So here I am, a miserable January evening. Publication of my first book for Boldwood, The House by the Sea, is imminent and I need to write a few words to help introduce it to the world.
The House by the Sea is about two damaged people, Joe and Edie, brought together in a decrepit, ghostly old villa on a beautiful Mediterranean island. To find a way forward, they first have to dismantle the walls they’ve built around themselves.
That’s the precis done. Now I need to expand on one of the book’s themes. But which? Sicily? Grief? New beginnings? Gardens? Puppets? Lost portraits? Friendship? Marriage? Divorce? I can’t decide. And then I remember that the book is being published the day before Valentine’s Day and it comes to me. Love! I could write about love!
I settle on the settee with my writing essentials; the laptop and the two dogs. I open a new document, call it: Love, and stare at the screen for half an hour.
Rain hammers against the windows. The wind howls. I put on another jumper.
Who am I to write about love? What do I know?
I pour myself a glass of leftover Christmas wine (we’re doing dry-ish January). An hour has passed, not a word written. I can’t think of a single thing to say. Serendipitously, Love Island is starting on the TV. Love Island is exactly what I need.
I curl up with a dog on either side of me, wine in hand. I’m watching for inspiration, you understand. Research.
The theme music plays. I jiggle along. Older dog sighs in a long-suffering fashion and puts her chin between her paws. The series is coming from South Africa, but if you ignore Table Mountain in the background, it could be Sicily. Almost.
‘Here we go!’ I say to the dogs.
And there they are! The beautiful young things! Twenty-something gods and goddesses, tanned, made-up, muscles rippling, hair flicking, teeth straight and white, all adorable. They gather around the love-pool in the garden of their love-villa, these sweet, hopeful, sincere young people, each looking for somebody special; the one. They are nothing at all like the characters in my book and yet in some ways they are almost exactly the same.
I’m more cynic than romantic. I don’t believe everybody needs somebody nor should anyone feel under pressure to be ‘coupled up’, as they say on Love Island. Valentine’s Day is hideously over-rated, sex isn’t the be-all and end-all, bad love is worse than no love and good love is more about kindness, humour and tolerance than hearts and flowers.
And yet… I drink my wine and stroke Lil-dog’s ears and I watch those Love Islanders ‘crack on’, and despite myself, their honesty, their willingness to put themselves through so much in pursuit of affection brings a lump to my throat.
Making yourself vulnerable by revealing your true self to someone else takes courage. To let yourself love again after your world has been blasted apart is absolutely terrifying.
Good luck to those young people. With all my heart, I hope they find what they, like Joe and Edie in my book, are looking for. I wish them all the good love in the world.