petite anglaise

February 6, 2008


Filed under: book stuff, navel gazing — petiteanglaise @ 10:15 am

I’m sure it’s normal, a matter of days before a piece of me goes on sale in bookshops, to fall prey to the jitters.

So far, those who have read “petite” all said complimentary things. Admittedly these were people who were supposed to be on my side – agent, publisher, friends, family – but I’m also beginning to hear feedback from interviewers/reviewers and people in the book trade who’ve seen an advance copy. It’s surreal when they say they liked it. I’m never sure how to respond. I suppose I should say ‘thank you?’, although my first impulse is to say ‘really? Are you sure? Why?’

I think I’ve had to read and re-read my own manuscript so many times in the course of the publication process that objectivity went out of the window long ago.

However my jitters have nothing to do with Joe Public reading “petite”. My nervousness is centred on what one particular person will think of it. Of my work. Of me.

You probably think it’s odd that The Boy, of all people, hasn’t yet read it yet. To be fair, it’s not out of indifference on his part, it’s due to a combination of me not wanting him to read it until it was fully finished/copy edited/proofed/corrected and him saying he preferred to wait until it was printed in its final form, with its cover on. I suspect both of us were putting off the inevitable. But now that I have a whole carton full of hardbacks sitting on the floor at the foot of my bed the inevitable can be put off no more.

‘Nice paper,’ he said when he got home from work and I handed him a copy. ‘And look, they’ve embossed the writing, it stands out more than it did on that proof copy you showed me before…’ He paused, looked at me intently. ‘So, I’m allowed to read it now, am I? Finally?’

‘Yes,’ I said, chewing my lip. ‘But, um, not when I’m actually here. I mean, I couldn’t stand it if you were reading it next to me, giving me sidelong glances. It would be excruciating.’

Since we’ve spent every evening together since, and he works all day, he hasn’t had chance to open it yet. (The métro to work is exclusively reserved for the ritual of Libération.)

Why am I so nervous? Well, frankly I doubt the book I’ve written is really his cup of tea. His favourite authors are people like Álvaro Mutis and Borges, at opposite end of the lowbrow/highbrow spectrum. Then there is the language barrier, which means he will understand the gist of the story, but he’s the first to admit that he’s unlikely to fully appreciate my style or voice, and nuances of meaning will be lost on him.

Top of my worry list, however, is the ‘Too Much Information’ factor. Which is why one of my favourite masochistic pastimes, at the moment, is imagining The Boy’s internal dialogue as he turns the pages.

‘Ah yes, she can be annoying like that,’ he thinks to himself, a lightbulb flickering on above his head. ‘So it’s not just with me, then…’


‘Oh, she used that line on me once!’


‘Ew, that bit was corny…’

I decided to ask him to read it when I’m a safe distance away, in England in early March, busy with promotion and too distracted to think about Him Reading My Book. This means, of course, that I’m deferring the inevitable for another whole month.

And when the deed is done, if he doesn’t like it, what then? Would I prefer him to be honest, and explain why? Or should he lie through his teeth if he wants to continue sharing my bed?

September 18, 2007


Filed under: navel gazing — petiteanglaise @ 11:09 am

I am surrounded by a dense, dark, oppressive fog. I can’t see it, touch it, smell it, but it is real to me.

I sensed it on the periphery of my day, quietly, ominously gathering force. I pretended it wasn’t there, at first. I blogged about my daughter, made some notes for an interview, bounced flippant messages back and forth with friends on gmail and MSN. I suspect there was a vague undercurrent of hysteria, of volatility in some of those exchanges, but mostly I was successful at cloaking it in humour, denying its existence, even to myself. Until Tadpole was safely in bed, and the evening yawned emptily ahead. I tried to read a book, but the words wouldn’t stick. The walls crowded closer.

Words like “sad” or “depressed” are hopelessly unequal to the task of describing something so visceral. There is a heavy stone in my chest, a shallow shortness of breath, a desperate fluttering in my stomach. My body shifts gears and slips beyond my control. It’s poised for fight or flight, there’s a pent up energy it can’t contain. The overriding – utterly irrational – impulse is to release the pressure by lashing out at someone I love in some petty, spiteful, childish way.

I take a bath and wash my hair. I tidy the kitchen, manically. I pour another glass of wine. Finally, just before I turn off the lights, I reach for my phone and type a text message worthy of a hormonal teenager.

The results are woefully predictable. I provoke anger and incomprehension.

There is no earthly reason for me to succumb to the undertow, right now, when everything in my life is about as perfect as I can conceive of. I have everything I could possibly wish for. This Boy. The Book thing. Financial security. Nine days out of ten I’m happier than I can remember ever feeling. Why is it then that I seem to be hardwired to try, periodically, to destroy everything I touch? When the rational me, the real me, I hope, knows full well that I’m being unreasonable in the extreme. And idiotic. And wrong.

Hunched under the bedclothes, arms around my knees, I press my dry eyes tightly closed, willing it to stop; hating myself with a fierce intensity. Feeling stupid, pathetic and small. Terrified that one day I will go a step too far and exhaust the Boy’s reserves of patience. That he will see even this explanation as an attempt to abdicate responsibility.

When the feelings refuse to recede, I try to drive them away with words. And this helps. Not a lot. But a little.

June 25, 2007


Filed under: navel gazing — petiteanglaise @ 11:48 am

For the past nine months I have been living in a shadow. Impossible to shake off, a suffocating cloud of self-doubt hovered above my head, darkening my every thought, my every gesture. Impossible to conceive of meeting a man (or boy) while I felt so brittle, so unsure of myself. Impossible to really appreciate this new life of freedom from the constraints of the métro boulot dodo routine I’d been locked into for so long.

Writing “petite anglaise” has often been a lonely, fraught process – and this despite all the reassuring noises from my agent and editor whenever I sent them a few chapters to read. Because the hardest task of all was proving to myself that I could actually pull this off and produce a manuscript of which I could be unreservedly proud; a manuscript which would do petite anglaise justice. And so I worked, fretted, agonised and procrastinated. Writing – which seemed so natural when it was for the blog – had now become work. Why was it suddenly so much less enjoyable, I wondered? Why was my favourite pastime suddenly a cause for teeth grinding? When I wasn’t working, I fought to suppress the guilt that I should be. Even though, arguably, when I wasn’t actually writing I could have made use of my free time by going to the cinema, say, or taking in an exhibition, I found I simply couldn’t. Instead I sat hunched over my MacBook, a gnarly knot of tension between my shoulder blades, surfing the internet, but taking very little pleasure in doing so.

I alternately overate or fasted. My moods, which have always had a tendency to swing without due warning from one extreme to another, now spiralled even further out of control. I had panic attacks: heart racing, breath snagging in my throat. On more than one occasion, meeting Mr Frog for lunch, I noticed my hands trembling when I picked up my fork. Whenever I snapped at Tadpole, voice shrill, patience on a short fuse, I detested myself.

Seeking some sort of temporary respite from my anxieties, and from spending so much time trapped inside my own head, rewriting my past, I drank to excess whenever I went out. Regretted it bitterly the morning after, when temporary euphoria gave way to blinding headaches.

Then, one fine day in May, I gave birth to the second draft. And even before the feedback began to filter back to me, the cloud began to dissipate. Because while, undoubtedly, there is still work to be done, I’ve proved to myself – to my inner editor – that I am equal to the task. Thirty-four chapters, almost 100,000 words: a satisfyingly thick wad of paper, the sight of which gives me a thrill whenever my glance falls upon it.

The gestation period almost over, I began to relax. My posture changed, the tension left my limbs, my skin cleared. I began to enjoy my free time with a clear conscience; to live in the moment. I still party too hard, on occasion, but that brittle edge of desperation, of hysteria has gone. I found myself flirting again, re-discovering a side of my personality which has been in hibernation for the longest time. It’s like meeting an old friend.

And so I am hell-bent on enjoying this summer, revelling in my new-found peace, savouring the lovely, melty moments I have been sharing, of late, with the boy who lives a few doors down the street, but who I could so easily never have met.

Life is good.

February 21, 2007


Filed under: navel gazing, single life — petiteanglaise @ 7:57 pm

As I sat on the métro on the way to see some girlfriends yesterday, a bag containing chablis, Nutella and maple syrup wedged between my feet, I couldn’t help thinking back to happier versions of Mardi Gras, and in particular the 2006 edition, in honour of which I threw a pancake party and invited a few friends* from work to my old apartment. It was the first and last time many of them got to meet the man I referred to on this blog as Lover (a pseudonym to which a few readers strongly objected, but I felt then, as I do now, that given just how much time we spent horizontal, the name fit very snugly indeed).

A few days later Lover brought my dreams of an idyllic life together in the Breton countryside crashing down around my ears. I picked myself up, carried on, and so much other stuff happened shortly afterwards that I really didn’t know how to feel anything other than numb for a while.

What this means is that I’ve now been single for almost a full calendar year. It’s a state of affairs without precedent, because after much racking of brains and counting of digits, I can say with absolute certainty that the last time I was single for a Whole Year was in 1988. Although to be fair, at that time I’d been single for a total of fifteen years and was breathlessly awaiting the arrival of my first proper boyfriend.

How do I feel about this? Well, of course I’d rather be happily alone than with someone who was wrong for me. And yes, messing around with few strings attached seemed like fun for a while, but now just strikes me as utterly pointless. As for online dating, I check in to look at my profile from time to time but can rarely muster up sufficient enthusiasm to actually reply to my emails, let alone drag myself out on a blind date.

I know that this year without a special (adult) person by my side has been really good for me, in some ways. I’ve built new friendships, invested a lot more in existing ones and spent lashings of quality time with my daughter. I’m sure I needed to be alone, for a while, and that I’ll appreciate sharing the good, the bad and the ugly with a special someone all the more because of it, when the time comes.

But am I truly happy with this state of affairs? Is single the best thing since the invention of Nutella? Is single the new size zero?

I’d be lying if I said I loved it. Single still doesn’t come naturally to me and I doubt it ever will. So please excuse me while I go and comfort myself with a large pot of leftover nutella, a useful side effect of which is that size zero will never, never fit.

January 22, 2007

mirror mirror

Filed under: navel gazing, single life — petiteanglaise @ 8:20 pm

I frown at my face in the mirror. Make-up still looks good in the right light, but increasingly these days I find that foundation accentuates the fine lines around my eyes instead of concealing them. I prefer myself with my glasses on, because actually they hide a multitude of tell-tale signs. The days when I dreamt of laser surgery are long behind me.

Digging out a selection of eye-shadow colours, I proceed by a process of elimination. The dark brown one I should really throw away, it’s too severe, too ageing. The pearly pale colours are too “teenaged”. Which only leaves a nondescript matt beige and a dusky pink. I choose the former, applying it lightly with a brush. Less is more. The last thing I want is to look like I’m trying too hard. My lips, full and pouty, if slightly chapped, respond well to a coating of lip gloss.

I survey the finished product. Not bad, but not quite me either. My mother used to say she felt the same inside at forty as she did when she was eighteen. I don’t feel the same exactly, but whenever I look in the mirror I think I always half hope to see my eighteen-year-old self looking back at me, and can’t help but feel disappointed that she is never there.

Padding into Tadpole’s room in stockinged feet I open the wardrobe and deliberate about what to wear. I have always been what I would call “pear-shaped”, often with as much as two sizes difference between the top and bottom halves of my body. Despite my New Year’s resolutions and recent gym membership, there are few visible improvements as yet. Now, the party I am getting ready for called for “something red” in the invitation. Hmm… A raspberry-coloured dress bought years earlier, which drapes in a forgiving way around my curves is the only red item in the wardrobe which strikes me as appropriate for a party. I might feel a little overdressed, and if I get cold my nipples will definitely show, but I don’t have time to agonise further. The babysitter will be arriving any minute.

Tadpole looks up from her book and smiles. “Mummy looks like a princess,” she says. And means it. I give her a grateful hug. Thank god for unconditional love.

Later, at the party my friend and I joke about the fact that we are actually several years older than most of the other guests present (understandable, as the hosts are in their mid-twenties).

“You can tell we’re older, because all these younger girls are playing it cool, dressing down, and here we are with our grown-up dresses and our faint whiff of desperation,” comments my friend, wryly.

“Oh god, don’t, my confidence is hanging by a thread as it is,” I reply, and proceed to enlighten her as to the meaning of the wonderful British expression “mutton dressed as lamb”, before helping myself to another glass of red punch.

I’m thirty-four years old, and until now, most people didn’t believe me when I told them my age, or gasped when I told them I had a three-year-old daughter. But something – and I’m not sure what – seems to have dented my confidence lately. Perhaps it’s because there hasn’t been anyone who I could get excited about for a while, no-one’s admiration to bask in. Or maybe it’s the fact that my last boyfriend was significantly older than me, and these days I often run with a younger pack.

From experience I know that it’s impossible to be objective about what you see in the mirror. On a black cloud day I can’t help but hate my reflection. In the throes of a hormone peak I will feel big, regardless of what the scales might read.

I’m looking forward to the day when the mirror throws me back something I like. It will be a sign that whatever was faulty has been fixed, that the storm clouds have finally lifted.

And in the meantime, I’ll just keep on basking in the warm glow of Tadpole’s compliments.

January 1, 2007

taking stock

Filed under: good time girl, navel gazing, single life — petiteanglaise @ 10:17 pm

2006 was nothing if not eventful.

I got dumped.
I bought my first home.
I got fired.
I got outed.
I was given an exciting opportunity.

2007 should be a little quieter, less turbulent. A few important dates loom on the landscape. A hearing at the industrial tribunal on 19 February. A first book to deliver by 4 July.

But the thing which I’d most like to happen sometime soon, the thing I finally feel ready for, is the only thing that you can never plan. The thing which you can guarantee will only happen when you stop hoping; when you look the other way; when you least expect it.

I’d like to meet someone. Someone I can lose my appetite over. Someone who fills my head with silly daydreams. Someone who has the power to make me smile at complete strangers in the métro. Someone who doesn’t follow this blog, ideally, as I’d like to be discovered little by little, not offered up in one king-sized serving.

I spent much of 2006 keeping men I met at arm’s length, or pushing them firmly away. Partly, I suppose, because no single person I met was “all that”. Partly because I’d been badly burned and no longer dared trust my instincts. But also due to the simple fact that there was so much going on, so much that was new and terrifying that I wanted to come to terms with all the change before I let someone else in.

Taking stock, as 2006 drew to a close, I was forced to admit to myself that there is something a little empty about this life I’ve been leading. Spending hours alone, writing about events in my past, by day. Partying a little too hard by night, whenever the opportunity presented itself. I’m no fool. I see the binge drinking and bad behaviour for what it really is: a symptom of my malaise, escapism, a temporary stress release mechanism.

It’s time to set my life on a healthier course. Time to let go of my anxieties and enjoy the opportunities which have come my way. Time to let someone in, should a worthy candidate present himself.

Time for petite anglaise to take a step back and let me do the living.

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