It’s such a pleasure today to welcome Fanny Blake as my guest on Being Anne. While Fanny has long been one of my favourite people to spend time with at book parties, I’m a relative latecomer to her books – but I absolutely loved House of Dreams (do read my review again here). Her latest, Our Summer Together, published by Orion on 13th July, looks so wonderful it could have had “Anne’s going to love this one” on a sticker on the cover: I’ll be reading and reviewing in August, and I can’t wait!
Our Summer Together is an uplifting story about family, friendship and the happy surprise of finding love later in life.
Caro knows how to be a mother – advising her grown-up daughters on career and relationship worries. She knows how to be a grandmother – enjoying the hectic energy of her three-year-old grandson. She knows how to be a daughter – helping her aging mother retain her independence.
She thought she knew everything about being a wife, but when her husband suddenly leaves her for another woman, everything is thrown in the air. So, when a chance meeting introduces her to Damir – younger, intriguing and attentive – she realises that opening up to a man so different from everyone else in her life, might also mean getting to know who she really is…
I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I spent the eve of my 60th birthday on a jet-boat under the Iguazu Falls – and the birthday itself in a helicopter over Rio de Janeiro, dodging clouds in a desperate attempt to see the face of Christ. So Fanny really couldn’t have written a more perfect guest post… it most definitely is never too late for something new!
Enjoying a sundowner at our hotel in South Africa, my friend Barbara and I were interrupted by a man who had just white-water rafted down the Zambesi and couldn’t stop telling anyone who’d listen how exhilarating it had been. ‘What a bore,’ we agreed, but we fell for his chat all the same.
If Barbara’s divorce hadn’t been going through the following day in a German court, I suspect I might not have agreed to white-water raft at all but she wanted to do something momentous to mark the day and to take her mind off things. How could I refuse to go along? Besides, isn’t life all about trying new things, having adventures – especially when you’re past the 50-year mark?
I didn’t know until afterwards that the Zambesi is classified as a high-volume pool drop grade 5 river with ‘extremely difficult, long and violent rapids with steep gradients, big drops and pressure areas.’
My first doubts reared their heads in the office where we signed a disclaimer, absolving the company from all responsibility in the event of our deaths. Above our heads were TV screens showing rafts full of helmeted bright young things crashing through alarmingly rough rapids. The second doubts surfaced when I was told I had to remove my wedding ring in case it got caught on something under the water.
By the time we’d climbed down to the Zambesi (think of the height of Victoria Falls), my legs were shaking from the effort and I was terrified. We stood by a still stretch of water. In the distance spray rose like smoke from the first set of rapids. I looked at Barbara and she at me. But it was too late to go back. We were joining the expedition for the afternoon.
Around the corner of the river came three rafts filled with Amazonian young women and men plus several intrepid kayakers who were completing the whole run too. They had already negotiated a morning’s worth of rapids. To say I felt unfit in comparison is an understatement. We fastened the straps of our hard helmets and life-jackets and climbed aboard for the briefing. The ‘captain’ of the raft explained exactly how we were to approach each rapid, in which direction to swim if we fell out and how, if the raft flipped, we were to hang onto the rope for dear life. Most important of all, we shouldn’t scream under water! None of this made me feel better. My heart was pounding as we set off for the first rapid: The Overland Truck Eater.
The sight of the green water crashing onto the rocks, the spray rising up in the air was terrifying. We were told what we were to do and headed straight at it. Big deep breath. Listening to the ‘captain’s’ shouts. Paddling like mad to take us over to one side of the rapid, then back across the other way. Then we were through! We had done it.
After that my nerves vanished. We saw off The Mother, the Washing Machine, The Terminator and more until we reached our final rapid: Oblivion. We smashed through a wall of water only to be confronted with another immediately after, followed by one veering in from the right that caught the raft underneath and tipped it over. Under water, I hung onto the rope, Barbara’s foot on my ear, this was The End. And then the raft righted itself and we were in calm water, ecstatic and laughing, thrilled with our achievement.
Climbing up the side of the gorge was the final trial. While the local boys packed up the rafts and ran up to the top in five minutes. Barbara and I puffed our way up in 20. At the top we found a small memorial stone to a man who had gone under at Oblivion and never resurfaced.
Later that night, guess who were the adrenaline-pumped tourists in the bar ready to bore anyone who’d listen about our experience? But it’s one I’ll certainly never forget and it taught me that if I face my fears and overcome them, the feeling of empowerment and exhilaration are second to none.
Those feelings are what I wanted to convey through Caro, the heroine of my new novel Our Summer Together. She’s a mother and a grandmother whose husband has left her. She has no particular expectations in life until a chance meeting changes everything. She has to force herself to confront her fears about starting again and in so doing so doing she opens herself up to a world of new possibilities, showing it’s never too late to try something new.
Fanny, thank you – respect! And my thanks too to Elaine Egan of Orion Books for her support in pulling the post together. Fanny Blake’s Our Summer Together (Orion) is out now.
About the author
Fanny Blake was a publisher for many years, editing both fiction and non-fiction before becoming a freelance journalist and writer. She has written various non-fiction titles, acted as ghost writer for a number of celebrities, and is also Books Editor of Woman & Home magazine. She has written seven novels, including House of Dreams and Our Summer Together.