So, recently, I entered a competition with Blinkbox Books, for a chance to win tickets to see Caitlin Moran and Kate Mosse in conversation with Clare Balding, at Cadogan Hall. ( They were all promoting their new books: How to Build a Girl, The Taxidermist’s Daughter, and Walking Home.) My chances of winning were very slim, I knew, but hey, as the saying goes, you’ve got to be in it to win it. Or is it, win it to be in it? Well, anyway… I had to think of a question I would ask one of the authors if I ever had the chance to meet them. I hadn’t read any Kate Mosse (to be perfectly honest, in the past, if I saw her books in a bookshop, I steered clear of them. Not because I thought she was a world famous model and therefore bound to be a rubbish writer, but because I thought she wrote old-fashioned romances in the style of Catherine Cookson. How wrong can you be?)
So, there wasn’t any difficulty in choosing who my question would be directed towards. After reading Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman, I’m a big fan. I have to say, I’m intrigued by how she has achieved so much personal success so early in life. My own personality is such that I’m often eaten away by self-doubt, and therefore, many of my personal goals are met with the brick wall of my subconscious telling me I’m rubbish. Ms Moran, if she had these doubts trying to trip her up, didn’t take any notice of them at all. By the age of 15, she’d already written her first novel, and not long after, was a journalist for Melody Maker. At the same age, I was dreaming about boys, listening to music, watching a lot of telly, and not much else. My question to her, if I could ask her, was what gave her the motivation and tenacity to go for the things she dreamt of at such a young age.
I entered the competition through the Blinkbox website and, with my ultra-positive, and totally uncynical personality, expected that would be the last I would hear of it. I didn’t particularly think my question was original – anyone who’s a fan of Caitlin Moran knows about her early success. Well, how wrong could you be? You could have knocked me over with a feather when, a few weeks later, I received an email telling me that I had won a couple of tickets. At first I thought it was a scam or a trick (Me? Distrusting? NO WAY!!) , but then realised that no-one but Blinkbox Books knew I had entered the competition. It was very short notice – four days, which for a very unspontaneous type like me is very short indeed (I was very nearly having change-of-routine palpitations) – and as I’d already arranged a night out with my friend in Manchester, it now had to be rearranged to a night in London (a change of routine and a change in location? I was pretty certain I was not only going to have to be sponteous, but I might also spontaneously combust.) Anyway, with not many funds to my name, this would be a discount trip too. So transport was via National Express, and accommodation was a… er… functional room over a pub. (My husband, when he saw the room, asked if they hired the rooms out by the hour). Say what you like about me, but I’m definitely high glamour all the way.
So me and my pal, C, we always treat every night out like it’s our first and our last. Or we like to imagine that there is a shortage of alcohol and we need to get a stockpile (in our stomachs). Soon as we dropped off our bags at our prison cell… I mean, hotel room, we were into our going out gear, coating ourselves in another layer of cement… I mean, makeup… and sniffing out where the nearest cocktail bar was. After a surprisingly uncomplicated trip on the tube, we ended up in Camden and had some very nice Brazilian tapas (only after we’d ordered a strawberry daiquiri and a margarita first, of course).
After the food, we had a bit of time to spare, but going out and looking at the shops was out of the question. The discomfort of heels, you know? Or maybe if you’re a bloke, you don’t? Or then again, maybe you do? Instead we decided to stay put and order a bottle of wine. (Let me do an impression here of the Brazilian waitress: *mouth opens in shock*… ‘A BOTTLE!????’ I can only take it she’s not been in Britain long with that reaction. Does she not realise we’re a nation of binge-drinkers? Sorry, if I am tarring you with the same brush and you are, as yet, untarred…)
After flinging the contents of our bottle of wine down our necks at record speed, it was time to make our way to Sloane Square. I’ve never been to Chelsea before but even with the reality-enhancing effects of alcohol, I knew that the people around me wore more expensive clothes and had more expensive hairdressers than the likes of me and C. There were a lot of shawls, thick knits, and tartan. For a minute, I thought I’d landed in Scotland. (Thankfully, the lack of bagpipes gave the game away). Anyway, before anyone could see that poorer people had landed in town, we legged it over to Cadogan Hall, hoping they’d let us in before they realised we’d travelled down on the National Express bus. Fortunately, we did get a pass in, despite the fact the guy in the booking office was posher than the Queen.
After we’d got our tickets (amazed that our names were on the guest list and it wasn’t actually an elaborate hoax… I see conspiracy theories where there are none on a regular basis), we headed straight for the bar (well where else do expect – have you seen the title of this post???) Fortunately, the girl at the bar was a little less posh than the other people we’d met, so probably didn’t mind that she was serving us a large serving of wine out of plastic glasses (Plastic glasses? What the hell? I thought we were in Chelsea?) She also didn’t seem to mind that we ordered another large (plastic) glass of wine for the interval, or that even before the show had started, that we had finished our first (plastic) glass and were going back for seconds. I have to say, Chelsea really went up in my estimation when it was time to go into the show and you were allowed to actually TAKE DRINKS INTO THE AUDITORIUM!!! O-M-G, I was in heaven. I would certainly be coming back to this particular theatre again, but next time I would wear a shawl (and possibly some tartan) so I didn’t feel such an outcast. But first, all that wine was going right through me (Sorry – too much information… right?) I needed the toilet. Imagine my shock when I was directed to the ‘CLOAKROOMS’. I couldn’t get my head round it – Chelsea is so posh that bogs are called cloakrooms. (To be fair – if I have to be – there were cloakrooms down there too.)
The show itself – through my drunken haze – was absolutely fantastic. Clare Balding (who was doing the interviews… AKA plugging the second of her autobiographies) did pretty well with the comic banter. If I wasn’t getting her new book for free (which was part of the prize, along with Kate Mosse’s and Caitlin Moran’s new books) I’d likely go out and buy it myself. Fortunately I don’t have to, though as they still haven’t arrived, I’m now starting to wonder if that bit was the scam? (No, not suspicious at all.)
Well, much as it may surprise you, the non-model Kate Mosse (who came onstage to the tones of Kate Bush wailing Wuthering Heights) doesn’t write romantic fiction. She writes amazingly (apparently – I don’t know yet, I haven’t read anything of hers yet, but will do… she did a sterling job of selling it to me) written literary fiction with feminist themes: strong women that go on adventures, that aren’t victims, and that are self-reliant when seeking success (ie. aren’t dependent on men to help them get on). Themes that are right up my alley. Oo-er.
I would like to tell you that I remember lots about this interview but as you can imagine, with all the wine in my belly, arteries, and virtually every other part of my body, I was ten sheets gone to the wind. All I know is that it must have been good, because my friend C, who didn’t have a clue who either of these authors were before the show, absolutely loved it, and wanted to get up and applaud (on several occasions). At the time, I compared it to seeing the most famous, best band ever in an intimate venue, and C agreed. But then we had both been drinking for at least four hours.
During the interval, we went back to the bar to collect our pre-ordered drinks. I don’t know how I was still standing at this point, but I was, and I was coherent too (at least in my head). I had a brief (blathering) conversation with a woman about thinking Kate Mosse was a romantic fiction writer, but I think I terrified her with my overconfident (drunken) banter, and she made her excuses and left to go to the ‘cloakroom’. We took our drinks in for the second half (did I tell you YOU CAN TAKE YOUR DRINKS INTO THE AUDITORIUM at Cadogan Hall?) and got talking to the women sitting next to us on our row. They were both dressed in matching green (they looked very nice, but like they may have been anticipating attending a mermaid’s convention, or were hoping to be extras in a reworking of Robin Hood). We had a little chat about our misunderstandings of who Kate Mosse was (a recurring theme, it seems – I now feel like sending her a letter).
Caitlin Moran, (whose arrival was accompanied by a now forgotten soundtrack – my brain, swamped with alcohol by this time, has erased that memory forever) promised us as soon as she arrived on the stage that there would be a lot of swearing and we should excuse her language. As a result, I got seriously excited, expecting a verbal furore. Disappointingly, by the end, much as I enjoyed the interview, I felt I didn’t get one. Maybe it was the wine creating a fog between me and the stage (er, I think this is a given), but the only word that had any potential shock value was masturbate. (Though it wasn’t really shocking. Not to us. We’d all read How to be a Woman and we knew what it was and that women did it. Everywhere. Even if they pretend not to.) I know it wasn’t just me who reacted like this – it was mentioned later by our green goddess neighbours that they, too, were dismayed by the lack of Caitlin Moran induced commotion.
You can’t blame Caitlin though – despite the lack of swearing. During the entire interview she was witty, eloquent, entertaining and frank (I can remember that much). Probably, the main problem was, we were all already (off our heads and) in love with Kate. Especially me. Kate and me were going to go off and get married and have babies together. Whatever her feminist principles.
Well, after the show, it was kind of like ‘What now?” Nothing was going to live up to the adrenalin high I’d experienced in that auditorium. Not even another trip to the cloakroom. Fortunately, one of the green goblins (okay, I’m running out of green analogies) beside us asked us if we fancied going for a drink with them. They made a vow they wouldn’t allow us to go anywhere with orange people in it (apparently there are lots of these in Chelsea – most of them with tartan shawls). Probably this was because orange and green don’t mix. I don’t know why they asked us to go out – I can only assume it was the fact they were as drunk as us, and therefore didn’t notice we were swaying.
Anyway, we both said yes – very eager to drink even more wine, but this time with company. I was nervous. Even with a shedload of dutch courage, and a big gob, I’m basically a shy person underneath, so I was wondering what on earth we were going to talk about with these complete strangers once our excitement over the show had dried out. I needn’t have worried (though I did, quite a lot, when they led us down a very dark back street. But it was okay, they were simply leading us to an old-fashioned pub that sold very nice Sauvignon Blanc with mad, eye-dazzling, Wilton carpets – and not an Umpa Lumpa in sight), the four of us got through two bottles of wine over the next couple of hours, and found out a lot about each other. (Funny how much you share drunk that you’d never dream of when you’re sober.) Trouble is, I was past the point of remembering any of it.
Green Goddess Two accompanied us on the tube, which is a good thing, as by this time my brain cells were melded together into one unusable lump, so I’d forgotten how to read the Underground Map. Hey ho. Thank God for green angels in disguise. Once we left her (in a mad rush at Euston) we then messed everything up by going the wrong way, realising, and heading back to where we should have gone in the first place (which was stay on the train we were on with Green Goddess Two).
Eventually we got to our destination at about 1am (God only knows what time we set off from Sloane Square), and we decided, unwisely, on some takeaway from the only open place on the street. It had a picture of a pizza in the window, and we both fancied pizza. ‘Can we have a pizza,’ I asked. ‘We don’t sell pizza,’ was the reply. ‘Don’t sell pizza?’ I slurred (well, actually, in my head, I was perfectly clear, but come on… let’s be honest here). At this point I leaned out of the door and pointed to the poster, ‘But there’s a picture of one on the window.’ I thought I made a good argument. Which I won. But still, didn’t get any pizza. Or a decent explanation.
As a poor substitute, I ordered a chicken kebab and chips. Now I don’t know what your idea of a kebab is, but mine is greasy meat and salad and sauce wrapped up in a flat bread of some description. Oh no. In the pizza place that doesn’t sell pizza, it was some kind of unidentifiable greasy (at least that bit was right) meat strips plonked on top of chips, with a garlic/chilli sauce combo on the top. You can imagine what it looked like. If I’d been more sober, I would have complained. (Who am I kidding? If I’d been more sober, I wouldn’t have been in there in the first place). As it was, I took the lid off my food trying to examine said weirdness, only to drop half of it on the floor. To be fair, they wouldn’t let me clean it up. I don’t know why. Possibly the fact that I would have made even more of a mess than I’d already made. If that is possible. Probably.
Anyway, somehow, we staggered back to our bleak little room in the bleak little hotel (even our drunken haze didn’t rosy up the place), with the duvet covers that looked like they’d come out of the room of a teenage boy from the middle of the nineteen eighties. I only hope they’d been washed, because if they did belong to a boy from the middle of the nineteen eighties, I didn’t want to imagine what substances might be on them. It didn’t seem to concern C. She got into her pyjamas, and fell face down onto her pillow and didn’t move – I’m not even sure she was breathing – till morning. I was still hungry because I’d lost half of my evening meal on the floor of Kebab House, so made my way through the Cadbury’s Chocolate Eclairs that had been left on our pillow, crunched the contents of a small box of Crunchy Nut cornflakes, and then ravaged the four coffee biscuits left by the kettle. I also made a cup of tea that had a nice greasy film floating on the top. I still drank it though. Obviously, I would. The whole night was based on drinking everything that was put in front of me. Why would I end that now?
So did I learn anything from my author event?
If you want to remember anything worthwhile for your writing blog, stay away from alcohol.