Thursday, 24 November 2011

Lesson 17: "If we do not advance .. we retrograde."

"A tight little world of Mummyland, symbolised by a mountain of unsorted clothes on the floor at the end of the bed. You can get the clothes into the washing machine. You can get them out. You can arrange them over the radiators to dry. But you cannot, cannot get the clothes back into the cupboards and drawers.

Until that pile at the end of the bed becomes a volcano of frustration and accusation and despair; ever growing, ever-depleting you. Until sometimes, alone, you are weeping and you barely know why, your hands clawed frozen at your cheeks. 'I can't do it.' Sometimes you even say it to your children, horribly it slips out - 'It's too hard, I can't do this' - bewildering them.
You weren't this woman, once. Despised this woman, once."

- Nikki Gemmell "With My Body."

Nikki Gemmell is much more than a story teller. She's a veil-lifter, a mood-catcher. A permission granter.

I spoke to her today about her new book, With My Body. She laughed and told me she'd never spoken to a blogger before. I was so nervous but she didn't mind when I stumbled over my words. I wanted to tell her who I was and what I thought ... where my own marriage was at and did she think we'll get through? I wanted to tell her that the young girl in her book was making me inwardly weep because she was me, with the aching for affection and the waiting for real life to begin. All those years ago.

(I didn't, because I also wanted her to think bloggers are smart and polished and professional.)

Nikki told me how she does not mind at all when she is used as a confessional, by other women. I suspect it happens a lot. "I've always been kind of on the outside, trying to connect with the truth of life, watching it as it all gets played out ... women tell me their secrets and I don't mind, don't mind at all. I'm interested."

A follow up to the hugely successful and somewhat controversial The Bride Stripped Bare, With My Body is Nikki's ninth book. She has four children, the youngest is four months old .. and has just moved back to Australia after 15 years of living in the UK.

She is a hugely talented writer. Gifted. With this book she has taken the pulse of married women with children, and delivered a stunning manifesto .. on how to unlock a woman, how trapped we can feel by the choices we make. It's an intensely personal look at a woman's sexual awakening, as well as a look at if we can ever really know another person.

Sentences keep taking my breath away. "You look at some of the school dads around you and just know they'll be 'dirt' - cheeky, playful, a bit of rough. But you'll never do anything about it. Don't need sex anymore. You wonder at the shine of those women who are man-free by choice: some widows and divorcees you've seen over the years, nuns, septuagenerians; those precious few who no longer seek out men and are strong with their decision and lit with it. You recognise that glow. Unencumbered."

I was reading the book last night, my two boys sleeping soundly in my big comfortable king-sized bed beside me. My engagement ring dug into my pinky and as I turned it around I remembered how desperately I wanted to be married. And how profoundly difficult this road can be.

I haven't finished it yet but I adore this book. It landed in my lap at *just* the right time. I can't wait to see what happens next.

I asked Nikki if she has always wanted to be a writer. "Oh yes .. since I was ten years old. My father gave me a copy of Jane Eyre and I gobbled it up. I remember being so taken by the protagonists journey, my heart in my mouth in terms of what she was going through. And it just connected with me, reached out and grabbed me by the throat. I wanted to be able to do that. I want to move people, if I can."

She can.

Sony have offered me a Sony Reader Wifi Touch to give away, pre-loaded with With My Body. It's the world’s lightest 6-inch reader, has a battery life of up to one month, and storage for up to 1,200 books. Worth $179 each, Sony are giving me one as well, which is very generous. (I told Nikki I would have jumped at this interview with her anyway.) After dissing e-readers for years I can finally make an informed decision on the future of real-live books you can hold in your hand.

I have some incredible international readers as well, and I was sad that you could only enter if you were an Australian resident. So I put a copy of With My Body on my overdrawn credit card at my local bookstore and as soon as I finish reading it (which won't be long) .. one of you get to win a real-live copy you can hold in your hand.

Nikki wondered if the overseas readers would be interested in a uniquely Australian protagonist and I said of COURSE ... the beauty in her writing is that she speaks the Truth. And Truth is universal. Then we got onto a tangent about how she has written the book in these beautiful vignettes and called them 'Lessons' .. some only a few pages long. She purposefully wrote them as snippets, morsels that are so easy to read in this information-laden world we live in. "It's almost like books these days are competing  .. with everything else that's readily available on the internet."

So, if you'd like to win a Sony Reader or the actual (dogeared) book - tell me a something. About your marriage, or motherhood. Fatherhood, singledom - anything. Tell me a Universal Truth that will make me feel connected today. I'm all out of sorts, and my head tells me you are all living wildly amazing and fulfilled lives while I worridly sit here on the couch eating Nutella.

I have problems saying goodbye to people on the phone .. it's so awkward. As I blurted out "Do you have an email address"  Nikki was trying to wrap it up and I could hear her baby squawk so I just quickly said goodbye instead. And that was that. Sad. But I get to look forward to every book Nikki Gemmell ever writes, ever.

(There will be two winners - an Australian who gets the Sony Reader, and an international person who gets the actual book. Winners chosen randomly in one week on Thursday 1st December. DECEMBER IS NEXT WEEK OH MY GOD.)

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