Someone will ask me what my new book’s about.
“It’s about two couples who swap partners for the night,’ I say.
And then I count and wait for the inevitable response:
1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . .
“It wasn’t inspired by real life, was it?” And they laugh, nervously.
Sometimes I say, “Well, yes, actually.” But only to see the expression on their faces. The way they stand a little closer to their partner and a little further away from me.
The truth is less salacious.
We were on holiday, my wife and I, high on a hill in the Austrian Alps. And I’d been struggling with an idea for a new novel. Something about infidelity, that somehow just wasn’t working. Wasn’t coming together or catching fire. So this holiday was a welcome break from the daily business of banging my head on my desk and wondering why I ever thought I had any business writing novels.
We’d had a long day walking and were enjoying a glass of wine on the balcony. Watching the sun cast long shadows over the surrounding and impossibly green peaks. A couple we know were joining us the following day, we were looking forward to their company and Sarah was suggesting things we might do with them – a hike, a swim, a long lunch.
In truth, I was only half listening. That bit of my brain that concocts or discovers story was ticking over in the background. An almost subconscious process of shuffling together observations, old ideas, notions and frustrations. It’s magic, really; the backroom boys noodling away on the abandoned infidelity concept, while I relaxed, sipped wine, took in the view, and fielded suggestions from Mrs Jones. And then it came to me.
I turned to my wife, who was still talking about the imminent arrival of our friends. (And a handsome couple they are too, by the way). And I said: “How about a foursome?”
Mrs J looked at me. She smiled. Because she knows me, you see. She knows that even when I’m not meant to be thinking about writing, there’s always a small fold of brain tinkering away. “A story?” She said.
“Of course,” I told her. “What else?”
She turned back to the mountains and nodded. “I think that sounds excellent.”
The following day we went for a long walk with our friends. Over lunch, one of them asked me if I was working on a new book. “Yes,” I said. “It begins with two couples swapping partners for the night.”
He sipped his wine as he considered this. “It wasn’t inspired by real life, was it?”
I laughed. “Of course not,” I told him.
But I noticed he had moved a little closer to his wife.