’s just so beautiful and so touching…’ Lesson learned, Mrs Cheek. And it’s legacy is that I can imagine whomsoever I like reading a novel of mine – the more unlikely, the better.