Oh, for heaven’s sake – why did I do that? Why? How could I have been so myopically, surpassingly stupid? Why haven’t I got an Inner Mother like other people do, to murmur in my internal ear – before I press Send – “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
Let me explain. The computer creates firebreaks for me between the various compartments of bewilderment composing my strange personal world. I wake up in the morning, generally before dawn, and lie stunned for a while, processing my unlikely dreams and redesigning the house, mentally reviewing my possessions and wondering what I can get rid of. After that, before emerging to tangle with whatever life washed up on the shore of this day, I generally vanish into my computer for a while. Before losing a few games of Spider Solitaire, I check my emails.
That particular day last winter, a publicity questionnaire had appeared in my inbox. They wanted the usual bio, for the Bible Reading Foundation and Woman Alive conference coming up in June – what I’d written, what I planned to speak on, if I wanted a flipchart and whatnot – and, of course, they wanted a photograph.
“Oh, right, no problems,” thought I, struggling to a relative sitting position, pushing my glasses up my nose and composing my features into my best early morning approximation of a smile. Handily, you see, a Mac does a nifty job at taking photos – you just press the little button in the photo booth, fix your determined leer while it counts to three, and there you are. So that’s what I did. Filled in the form, attached the pic, sent it all off and thought no more about it.
Until today. When Woman Alive thudded onto the mat, and I idly flicked through. There, somewhere in the middle, was the page advertising their conference on Women of Peace and introducing the speakers. Who all had the sense to get out of bed, comb their hair, put some make-up on and swap their dressing gowns for regular day clothes before they took their photographs. Except me. I bet they even washed and cleaned their teeth first as well.
Transfixed with horror I gazed at the photo I’d sent in – which of course I’d completely forgotten about in the meantime. On the bright side, it does look like the kind of woman who would fit right in as a character in the novels I write; an indigent wayfaring down-and-out who lost her way sometime in the 1980s and never made it back to mainstream society, offering rough-hewn sarcastic wisdom about the nature of life and faith.
This is the whole trouble with a writer’s mind. What seems reasonable, what comes naturally – what indeed constitutes real life and daily normality – bears no resemblance to the suave and professional face a shrewd publicist would present to the outer world. Because that’s the thing; I don’t really have an ‘outer world’; just an inner one, all dressing gowns and no makeup. So, if you’re coming to that conference, I’m sorry about that. I promise to comb my hair and clean my teeth on the day.
I thought, for your amusement, I’d share with you the photo I sent in – in case you don’t read Woman Alive. Although . . . you do, don’t you? It’s an excellent magazine! So I went across to the conference web page to have a look at the speakers, and lo! Some dear, sensitive, shrewd and compassionate soul has swapped out the raddled-hag snap I sent in for an altogether more dignified and refined portrait I sent them in 2008 when I first started writing for Woman Alive. Phew. What a relief. Mind you, if you come to the conference (you are coming, aren’t you? It's on the 17th of June) you won’t recognise me from either mugshot, because I had my hair cut this spring. I look like this now. Well, at least – on a good day.