At the end of last month, Sherry Morris came to stay with us, together with her partner Phil. I suppose you could say she came to collect her prize as winner of the 2017 Book a Break short story competition, though there wasn't actually a ceremony like they do at Wimbledon. Maybe next year I'll manufacture a cool trophy which the winner will hold aloft before making a speech.
Living here, I sometimes forget what a splendid place it is, notwithstanding certain discomforts of modern life such as the ever-increasing volume of traffic and rising levels of pollution. But Sherry and Phil weren't bothered: they live in a remote part of Scotland, so it was an opportunity for them to observe some human beings. Though apparently in summer they get a lot of them up there too. There are human beings all over the place.
Apart from Aix itself, they visited Avignon and Marseille, where Phil went to see a Black Madonna. For some reason, he developed a sudden interest in Black Madonnas whilst over here, so now he'll be trekking the world in search of them. Or else he might just write about them - he's a playwright, so maybe at some point there'll be a new nativity play starring Beyoncé.
After reading Green Tights, Sherry's story in With Our Eyes Open, one of the contributors said it was 'very David Lynch', which I thought nailed it perfectly - the same blend of startling imagery and delicious, twisting storyline. I'd imagined her rather similar - eccentric, intense, prowling the garden in a creative bubble of her own. In fact she's perfectly normal, which reassured me that you don't have to be extraordinary yourself to produce extraordinary writing; you just have to roll up your sleeves and work at it.
My own company, of course, isn't part of the prize, but inevitably it's in the package, at least for part of the time. So I tried to keep on my best red carpet behaviour, though I stopped short of the bow tie, or indeed of any tie. Come to think of it, my dress sense - no, better not go there. Let's just say I'm better at cooking. On the whole, that is, though I managed to make a mess of Sherry's tea. I'm not sure how. I think it was George Orwell's fault - I was following his recipe. I'm a great Orwell fan, but maybe when it comes to tea, I should seek inspiration elsewhere.
The Book a Break competition is singular in that the organiser gets as much pleasure from it as the winner. Like Ingrid Jendrzejewski last year, Sherry and Phil were charming and interesting guests - my thanks go to both for making this year's edition so enjoyable.