(Sorry about the italics and the enormous point. It's Blogger's wonderful new interface at work.)
I feel it necessary to clear the air in regard to a certain incident that occurred at the Somerset Celebration of Literature on the Gold Coast back in 2007. This particular festival of literature is one of the most prestigious on the literary calendar. Some writers (Hi, Sofie Laguna!) have even suggested that they would do this festival for free, and one can certainly see why. At the first one I attended, the writers were accommodated at a seafront hotel, which gave me the opportunity to have long romantic walks along the beach with my fellow authors. One of these involved a wonderful walk and talk with Erica Wagner, everyone's favourite publisher. She had just read I'm Being Stalked by a Moonshadow and told me how much she enjoyed it. (She was the first person to tell me that, possibly the last.) It was a truly beautiful moment until Erica got tangled up in some sort of drift-net that had found its way onto the beach. Erica's dextrous partner, Craig Smith, managed to untangle her. This is my lasting memory of the first Somerset Celebration I attended. I got invited back the following year, which is unusual because it really is the Rolls Royce of festivals, but I think I got the callback because they wanted a celebrity guest to deliver a speech on the night of the official launch dinner. I suggested Wendy Harmer, then begged her to do the gig, and Wendy accepted happily. The organisers felt they owed me for my effort (which was minimal, given that Wendy is not shy about public speaking, or indeed being accommodated in five star hotels on the Gold Coast). And this is the festival where that Tara Moss thing happened and I really feel I must apologise to Tara if I offended her.
This is how it happened. There was a shuttle bus that carried authors from their luxury accommodation to Somerset College, where the actual celebration took place. On my first ride on the bus I was accompanied by about twelve other writers, all being rowdy and excited and silly. I sat next to Phil Kettle, the writer who sounds like the start of a recipe. It was a jolly ride, and we all arrived in tip-top shape ready to speak to the kids about our work. Tara Moss was on this trip. It's kind of hard not to notice someone as tall and attractive as Tara Moss, especially when you're sitting next to Phil Kettle. I wanted to introduce myself to her, but I never got a chance to, because she was on her phone most of the time and Jack Heath kept fainting all over her (I think this was probably by mutual arrangement). Still determined to say hello to Tara, I stalked her round the Celebration, where she was either on the phone, being orbited by Jack, or sipping from a bucket of coffee, which was her constant companion. I don't know where she got it from, but she was never without it. Now, when I caught the shuttle bus back to the hotel, the only other passenger was Tara! We'd both done our sessions and were keen to get back to the lap of luxury in which we were cocooned. (Sorry about the mixed metaphor, this is just too embarrassing to worry about such things). Tara continued to talk on that scallop phone (she was meeting friends at The Versace Hotel - naturally) and to slurp from that enormous bucket of coffee. The bus crossed a bridge over what looked like an estuary. Tara finished her call. And I was just about to introduce myself when something extraordinary happened. The air in the shuttle bus was redolent with a potent fart smell. Since I wasn't responsible, and the driver was separated from us by a Perspex wall, I figured it had to be Tara. And I became so obsessed with the fact that Tara Moss had farted at me (this is an exaggeration, I have no reason to believe she actually aimed) that it became very difficult for me to engage her in conversation. My adult self kept reminding me that farting was a perfectly normal human function, especially if you're going to guzzle buckets of coffee all day, and just because Tara was overwhelmingly beautiful it didn't make her immune to the rigours of flatulence. But my schoolboy self just wanted to giggle and crack open a window. (Although my window was already open - a clue, readers.) Now, of course, a story like this only becomes funny when you tell it to someone else. And I just had to. I forget who I told, but never take an author into your confidence because they just can't help themselves. They're as discreet as The News of the World. By the end of the day, quite a few people had sympathised with me about my experience of having Austrtalia's most attractive crime writer fart at me. (The story wouldn't have spread if the farting writer had been Phil Kettle, I'm sure.) And I kept seeing Tara giving me dark looks. There was no way I could talk to her now. Someone had told her my tale. The next day on the shuttle bus I was with Dave Hackett and Jack Heath. We crossed that same bridge over the estuary and - I shudder to write this - the bus filled with fart smell again. Jack, Dave and I are smutty boys who would happily own up to being the perpetrator, but I think it was Dave who pointed out the piles of seaweed rotting under the bridge. I live in St Kilda. Every summer, sea kelp washes up on the beach and cooks in the sun. The whole town ends up smelling like a fart, becase the smell of the rotting seaweed really is that sulphurous and awful. But did I recognise it when first smelled it on that bus? No. Did I think the fart smell in the bus might possibly have come from those piles of rotting seaeweed under the bridge? No. Instead I decided to blame the most glamorous writer in Australia. Tara, I'm really sorry, because I know someone told you that I had accused you of farting at me, when you were totally innocent of said crime. If I have another stroke I'll probably die, so it really is time for me to right some past wrongs. I would like to state, categorically, that Tara Moss did not fart at me in the shuttle bus at Somerset.