A blog about swimming pools, and why writing can feel like diving in at the deep end…
When my first book was published, I posed in Crouch End Lido for the Sunday Times Magazine. I had a lot of chutzpah and a waist in those days. Being a complete newcomer to the perfectionist whims of professional photographers, it amazed me how many hours it took. I was in the water so long that my skin went as wrinkly as a Shar Pei and my contact lenses felt fused to my eyeballs, but the excitement of having my own stylist on hand with waterproof mascara was thrilling, along with the rallying cries of my fellow swimmers who floated in and out of shot while we all broiled in refracted July sunshine. It was all a far cry from conjuring up metaphors at the dead of night.
Nowadays, in my less glamorous working motherhood era, any time spent in a swimming pool inevitably involves rescuing my Little Duckling Level 2 smalls who have bobbed off towards the deep end in inflatable rings with dragon heads, or swimming blind as I’m dive-bombed by the older ones, and then – very briefly, if I get a moment – doing a vigorous breast-stroke for a few lengths, chin high as a ship’s head (although if anyone gets a camera out, I sink below the surface faster than James Bond spotting a Russian periscope).
Yet I still plunge straight into the water with the same enthusiasm as I always have. I’ve never been a cautious swimmer. If I have to suffer the indignant sting of a belly flop, so be it. Being lifted up by that big blue expanse of deliciously cool water is far too tempting to resist. And now my family shares pool-time with me, I alternately dolphin my way alongside them and power off into a brief harbour of undisturbed water to float on my back and find peace.
I’ve always written in much the same way as I swim. I dive straight in and move as fast as I can until I adjust to the water temperature, then use that wonderful buoyancy in a more graceful way than I can ever hope to on dry land. Writing needs the weightlessness of total submersion. Having my children in the pool is a great privilege; I make no secret of the fact I write for them and for their future, but if I’m totally honest, I write best when I’ve struck out alone into quiet water for a while.
It’s perhaps no coincidence that my latest novel is a beautiful, shimmering blue rectangle of a book; I can’t wait to reveal its 2015 summer cover (with the next blog, I hope). While writing it last year, I was so totally immersed that I barely surfaced, my feet never touching the bottom. It tells the story of Jenny, who has a week away from her day to day family life and the wreck of her marriage, and steps into somebody else’s world instead, looking after their home while they’re away on holiday. She sets out to be the perfect custodian, but everything about the house she’s sitting, from its beautiful book-lined rooms and joyful family portrait to its luscious walled garden and turquoise pool, is not as first appears. The Woman Who Fell in Love for a Week is a novel which finds the funny side in losing one’s inhibitions, and I hope it has great heart without taking itself too seriously. Admittedly it made me well up with hopeless regularity whilst writing it – as well as giggle in solitary, high-five delight in the early hours – but if I wrote a book that didn’t make me cry, laugh, whoop and stay up all night writing addictively, I’d never believe in it enough to let anyone else read it. The Woman Who Fell in Love for a Week is one that I really believe in. I do hope you dive in and settle in a quiet spot for as long as it takes to fall in love. I’d suggest you set aside a week….