We walk through the door of a candlelit café. It is my perfect venue; relaxed food and the ability to order a milkshake, and not alcohol, at ten o’clock at night if you wish.
I ask for buttermilk chicken because I can’t resist it if it appears on the menu, and I get Dave a massive glass of red wine.
When I sit back down, he drops his usual jovial expression and says: ‘did you have any idea this was going to happen?’
‘No. No,’ I say.
‘What did you think would happen?’ His blue eyes look navy in the dimness.
I think for a moment. My pot of tea arrives and I fiddle with the hot lid, letting little curls of steam out of the top. ‘I actually didn’t think about it,’ I say, astonished at myself, for I think too much about everything. ‘I couldn’t see past publication day.’
‘Yeah,’ Dave says, nodding. ‘Me too, I suppose.’
We sit in the quiet for a moment, ostensibly out celebrating, eating buttermilk chicken and whatever pudding we like on a Tuesday night, but actually just sitting quietly in shock. Everything But The Truth, my little book, hit number 6 in the Sunday Times Bestseller list today. Nobody was more surprised than us. Than me.
Dave sips his wine silently, still looking at me. I like that look. That quiet look; he lets me sit with the knowledge, the undoubted success, which I will not – definitely not – discard next week in the quest for the next thing (staying in the top ten? Number one? A BAFTA?). It joins us at the table, the achievement, and Dave lets it sit with us for a moment in the quiet. I am eight and writing in the opticians. I am thirteen and reading Sweet Valley High in my bedroom into the night. I am fifteen and keeping a journal so fat and full of artefacts that its pages won’t close. I am twenty-two and starting my second novel for adults. I am twenty-five and blogging every day, reams and reams of dialogue between Dave and I. I am twenty-eight and reading Louise Doughty and wishing, wishing that I could be like that. I am twenty-nine and standing at the train station, staring at my phone in shock with the email inside it that says an agent has signed me. I am twenty-nine and rejected by all the major publishers, my novel discarded in a folder deep on my hard drive. I am thirty-one and getting the call to say that Penguin bought the novel I wrote in those slow-moving pessimistic months that followed rejection. And here I am, thirty-two and my book has sold the sixth most of any paperback in the UK. Top Ten Bestseller will forever emblazon my books.
Our food arrives after a few moments and the achievement leaves, and now it is just the two of us again.