As Adèle Geras opens the door to me and my photographer, it strikes me that she has opened many more doors than this one over the last six years. I hope I haven’t been using her, but whenever I’ve needed to know who to contact and how, Adèle is the one who has helped. She knows absolutely everybody. And she is so friendly and kind that I suspect she doesn’t mind her ‘usefulness’.
So, having concluded that without her I wouldn’t, quite literally, have been standing here today, we enter the Geras’ Didsbury home. I jokingly suggested making it an Ideal Home kind of visit, which Adèle strongly said she won’t have. There are rooms we are allowed to see, and ones we can’t.
We head straight into the kitchen where the carrot soup is waiting. The table is beautifully laid with blue and lime green plates, and I comment on how Spring-like the table looks. ‘It’s my only set of crockery. No, not quite my only set. My Mother-in-law sent us this set. It’s actually a Danish one, she sent it to us when we were married 41 years ago and I’ve used it ever since, and they always look fine and they are always modern. My Mother-in-law’s third husband ran a china, crystal and gift shop, in Bulawayo. She was always very fashionable and beautiful.’ Hearing the word ‘Danish’ the photographer and I both immediately turn our plates over, although it is rather bad manners, and we discover that the plates are, in fact, Swedish, from Gustavsberg. So that’s Sweden to Didsbury via Bulawayo.
Adèle says she has just read my review of Sally Nicholls’ second book, and she is currently reading Sally’s first novel for the Lancashire Book Award. ‘Sounds really nice, doesn’t it?’ she says about Season of Secrets. This is typical Adèle behaviour; she talks so much more about everybody else, that this interview will seem to be less about her, than about authors in general.
‘Mustn’t forget Norm’s salad! I’m going to take him a tray. He objects very strongly to “leaves”, as he calls it. I’m going to take his up now, so he’s out of the way,’ she says and giggles. I ask what Norm does other than blog, and learn that he blogs in the mornings, ‘sometimes scratching around saying “what on earth can I write about?” And he’s writing a book on crimes against humanity. He seems to be busier now, than he was when he was working,’ she says as she disappears upstairs with a tray for Norm.
‘Did you see my pics of Worth Abbey on the ABBA website? I‘ve got my camera, and I learnt how to use it. Learnt how to put it on my computer, and even better, I’ve learnt how to get the photo from the computer to the blog, so now I’m going a bit mad,’ she admits with a giggle. ‘I like taking pictures of things, I must say.’
Adèle talks about the ‘very pleasant conference at Worth Abbey’, which she has just returned from (The Federation of Children’s Book Groups); ‘you go from one set of speakers to another, with coffee breaks and lunch. Very civilised. The first event was Mike Rosen. He read us some poems and chatted and made us all laugh, and signed books afterwards. Then there was a talk by Alan Gibbons, Have you ever met him? He was dead chuffed because the Government is looking into the Wirral (Campaign for the Book). He basically motors round the country telling people about this kind of thing.’
‘On Saturday, Jenny Downham was in one group with Michael Grant. After lunch Linda (Newbery) and I sloped off for a walk, which was probably a mistake, because we missed the talk by the illustrators. One of them was Jackie Morris. Very nice woman.
In the evening the main guest speaker was Meg Rosoff, who I’ve never met, and she was going straight back afterwards. She’s very entertaining. Have you come across this book called Tender Morsels? You will. Everyone was saying “oh, this will be very controversial”, but Meg absolutely loved it, and I’ve now got a proof of it. Meg talked about her new book, The Bride’s Farewell. She was reading us bits from Amazon, such as one star reviews of Tess of the d’Urbevilles, and they were hilarious, they were so funny. So she was very nice, but off she went and I didn’t get to speak to her.
We also had David Fickling who was saying “The Comic will be back!” He also played us all a beautiful piece by Purcell, to introduce Dido, and spoke very kindly about the book. Then we had Patrick Ness, who is gorgeous! Oh he’s lovely, he’s so good looking. He raised this thing about endings, and he read us a bit from The Ask and the Answer, which is a wonderful title, very spare and very biblical. Very jam-packed weekend. Again, I missed Tim Bowler. I’m always missing Tim Bowler, he’s always the last on and I have to leave to catch my train, but Linda said he was a star. Absolutely brilliant, and he’s like a stand-up comic.’
Adèle waves at her cheese board. ‘Do have a go. I have all kinds of crackers. I also have ordinary mousetrap.’ Mousetrap? ‘Cheddar. Mousetrap cheese we used to call it at school. I shall give you a sharper knife, actually. It will be easier with this. (The whole cheese is stuck on my knife.) Adèle laughs.
‘Talking about Scandinavian things; have you read a book by Marie-Louise Jensen called Between Two Seas? Would you like it? I’ve got a copy upstairs. It’s quite interesting, it’s all about, I don’t know how to say it, Skagen? Excellent. I love passing on books I’ve enjoyed.’
I mention that I’m friends with Marie-Louise on Facebook, so I ask Adèle about her and Facebook. ‘It used to do my head in. I figure it’s not for me. I spend enough time reading blogs, which is fun. I like that. I couldn’t do Facebook as well.’ I point out that she already seems to know everyone, and she laughs.
‘I do know a lot of people, having been around a long time. That’s true. More and more pressure is being put on writers to blog, by the publishers. For instance Amanda Craig has a blog now. You and Norm have grasped one of the main things about blogs, which a lot of people don’t grasp, which is you basically have to have something new up there every day. It’s so annoying when you have a favourite blog and every morning you go, and they haven’t done anything.’ Laughs loudly. ‘A variety of content, like book reviews and interviews, pictures, all the different kinds of things that you do.’
‘I’ll move on to pudding in a minute. Such as it is. There’s more. There’s other stuff as well.’ Laughs again.
Because I am meeting with Liz Kessler a few days later, the conversation moves on to Liz and her new book. ‘Is it another Philippa Fisher?’, Adèle wants to know, which just goes to prove that she certainly is up-to-date on what her fellow writers are doing. ‘That age group (8-12), is a terribly hard age group to write for. The younger ones are easier, and the teenage ones are no problem, but that kind of tweeny bit.
Here Adèle pauses to rattle off a long list of teas, but we go for ordinary, plain tea. As the kettle boils she wanders off on a tangent, again, and remarks how very good it was ‘Caroline Lawrence getting that award (Classical Association Prize). Don’t you think? It’s really good.’ Her local bookshop is arranging for Adèle to visit a school in nearby Alderley Edge, which still does Latin. I ask if she is doing more events for the publication of Dido in early May. ‘I’ve got the Edinburgh Festival, which is nice. And I’m appearing on a panel with Julia Golding and Sally Gardner. I know Julia, but I’m really looking forward to meeting Sally. We’re talking about heroines for girls, fairies, Tiara Club, that kind of thing.’
With the usual good timing of husbands who can sense that tea is ready and waiting, Norm turns up in the kitchen. ‘You came at exactly the right time. How about strawberries and cake? Get a plate and pile it up. We’re discussing heroines for girls.’ ‘Is this your interview or just a chat?’, Norm asks, so we explain that it’s all-in-one. ‘If I have to sue her, then I will,’ laughs Adèle. ‘I’ve tried to be very discreet and not say anything terrible. In Edinburgh I’m doing an event with Jonathan Stroud. He’s a lovely man. I’m looking forward to that. Then there’s the Lancashire Book Awards. In London I want to set up a visit to the Muswell Hill bookshop. Dido is actually dedicated to the daughter of somebody who runs the Pinner bookshop, so I’m hoping to do an event there as well. Do you know them?’
Adèle finds her kitchen scissors to sort out the grapes she has bought for us. I wonder if her cake is poppy seed or chocolate, but she’s unsure. ‘Test it and see,’ she says, very sensibly, before we launch into a migraine trigger discussion, which in turn moves the conversation to Debi Gliori. ‘Oh, she’s lovely!’
Here Adèle turns to the photographer ‘The big question is where are you going to take your photos? The more pictures you take of the food the better.’
Norm says ‘I don’t have a photographer for my blog.’
‘One of the things I love on Bookwitch is seeing all the pictures,’ says Adèle. ‘I loved seeing the Caroline Lawrence interview.’
‘Nobody likes pictures of themselves. I wrote a ghost story about that once (how you see yourself in the mirror) in a collection called Letters of Fire, if you’ve ever seen that? Has been out of print for years. Story called The Poppy Crunch Kid. I wrote a ghost story about a tv camera that kind of sucks out the soul of the people who appear in front of it.
Have you ever read my book called My Grandmother’s Stories? Because I’ve got 24 copies of the American version, and I’m always looking to get rid of old copies. The other one that has just been remaindered is Silent Snow Secret Snow. Have you read that?’ ‘Yes I have.’ ‘Very thorough, aren’t you?’ I remark how much more relaxing it has been to prepare for this interview, as I’ve read many of her books over the years, although nowhere near the ninety plus books she has written.
‘The strawberries are nice.’ Adèle sounds pleasantly surprised. ‘I was a bit suspicious of them at first, because they are so big.
Oh, I’ve read another Swedish thriller! Now, hold on; Karin Alvtegen, called Shadow. Very good. Not strictly speaking a crime novel. Sophie thought it was very good. And another Norwegian one by somebody called something dottir, (Yrsa) Sigurðadóttir?’ ‘That’s Icelandic.’ ‘Is she? Yes, maybe she is. Yes, that’s right, she is Icelandic, because I came to the conclusion that she was good, but nowhere near as good as Arnaldur (Indriðason). Very few people are as good as Arnaldur. He’s wonderful. The Norwegian one is Håkan Nesser.’ ‘No, he’s Swedish.’ ‘Is he Swedish? I like his books, so Jenny sends them to me.
And how is Kate Ellis these days? Have you seen her?’ I mention that she will be at the Bristol CrimeFest, along with Nesser and Stieg Larsson’s American translator.’ ‘Really? Very interesting. Have you been to Harrogate? I’ve only been to one day of Harrogate, and I enjoyed it. It’s like the Federation. You just go from one lot of talks to the other. Loads of publishers and agents. You could go mad with all these festivals, Hay-on-Wye and all the rest.’
‘Have you ever thought of writing crime yourself?’
‘I couldn’t, Ann, I’m SO bad at plots. I’m just useless, I could never make it all hang together. It’s funny actually, because it’s been my main staple reading since I was a child. It’s just so clever!’ She laughs. ‘I’m overwhelmed with admiration for people who can do it. Sophie is amazing, she is so clever at that. She regards a problem in the plot as being something you can get over. If something isn’t working, just put in a couple more twists before the end, and I say “what, how, where?” She says it’s only a matter of plotting. For me that’s the hardest thing, almost impossible. Sometimes I’ll get a good idea like the plot twist at the end of Facing the Light, but that comes so rarely.
As I’ve got older I’ve become increasingly impatient, and there has to be an added “something”, either the writing, or an unusual setting, and I think that’s why I like the Scandinavians so much. With something like Stieg Larsson or Arnaldur you just find out so much about the country, it’s like a historical novel in a way. Certainly the first Arnaldur I read, Silence of the Grave, goes back to the Second World War. I didn’t know any of that stuff. Iceland more than Sweden or Denmark; till the recent crash it’s been completely unknown territory, so it’s amazing.
Have you seen the movie, Jar City? Oh, it was wonderful. I thought it was, really, really good. Not so much for the story, but I’ve never seen Iceland. It’s like the moon, a completely different planet. Beautiful, magnificent and really bleak. Magical. So yes, I’m very keen on all that. One thing about the landscape is there are no trees, and it’s not until you see one without trees, you realise how you take them for granted. Most peculiar.’
Adèle breaks off to inquire whether I’ve ‘got actual questions written down?’, and I say I’ve covered a few things already. Adèle laughs. ‘With me I suppose if you sit here long enough you’ll hear it all…’ I explain my fear of drying up mid-interview, and she laughs some more and tells me ‘I’m not going to dry up! There are many other things I might do, but not that.’
‘Have you actually started your new adult book?’
‘Yes, I have. It’s going slowly, is what I will say. There’s no external pressure, nobody is actually waiting for it. So I’ve got to finish it, and then I’ve got to try to interest people in it. Because nobody is standing on my shoulders saying “come on, I want it by June”, I feel I’ve got all the time in the world, which is wrong. I’m very lazy, and any excuse not to get on with my work, I will take. But the other thing is, because of the climate now in publishing, I feel that if I wait until the end of the year, next year might be a bit better, you know? At the moment publishers are busy chucking people out and not buying stuff, so I think in my head I’ve kind of got it for the end of the year.
But I also want to do some other children’s books. I want to do another ballet book, for instance, another picture book. And I would like to try to think of something for this difficult 8-12 slot, which I have done before, but they are all out of print, like the Fantoras, and Apricots at Midnight. It all depends on having brilliant ideas.’
Here the photographer says how much she likes Candle in the Dark.
‘Yes, that sort of thing. What I really like is what I believe is called a frame novel. I call it linked short stories, rather like My Grandmother’s stories or Apricots at Midnight, so that the whole thing belongs together. That’s at the back of my mind.’
‘You’re not giving up on children’s books then?’
‘No, no, no. Certainly not. You’d miss out on a lot of fun. The thing about children’s books, which is very delightful, quite apart from the fact that you get out to meet children, is that the stories are short. Look at Historical House, 25,000 words. That’s a really nice length to write. You couldn’t do that for adults, unless you’re Ian McEwan. There’s a few, but in general it’s got to be 60,000 minimum for an adult. Candle in the Dark is only 12,000 words. It’s always nice to have books with illustrations, I like books with illustrations. So I’m definitely not giving up on children.’
‘Writing an adult book a year doesn’t leave you much time.’
‘Well, that’s one of the reasons I’m taking the adult book more slowly. I’m going to try to break out of the one a year, that I did do for four years. Because I haven’t become a household name as they hoped I would, I’m out from under that pressure. So I can re-invent myself, and I’ll take it slower.’
‘Do you plan to retire?’
‘No, no, not as long as people are willing to have you. No I don’t plan to retire. Unless I’m forced to! I hope not. I always tell the kids when I go to schools, that I dream of being like Barbara Cartland, living to 150, lying on the sofa in pearls and feather boa, dictating. That would be my dream.’
‘A book every two weeks.’
‘Oh, God! Well, if it’s the same book, that’s not a problem.’ She laughs heartily.
Craning her neck, ‘I’m dying to see what your questions are. I’ve been trying to read upside down.’
‘They’re in Swedish…’
‘Oh, crafty old Bookwitch! Hahaha. That is GOOD thinking. Stop nosy people like me who are rather good at reading the teacher’s handwriting upside down. Years of practice.’
‘Have you any ideas of starting your own blog?’
‘No. No, no, no. None at all. First of all because I know that it would take up an awful lot of energy and it would take away from stuff you should be writing. Secondly, I haven’t got anything to say! Don’t laugh! I haven’t. What could I say? If I’ve got a topic, which I sometimes have, I can put it on ABBA, or on the Guardian. The last year, I’ve often thought, “oh I could write a little piece for the Guardian”, but I literally haven’t got a topic that would be of interest to anybody. So no, I don’t think I will be blogging.
The one thing I will miss from having been kicked off the Guardian, is not having anywhere to mouth off about books that I like, but if I can do that in my newsletter and on ABBA, that’s good enough. It would be lovely to be paid, but on the other hand if you are, you might have to do what I call serious reviewing, where you have to think about it, whereas here you can just sound off.
The fact is that they are an endangered breed now, the newspaper reviewers, they’re shrinking, they’re having their pages cut, not just children’s. Literary editors are losing their jobs all over the place, so it’s bad times for criticism. Less pay, fewer pages. Lots of newspapers have got rid of their book pages altogether. The Los Angeles Times have. There’s a very nice blog called the Second Pass, where you can go on and write about books you like and write about anything. It started in response to the fact that American newspaper reviews are shrinking.’
Adèle has always struck me as unusual in this day and age, because she likes to knit. So I ask if she still does it.
‘Oh yes. I am knitting. At the moment I’m knitting two navy blue scarves for school, for Soph’s kids. She asked me to. Very boring, just navy blue ribbing. But I am going to collect this magic wool from the shop tomorrow, which is like a bit of wool and a pompom, so when you knit it up it’s just like a sea of little pompoms. It’s just heavenly! So I shall definitely do something with that. I’ve stopped knitting garments, because I’ve got a cupboard full of sweaters, that I never wear. Houses are too hot, and they get old-fashioned, and I just don’t bother with them anymore. I just do scarves and shawls, basically. You can’t have too many of those. There’s a revival of knitting. I love it. Very relaxing. I took it up when I gave up smoking, to keep my hands busy, and it’s worked a treat. I learnt quite late. They did try and teach me at school, mind you, and I was a complete failure. Couldn’t work it out at all, had no interest in it. I’m very bad with all other handicrafty things. I can’t even turn up my own trousers. I’m useless, absolutely useless at sewing.’
‘Are you still doing Pilates?’
‘Yes, I’m enjoying that. It’s quite good. I did have a very wonderful yoga teacher and I liked going to yoga, but she died unfortunately, and I just never got back into it, and then a couple of friends go to this Pilates class, so I thought I’ll go with them. It’s jolly nice, actually. It’s not hard. I’m always frightened of being a failure at anything like that. I once went to an Alexander technique, and she made me feel like I used to feel at school.’
‘Do you encounter any fans in Tesco or anywhere else?’
‘No, no, no, I never encounter any fans anywhere! Some people know me in the village, but aren’t fans. A couple of times, generally by elderly ladies, who have read one of the adult books. I’ve seen somebody take my book out of the library once, and once somebody said to me, the magic words, “Are you THE Adèle Geras?” There can’t be too many of me…’
‘Do you have a typical reader?’
‘My ideal reader for anything teenage and up, including even the adult books, really, is a sort of intelligent 14-year-old girl. Can’t get much better than that. They’re perfectly grown up, but they’re still children and so you get the two things together. I get a kick when boys say “I really liked Troy” or whatever, because I definitely have been perceived, probably with great justice, as a girlie sort of writer. If you put all my books together on a table, they’re generally kind of pink in hue, even though they haven’t actually got pink covers. And it’s true, I don’t know much about little boys, and bigger boys appear as the love interest in other books. Though I do always try to have a couple of boy’s points of view. I did in Dido.’
I mention how much I liked Cubby in Dido.
‘Cubby? Yes, he was nice.’
‘Unlike that womanising Aeneas!’
‘What you don’t get from my Dido, is what happens in the Aenead, which is later on after Dido is dead. She meets Aeneas in the underworld, and she doesn’t forgive him.’
‘Tell me about your parents.’
‘My parents, well, Dad was exactly like me, so if you’ve met me, you’ve sort of met him. I was very like my Dad. He was a lawyer, and later a judge and worked for the Colonial Service. He used to work for the British Attorney General in Palestine, when it was a British mandated territory, and there he met my Mother, who of course like me was born in Jerusalem. I’m a seventh generation for my family on my Mother’s side. He married her, and four years after that, in 1948 when the state of Israel was set up – which I’ve written about, because I actually remember it very well, even though I was only four – he had to decide, whether he was going to stay in the new state of Israel.
He came back to England and joined the Colonial Service, and from 1948 till his death in ‘72 when he was 62, he travelled round basically from one colony to another. First as Assistant Attorney General in Lagos, and again in Borneo, then Attorney General in the Gambia. Then a judge in Tanzania, chief justice in Tanzania, and so on and so forth, till he retired. And then after he retired he sort of couldn’t stop and he went to Botswana. He died on leave from Botswana.
My Mother; what did my Mother do? My Mother was one of those women, very clever and beautiful and successful, who have no job and was therefore very frustrated. Shortly before my Dad died, they were on their way after all these years together, of getting a divorce, because she just didn’t want to go back. She wanted him to retire to England or some other country. She went to live in Israel, with her sister, which is where she stayed till she died, in ‘97. So she lived much longer than he did. Because I’m an only child, they were very indulgent. I’m sure I was spoilt. I was certainly brought up to believe I was just the cat’s whiskers, and my Dad was very keen that I should get a good education. He sent me to Roedean, which I’m very grateful for. I have to say it was a very good education. Then Oxford and so forth.
He was very funny, my Dad. “I can’t retire in England”, he says, “I can’t go and live in England. The policemen don’t salute me”. OK, he was joking a bit, but …’ And here Adèle veers off the record with a story about Paris. ‘I wrote a story about that summer in Paris, that summer, when I actually made more money than I’ve ever made in my life, busking on the streets of Paris. My Father actually paid me a hundred francs not to come anywhere near him.’ Adèle laughs out loud. ‘We met a guitarist from Liverpool, and of course in 1964 every Liverpudlian had a guitar welded to his body. He played the guitar and I sang and (my friend) Angie passed round the hat, and we made a FORTUNE. People would just throw notes into this bag, and at the end of the evening off we’d go and have this enormous meal with about twenty people. It was marvellous. Really marvellous.’
I say that this sounds familiar and I think it’s in one of her books. ‘In Bella? Yes, there is a bit of Paris in that. In fact, the place that they find to live in, is basically my uncle Reggie’s studio.’
‘So bits of your life do turn up in your stories?’
‘Yes, they do turn up, sometimes like in Other Echoes, entirely true, apart from the story which I had to make up. The Roedean books are entirely true apart from the story; Bella is me, really, to all intents and purposes. A lot of Happy Endings is sort of set round here. In fact, that house on the corner, as you come in, the house that faces Wilmslow Road on the right, which now looks like a perfectly ordinary house; you wouldn’t look at it twice. But for years and years and years, you couldn’t see into the front windows, with plants and trees growing right up against it. That’s in Happy Endings. And it’s the gingerbread house in my Barrington Stoke book. It used to be a very spooky house that you could use for all sorts of spooky reasons, and they took the trees away, and now it’s perfectly normal.’ She laughs.
Having read somewhere that Adèle likes to write about siblings in her books, about families with lots of children, because she had none herself, I ask about cousins.
‘I did have when I was a child. I had loads and loads of cousins. Kind of lost touch with all of them now. But, yes, I had hundreds of them on my Mother’s side, and a couple on my Father’s side as well. I used to spend holidays with my Father’s sister in Cardiff, and she had two sons. But once you go to boarding school you get close friends there.’
‘Is there a question you would like to be asked?’
‘Oh gosh. It’s a good question, actually. Oh, I know what you could ask me; why don’t I use the historic present?
There are obviously great advantages to writing in the first person. It’s as if you’re chatting to somebody, immediately easy, and readers like it. But it has an awful lot of drawbacks, because if I’m telling you a story, I can only tell you what I think. I can’t go into anybody else’s head. Also the fact you mustn’t get nervous with the first person. You need to do it with panache. As a reader I don’t object to it, if it’s done well, but I’ve got more and more hung up about it as I’ve got older. Now I do third person but with a lot of internal thoughts. I do it in Dido. The one thing I couldn’t do is first person present tense, which can be really irritating unless it’s done fantastically well. Philip Pullman is the only person who agrees with me that the third person is the way to go. Basically he has no truck with first person historic present. I just think there are problems with it.’
She whispers, ‘what else do I have strong views on? I don’t feel I’ve got anything I need to unburden myself. You can ask anything you want to know.’
‘Do you work here at the kitchen table?’
‘I do, but I have to say that more and more I’m working upstairs. I’m ashamed to say I write for such short hours, that I can listen to the radio here for most of the day, and then I can write for a couple of hours up there. I generally do it when there’s nothing thrilling on the radio.’
‘Might readers complain there’s too much sex in Dido?’
‘There’s not a lot, but what’s there is quite grown up. I do worry slightly. Having said which, there is so much that is worse everywhere else. I feel I can just about get away with it. I think on balance I would say no, because there is sex, but the sex that there is, is – I was going to say sexy – no, but kind of loving and it’s romantic and it’s shown to be. Certainly the bit that Cubby “oversees”, I hope I conveyed the absolute “Arghh” he was going through. Basically it’s dead embarrassing if you don’t quite understand what’s going on. I hope that came through, how ghastly and embarrassing the whole thing was for poor Cubby. Other than that I make no apology for it. There is worse in so many other books, plus the addition of drugs or crime. All my sex is between consenting adults, and in romantic situations, and after Aphrodite has got to them there is nothing they can do. It’s not their fault.
Certainly with Watching the Roses, I worried a great deal about that rape. I did everything in my power to avoid writing it. I dreaded writing it. There’s a case when writing in the first person helped a lot. I thought, I’ll just pretend I’m Alice. It’s like an acting job, writing. I’ll just tell it as though Alice has been taken to the police station and has to tell it in a statement. Then it was much easier to do. In Silent Snow Secret Snow I was writing about a young gay kid and nobody batted an eyelid, nobody mentioned it. I’m against age banding, but in this case I have nothing against what it says on the back; unsuitable for younger readers. That’s fine, and then parents ought to know. Quite frankly, any 13-year-old will have seen far worse in the cinema. There’s worse things happening in Troy, children being chucked over battlements and things. I don’t think Dido will be banned… It’s a very fluid frontier these days, like Meg Rosoff. Yes, look at How I Live Now, sleeping with your cousin!
About Troy, Ithaka and Dido; I’d be upset if an adult read any of them and didn’t enjoy it and said it was too teenager-ish for him or her. Dido is not a cheap and cheerful book, and if you have reading stamina, enough to read those books, I reckon you can take the contents.
‘Do you want to see a copy of Dido? I actually have a real copy of it. Come upstairs to my study, which is a better room than the kitchen.’ We climb the stairs. ‘Isn’t the book lovely?’ It is, and then we admire the artist’s poster for Made in Heaven with the wedding dress and the green bridesmaids’ dresses. ‘I really loved that wedding dress.’
She turns to one of her bookcases. ‘We used to keep a shelf of everything to lend people. After thirty years, I’ve realised nobody is interested in borrowing anything, so I’ve started giving things away. So you’re welcome to them if you want. That’s got the story about Paris in it. Tons of love stories for you.’ Adèle gives me a poster for Dido, along with a couple of out-of-print books. ‘They are very kind at Random House. They are good at sending me bits and bobs.’
As we come downstairs again we take a peep at the book lined room off the hall, while Adèle looks for a rubber band for the poster. ‘Those are cricket books. Every one of them.’ Before leaving we admire the magnificent stained glass window in the hall and then we walk along the little pathway Adèle described, so that we can have a look at the formerly spooky house near the bus stop. She’s right; it looks very plain and ordinary now. But at least it’s been immortalised in Adèle’s writing. And ‘scary’ is something she does very well, indeed.
(All photos by H Giles)