Time to say goodbye to another luminary of the book world and to fondly recall the day in 2009 when I met Colin Dexter at the Winchester Writers’ Conference. It was late morning, he had just finished speaking, and was suitably dismayed to learn that the bar was closed. “Can’t we go to the pub?” he asked Beryl Bainbridge. I have no idea what I was doing standing there – I was gobbier in those days, I’d probably pushed my way to the front to announce my addiction to Morse and enduring crush on John Thaw – but I was able to share with both these great writers, the intelligence I’d gathered the night before when in a similar fix. You could buy wine direct from the kitchen staff. I led the famous author to the chap who’d done the deal the previous evening, he purchased a bottle of red (it could have been two) which he generously invited me to share. I was speaking later myself, so God knows how that went, but I do recall a most entertaining lunch with the pair of them, feeling privileged indeed. “It was a delight to be with you,” Mr Dexter wrote in my Inspector Morse Omnibus, causing someone to joke that if I fell on hard times I could take the inscription to the News of the World. He laughed. I have treasured the tome ever since. I was pretty delighted too.
If you were thinking of getting me one – I live in hope – leave it till Monday when all things heart-shaped are half-price and they’re flogging the roses off cheap. I always appreciate a bargain.
You might think that someone who has spent a great deal of her writerly life dealing in romance in one form or other, would embrace the celebration of St Valentine with somewhat wider arms. You may imagine your average author of romantic fiction floating about the home in pink chiffon, exchanging Snugglebum messages with Coochie-face, preparing salmon delights and chocolate-coated strawberries to have with the champagne, while the deliveryman arrives bent beneath the weight of floral gifts.
You would be wrong. My theory is that we scribes make up romance for the same reason as so many millions read it. It’s in jolly short supply in real life. It would be fair to say that for about 20 years I generally received a card on Valentine’s Day and more often than not, a bouquet to boot. This was largely by dint of writing instructions in large felt tip in my husband’s diary mid-January and by teaching my son, as soon as he could speak, to repeat “Buy Mummy Flowers” whenever I gave him a Pavlovian shove through the door of his father’s study. Now my husband very sensibly leaves the country and I, apart from noticing the price of blooms has gone through the roof and you can get all sorts of “eat-in” bargains in the supermarket, (one small mercy at least – sitting in a restaurant, having to watch all those other couples slobbering over each other is enough to put anyone off their Nipples-of-Venus-to-share ) treat it as a day like any other. A quick straw poll among my friends suggests this is not unique – even when their partners are the other end of the sofa.