My absolutely lovely critique pal, Jeannie Waudby, launched her debut novel – One of Us – last night. I had day release from the farm and was so excited I travelled up early. My journey to London was enlivened by the presence of three young men travelling to Soho for a Drag Queen Competition. Between discussions about eyelashes and gigs in strange places, they rowed, sulked and made up about fifteen times. The language was inelegant and heads were turning so much, a Tweed Gentleman nearby could have filed a claim for whiplash. My journey home was even stranger but first, I had the excitement of Jeannies party. As I got off the tube, a gentle voice behind me said,
My early arrival had gifted me Jeannie and her family! I hugged the life out of my pal and then crashed her pre-launch family meet up.
Jeannie has long been a part of my SCBWI YACritique group. Her writing reflects her nature: quietly intelligent, deeply connected with the world, shimmering with subtle passion for things that really matter. Her book, which I adore, was summed up by her Chicken House publisher, Barry Cunningham,
‘A thriller, a love story, but also an important book, a book that looks at how society divides over religious differences that don’t even exist.’
In current times, indeed, it is an important book. It’s also a cracking good read and we were treated to an exerpt read by Jeannie’s daughter Cara, a frightening description of an imagined and real threat of a bomb exploding on the underground. Unusual journeys were a bit of a feature of my trip to London yesterday. Not least, mine and Jeannies journey to publication.
It’s been a long road. There have been many rejections, many rewrites. Our crit group lean strongly on one another when we hit times of flagging belief and I firmly believe we have made each other better writers. I am so, so happy that Jeannie’s talent has been recognised. The delight and pride in her achievement was tangible last night. The room was packed with Jeannie’s family and friends. Wine was drunk, hugs were had, books were bought. I left on a warm cloud of loveliness to catch my train home.
I missed it by a whisker.
I had an hour to wait for the next train but I was armed with another YA Critique member’s book. A finished draft of Nicky Schmidt’s Whalesong – it’s captivating and that hour of waiting disappeared, as it will when you’re lost in a book . I looked forward to the next 90 minutes on a warm train to finish it.
Not To Be.
Nestled in a quiet corner of the carriage, I was approached by a gentleman in drink. A Ray Winston Lookalike,
RWL: Excuse me love, I can’t talk to that bloke out there, the guard bloke, he’s doin’ my head in, which end do I have to be to get to Pulburough?
Me: I don’t think this train splits.
RWL: Yeah, it does, which end do I have to be in?
Me: I really don’t think it splits but usually it’s the front four coaches so you’ll be fine in this one.
He sits down in the four seats next to mine, facing into the corridor, towards me. I have the distinct feeling he wants to chat.
I bury my head in my book and he mumbles and chunters and I think he’s chatting to someone on a mobile earpiece. He is not. He is just mumbling and chuntering – mostly about the disappointment he carries daily that he didn’t become a star football player. I hold up my book , knowing full well that is tempting fate, but unable to curb my natural desire to be nice.
Me: I need to finish reading this.
RWL: That’s Ok Love, I’m reading this.
He has nothing to read whatsoever but I stick my head back in Nicky’s script and RWL takes off his socks to show me his feet. They are, I must admit, a sorry sight. A Young Curly Haired Man slides into the seat opposite me. Hoorah! Someone for RWL to talk to.
Or not. YCHM plugs in his headphones and disappears into a world of his own. A Very Fat Business Man sits beside YCHM, sealing him into the corner, and the train moves off. We travel merrily along to the gentle murmer of RWL’s disappointing football career, until we approach a station.
YCHM to VFBM: Would it be alright if I got out?
YCHM (again):Would it be alright if I got out?
YCHM ( agitated): Excuse me, would it be…
VFBM: You haven’t asked me to move yet.
I can not bear poor YCHM’s discomfort and say to VFBM:
Me: I think, that is what he’s asking you.
VFBM: Well that’s not what he said. I’m getting off at the next stop anyway so he can get out then.
Me: I think he’d like to get out now.
VFBM: Well it’s none of your business.
Oh dear. RWL does not like this. He has language as colourful as the Three Drag Queens.
RWL: Don’t you speak to the lady like that or I’ll f*cking punch your lights out mate.
VFBM: I’ll say what I like.
RWL gets to his feet, presses his shoulders back.
RWL: I’m a proffessional f*cking boxer mate, don’t you speak to the lady like that.
VFBM: And don’t tell me what to do, smelly. ( I kid you not, these were his actual words)
RWL: Smelly is it you f*cker? You take that back or I’m going to have you.
YCHM is squirming in his seat, still trapped by VFBM and mortified by the confrontation. I try to calm things down.
Me to RWL: Just ignore him, it really isn’t worth it.
RWL: I just got out of jail today and I’m not goin’ back in for a bastard like him.
His fists are clenched, his breathing heavy and VFBM has a disgustingly smug look on his face. This could go either way.
Me: Really, it isn’t worth it.
RWL looks at me and storms off down the train. VFBM heaves himself to his feet and says to YCHM
VFBM: It’s actually ages to the next stop but if you insist on waiting by the door.
YCHM scuttles off. I look at VFBM and think , you really have no idea of quite how rude you are, do you? So I tell him.
Me: Perhaps you don’t realise it, but you do have an unnecessarily rude tone to your voice.
VFBM: No, I don’t.
Me: Well, you do.
VFBM: No, I don’t.
I am just realising this is pointless when the train pulls in to the station and VFBM tries to get up to leave. He gets stuck in his seat . As divine and delightful as it would be for him to miss his stop, I’m grateful when he pops free and I have the carriage to myself. And that is when One Armed Homeless Man Sits next to me and asks me for £17 so he can stay in a shelter for the night.
I am beginning to wonder if I’ve slipped into a parrallel universe where every body is a bit mad .
OAHM: I’ve lost me arm.
I reach in my pocket and give him all the change I have.
He might be telling the truth, he definitely has lost his arm. It’s cold outside. I can afford it. I know it encourages begging. I don’t care. We arrive at the next station and he gets up to leave.
OAHM: Thanks love, you’ll be going to heaven.
Given the events so far I think: hopefully not tonight.
A Jolly Gentleman gets on carrying a bag from McDonalds. Harmless. Surely. He sits near me and points at the London Evening Standard VFBM left on the table.
JG: Can I read that?
Me: Of course.
JG: Do you want a chip?
Oh please, not again…
JG. It’s the first time I’ve been to McDonalds. I know you won’t believe me but it really is…
I smile and get out my phone. I send a series of hilarious texts updating Beloved on the ridiculous nature of my journey. At least, I think they’re hilarious. Unbeknownst to me, he thinks I am being ambushed by lunatics. My phone is still on silent from Jeannie’s launch. I slip it back in my bag and turn back to Whalesong. I am soon lost in it’s sweeping story and half an hour later I check my phone.
Nine missed calls from Beloved. Oh dear. I call him back,
Beloved: Where are you? I was about to call the transport police? I’ll get in the car and come and meet you at the next station.
Me: I’m so sorry, it’s fine, I was just, you know, distracting myself and….
RWL comes back. He sits opposite me and starts rolling a fag.
RWL: It’s not a joint, if that’s what you’re thinking.
Beloved: Is that the Jail Man? Is he back?
Me: Urm, yes…
I have to admit, by this stage I was mildly concerned that RWL had taken a bit of a shine to me.
RWl: It’s just a fag love, honest.
Me: I’m just talking to my HUSBAND.
I keep talking. Beloved is worried RWL will try and follow me home but I remember the conversation about the train dividing. Pulburough is the next stop. We arrive at the station and RWL doffs an invisible cap to me and leaves the train. Beloved makes me watch the platform in case he gets back on and then he says,
You can write about it one day.
Yes, I think, I can.
Isn’t that fantastic?