I had never liked talking about my writing – it was one of the reasons why I had buried my Meditations in my Emma Hope shoebox. Not that I didn’t appreciate the immense opportunity that the present of the book had bestowed on me. And I couldn’t honestly say I disliked my new-found celebrity status. But to actually talk about it to a total stranger, who might then broadcast what I’d said to an entire capital, was a very different matter altogether.
‘I believe in the importance of inner contemplation,’ I said, studying my bare knees for some reason as I spoke, ‘an ordering of the mind, a search for what matters, an investigation into the complexities of being.’
Although I stopped speaking at that point, my mind continued along the path it had begun – how best to define my Meditations, whether it was wise to mention the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius or whether that would lose Victor entirely, whether Descartes’ Meditations might prove a more accessible alternative. But I had little time for such reflections – Victor Darling was talking again: ‘I’ve just had a brilliant idea!’ he was saying. ‘Instead of Harriet on her own, why don’t we film you all together – mother, Nana and Harriet, the three generations. How about that?’
To my amazement, Nana removed her grey and white velvet hat and began to rearrange her curls with the tips of her fingers, saying, ‘How do you want me, Victor? Happy or serious?’ I couldn’t think why she was enjoying herself so much.
‘Listen to Nana over there!’ Victor replied. ‘What about Mother?’
‘We’d only spoil it,’ my mother had the good sense to say. ‘It’s a kind suggestion, Victor, but Nana and I are just here to give Harriet moral support, aren’t we, Harriet?’
As she spoke my name, my mother stared sternly at me, opening her eyes to their full capacity in an expression that only I would understand. It meant ‘For goodness’ sake, Harriet, don’t just sit there as if you’d rather be at home in your pyjamas tucked up in bed with a good book – speak to the man, capture his attention!’ It was just the look I needed.
‘Victor!’ I said, a little louder and more animated than before. ‘Isn’t Harriet Rose enough for you?’
He looked at me as if he’d suddenly noticed who I was. ‘Convince me!’ he replied challengingly.
I took a deep breath and said, ‘I can’t stand people who don’t mean what they say.’ It was the first thing that came into my head. But, as my mother always told me, it’s the way you say it. ‘And there is someone I quite like, but I’m unconvinced by his Bermuda shorts – you can see up them.’ I seemed inadvertently to have hit a Victor funny-bone. ‘And I was put off him at my book launch by the attention he paid to a fluffy airhead dressed like a raspberry fool.’
Victor was a new man. ‘Stop it, Harriet! Enough! You’ll make me cry and Makeup will have to do my foundation again!’
When you cry you open the floodgates of the soul,’ I said. I was on a roll. It wasn’t even one of my Meditations. I’d just made it up.