I was single for a long time before I married. When I say a long time, I mean pretty much my whole adult life. From eighteen to thirty-two, I didn't have a boyfriend (or a girlfriend). (I didn't have a boy/girlfriend before that either, but it didn't seem to matter as much before eighteen.)

Oh, there was the odd adventure; a couple of brief dalliances; one or two amicable liaisons; some thrilling flirtations. But for various reasons, none of these ever quite managed to cross the divide into a full-blown "relationship." Why, why, why? I tortured myself, back in my angsty early twenties; I wept and yearned; I thought I must be too plain, too short, too shy, too bad at dancing, despite the fact that none of these handicaps seemed to stop other people from finding partners.

It wasn't until my late twenties that I fully embraced, and relaxed into, my spinsterhood. So what, I decided. I liked my life. Yes, my single status probably was my own fault, but not in the way I'd thought. I was fussy. I was hanging out for a life partner; I couldn't be bothered with Not Quite Right. I didn't meet that many people that I really liked (and sometimes, when I did, there were complications, like they were already going out with someone else). I could never really understand those people who jumped from one relationship, gasping, straight into another one, without even a pause for breath in between. I was happy being single. I'm a naturally solitary person, I need time and space to myself. My life was full and interesting. I could live like this, I realised, for the rest of my life, and be content. Even after I met Michael, it took a loooong time for us to get it together, so it wasn't like I took the first chance I could get to jump ship from HMAS Bachelor Girl.

In some ways I still feel like a single girl inside. All those years on my own gave me something valuable - a sense of myself as separate and distinct, a kind of inner self-reliance (though I don't know how to pay bills any more!), the ability to go to a movie or eat a meal in a restaurant or just enjoy a night at home alone, an unwillingness to compromise on important things, and the strength to let the unimportant things slide.

They say that everyone ought to live alone, at least for a while, to learn independence. I think it wouldn't hurt for everyone to be single for a few years, too.


A Migratory Bird*

We've all been happy and excited at our house for the last few days, because our friend Jo is visiting.

Jo lives in Scotland, but she makes a (usually) annual journey to the Antipodes, staying with friends she met while backpacking in Australia and New Zealand. Way back in the late 80s I shared a tiny house with Elizabeth, Jo and Alyson; a year or so later, I did my own big European backpacking trek and stayed (probably for way too long!) with Jo and Al in Edinburgh. Those times are a blur of bicycles jostling in the narrow hallway, beers in the backyard, secondhand frocks and Doc Martens, chocolate pudding and silly hats.

It never feels like a year between visits; we always pick up just where we left off, though the children are taller, and there might be a new room on the house. And Jo has her own news to report: developments at work, romance, family. In a way, the endless cups of tea and catching up is like an annual review - what's been achieved, what's planned, how does the land lie? The subjects of Michael Apted's 7 Up documentaries have made a similar observation, that the director's regular visits have forced them to reflect on the direction of their life journeys in ways that they might not have managed otherwise.

But the real reason we're happy to see Jo is just because... she's Jo, and we love her!

* I hope Jo doesn't mind me referring to her as a bird. In a strictly symbolic sense, of course.


Time On Our Hands

Alice's bedroom has had a makeover. Let's just say, the apple don't fall far from the tree.
I'm happy that all those Fifth Doctor videotapes have finally found a home.

Alice also lost a tooth yesterday. Evie left the above note for the Tooth Fairy.

"Dear Tooth Ferry, So I know you are real please wake me up! Thx. Room One. Evie TC."

Sadly, the Tooth Fairy did not oblige.


The Intimate Reader

I've always been secretive about my writing. I used to hide my private stories (not for school) in a box beneath the bed, protected with elaborate safeguards, and buried under layers of decoy material in case of accidental discovery.
I'm not a writer who likes to share the process.* The thought of a writing workshop, where you read out your latest work and lay it bare to the spontaneous critiques of your listeners, fills me with a cold horror. I don't show my nearest and dearest my work in progress. I don't discuss my plot lines with my husband (I did this once, and it killed the project stone dead on the spot). I like to polish and revise in private, and when the manuscript is in the best shape I think I can make it, I'll send it off into the ether and try to forget about it until the verdict returns, in the shape of the reject letter (and I've had plenty of those) or the encouraging email.
But now Michael is reading the draft version of Crow Country. This makes me edgy. Generally, he is very positive, but he's also excellent at spotting mistakes, and he's not afraid to ask questions if something doesn't make sense. He doesn't read much fiction, and he's impatient. He wants to know why, and he's not used to waiting for the text to reveal the answer further on. I suppose if I was lying in bed next to Hilary Mantel as I was reading Wolf Hall,** I'd probably ask her questions about too, but I must say I find it unnerving***.
Perhaps I wouldn't be so nervous if I couldn't see him reading it; half a dozen other people have read it by now. On the other hand, I'm not married to any of them.
I don't mind people reading what I've written once it's all bound up and printed as a book. (This is lucky, considering my choice of profession.) It's as if, once it gets to that stage, it's received some kind of official approval: it's been stamped READY FOR THE WORLD. A book has its own independent existence. But before it's published (born?), it's raw and vulnerable and helpless; it's not quite separate from me, still living in my imagination and supported by it, alterable, not quite existing in its own right. I hesitate to say, like a foetus in the womb, but it is a little like that.
This particular half-formed baby is due in September. There's plenty of time to fix the mistakes, to feed it and make it stronger, so it can face the world with confidence. And I know I can't do all that on my own; I need the help of expert, trusted readers. And Michael, though he would never say so himself, is one of them.

* Which, paradoxically, is why co-writing Dear Swoosie was an exhilarating, liberating experience, but one which I could never have undertaken except with such a trusted friend and colleague (and brilliant writer) as Penni.
** Jeez, it's good. 600 pages of solid, nourishing meat and not one word too long.
*** No doubt Hilary Mantel would be unnerved to find herself in bed with me too, but never mind.