Earlier this week I went to Ely to do a reading in a wonderful independent bookshop called Topping & Company. I was to read from my new novel, Love Falls, and as I hadn't read from it before I spent the journey there leafing through its pages. It's never easy to find a section that works - too many characters, too little happening, too much sex - but eventually I chose what I thought was a suitable chapter. It wasn't until I was reading aloud that I realised that, in the course of some dinner-party banter, a young woman threatens her teenage stepbrother: "Do that again and I promise, I'll find you later, and I'll sit on your face." My narrator blushed, I blushed, and the old ladies in the front row giggled raucously. It reminded me of a British Council tour through Germany long ago where the piece extracted in New Writing, from which I had no choice but to read, contained the line: "Ruby wore a shirt with seven dwarfs all fucking each other on the front." Over the course of the four-day tour my voice grew quieter and quieter, until the dignitaries and their wives in the front row had to crane forward to hear.
Whenever I'm doing an interview I get asked the inevitable question: "What effect does it have, the name Freud?" Very rarely am I believed when I say that the most common effect is that almost no one can understand what I'm saying. Frewd? Froud? Fraud? I once received a letter addressed to S de Frawed. Is it me? I worry. Am I so unclear? So I was delighted when my cousin Jack told me how he'd booked a cab in his name. "That'll be twenty minutes, Mr Forehead." Not being in the mood to argue, he accepted this and put down the phone. But then, ten minutes later, something came up and he had to ring and cancel it.
"There's nothing down here under Freud. Sorry. Nothing at all."
"Umm, anything in the name of Forehead?" Jack ventured.
"Oh yes, Forehead. It's on its way now."
"I'd like to cancel that."
"Sorry, only Mr Forehead can cancel that cab."
"But I am Mr Forehead!" Jack pleaded. "I am Mr Forehead!"
The man sounded disgruntled. "Make your bloody mind up."
Later in the week we went up to Liverpool to attend a charity event for the Alder Hey Children's Hospital. It was a glittering affair in a marquee behind a stately home. Before we went into the marquee we had drinks with the lady of the house, a group of doctors who worked at the hospital and the guest of honour, Yoko Ono. She had given permission for this new charity to use the name Imagine, linking it for ever in people's minds with John Lennon. I got into a rather abstract conversation with her about Russia, a country it turned out that neither of us knew very much about.
At dinner I was sitting next to a paediatric brain surgeon, a man so gentle and kind that any desperate parent would be glad to find him treating their child. In the course of the evening, in which half a million pounds was raised, I was alerted to the chilling truth that the majority of head injuries occur between May and October, when children are free to run outside. In the winter months the trauma unit is significantly quieter.
Mud to go
I hardly had a chance to shout, "Don't let the children out of the house - ever" before I was off to the Hay Literary Festival. When I left London it was hot and balmy. I traipsed off in my peep-toe sandals, with another even more insubstantial pair in my bag, and a couple of floaty dresses in anticipation of the many Hay parties. But as I reached Wales it began raining. And the rain continued to pour down, drumming so hard on the tent's roof when Gordon Brown was talking about his loyalty to Tony Blair that it seemed even the gods had something to say.
By the time I left Hay, shivering, mud-splattered and wearing every item of my clothing, I'd understood the perfect Hay-on-Wye dress code: a party dress, Wellingtons, a very thick coat and an umbrella.
© Esther Freud, 2007. "Love Falls" by Esther Freud is published on 4 June by Bloomsbury (£12.99)