Picture, if you can, the summer of 1984. Before Live Aid. Before EastEnders. I was 10. I loved Wham and Madonna and spent most of my time worrying about nuclear war and London flooding (thanks to the terrifying Thames Barrier adverts. That summer my family went on our first package holiday to Portugal. Because we’d never been on a holiday like that before, I completely underestimated just how much opportunity for reading there would be. I read all of the books I’d brought with me in about 40 minutes. I read the ones belonging to my parents that they let me borrow. My brother’s Commando comics didn’t really appeal but I read them anyway (“Ach! Gott in himmel!”) and finally I persuaded my parents to cough up and buy me “just one more” book to last me the rest of the holiday.
And what they bought me was Starring Sally J Freedman As Herself by Judy Blume.
I read that book three times in a week. It was a revelation. There I was, a bookish, over-imaginative 10-year-old girl, who lived in her head most of the time making up stories about people I met (Don’t worry, I don’t do that now of course. Noooo. Never.). And there was Sally. A bookish, over-imaginative 10-year-old girl, who lived in her head most of the time. She was just like me. And I liked her. This was HUGE.
When I came home from that holiday, I madly scrambled to get my hands on any and every Judy Blume book I possibly could. I loved Deenie (and I still think about her every time I shave my legs!), I loved Margaret in Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret?, I had my eyes opened to racism by Winnie in Iggie’s House and of course I learned a lot (!) from Katherine and Michael in Forever.
So why am I telling you all this? It’s because tonight I’m off to meet Judy Blume – well, to hear her read at least – as she promotes her latest novel In The Unlikely Event. I’m VERY excited. I’m hoping I can get to thank her for giving me that moment, in the Portuguese sun, 31 years ago, when I realised it was okay to be me.