Last night I went to my writing group. We meet every other week in a bookshop in Kings Cross, one of the few that doesn’t display warnings about the “Adult-themed material” behind their frosted glass doors. Our bookshop, despite not being a porn emporium is hardly a warm and cosy place. It has brown carpet tiles, speckled with flattened chewing gum, its few chairs are moulded plastic and even in the height of summer, it is always freezing cold.
And you’re unlikely to find many books here that you’ll want to curl up with in front of the fire. A random selection: “The House that Crack Built”, “Marshmallows I have Loved” and “Amputee Sex”.
It was here, about three years ago, I first read aloud a section of The Mango Orchard, or Casa Familiar, as I think it was called then. It was in a workshop run by Anne Aylor. Apart from Anne and myself, there were fifteen or twenty other writers. I was terrified. Not only was it the first time that I had read anything from the book to anyone else, it was the first time that I had read anything in public since I was dragooned into reading a poem about an octopus called Henry at school assembly when I was eleven.
I’m not a very good reader. Being dyslexic doesn’t help. I know what the words are, and what they mean, I just tend to read them in the wrong order. So when I began the passage I had brought along to Anne’s group, all I saw was a mass of ink. I noticed the girl next to me yawn, and then again. When I finished, a few people shifted uneasily in their chairs as they tried to think of something nice to say. I think someone said they liked my shoes.
Anyway, back to last night. I was reading not for people to comment on the text – it’s a bit too late for that, the book’s already at the printers – but to practice for the book readings I have coming up, including the one at the Royal Geographical Society . I was about to begin when a girl in a red woollen hat opened the door and marched towards us, “Hello, I’m Jessica!” she announced, full of enthusiasm. We all looked at each other. We had no idea who she was, but it seemed cruel to ask when she so obviously thought she was expected.
A second later, another couple came in carrying a cloth bags with leaflets sticking out of the top. “Climate change meeting?”
Someone remembered that there was a meeting downstairs. Jessica looked relieved. The climate change people continued to traipse in, leaving the door ajar, oblivious to the irony of how they were changing our own personal climate. A few of them stopped for a while to listen to me read. They were distracting, but at least it suggests that my reading is improving.