Summer is causing seismic shifts among the salonistas. The Divine Ms Anna greets her guests this evening in the garden - dressed in a onesie. A onesie! The garment of choice for those who want to hide away from the world, slumped on the sofa while watching the Kardashians and eating Cheesy Wotsits.
The garment used to humiliate prospective grooms on their stag dos, in a far more agonising way than the traditional stripping naked and zapping with shaving foam. Guaranteed to lead to the calling off of the wedding if the bride ever sees him in pale blue nylon fur adorned with pink cow’s udders.
What, you might ask, is the Divine Ms Anna thinking of? Thankfully hers is a spectacular garment, charmingly summery and spattered with multi-coloured flowers. It emerges she bought it in Asda in Elgin when she realised none of the clothes she had with her were suitable for the unseasonal summer that seems to have descended on us this week. (It’s only June and we have a heatwave, for goodness sake.)
‘The funny thing is,’ she reflects, ‘that I stood out in Elgin not because of my onesie but because I was the only person there whose skin was completely free of tattoos.’
The arrival of Elginer Marion, with tattoos on both arms and goodness knows where else, rather confirms her statement.
But the summer break with tradition is not limited to Ms Anna’s wardrobe. The redoubtable Maggie Lennon has, it transpires, become a bird-watching expert since our last salon. A recent glamping trip has confirmed her status as a deeply knowledgable ornithologist. She stayed for four whole days in a log cabin somewhere in Perthshire, eating in the open air, having to fight her way to the communal washhouse for showers.
’Oh yes,’ she says authoritatively. ’Most unusual to see the siskin so far north at this time of year.’
Or maybe it was some other bird. Not being a twitcher myself I can only marvel at the wealth of knowledge she‘s acquired from The RSPB Pocket Guide to British Birds. In such a short period of time too.
The culinary traditions of the salon are also thrown to the winds tonight - no soup. Ms Anna bought the makings in Elgin but has arrived back home just fifteen minutes before her guests. Or most of them - La Lennon has been here since six, supervising Anna’s daughter Nina’s homework and casting a benign eye over her eight year old son Joe’s attempts at mountaineering in and out of the flat’s front windows. As it’s extremely hot and we’re eating in the garden, no soup is a good decision. Bread and cheese, roasted peppers and the best pork pies in the city are delicious and easier to eat.
My own collection of novellas, The Four Marys, published by Saraband, is the featured book tonight, bringing the salon full circle as my novel, Myra, Beyond Saddleworth, kicked it all off just over a year ago. That night Ms Anna stated her preferences in salon readings. ‘They should always have sex,’ she said firmly.
In deference to this I’ve chosen a scene from The Diva, a story about a Glaswegian woman who becomes a great star on the operatic stage. She falls in love with a famous tenor when they appear together in an open air concert at a stately home.
Authors always have a certain amount of trepidation just writing sex scenes, given the various Bad Sex awards on offer. But reading them out loud? Is there no limit to the challenges facing the modern author? I’ve had to learn how to tweet, where to sign a book (the flyleaf), even how to take a selfie. Becoming a performer is the last straw, but the Divine Ms Anna is stern when I talk about choosing the reading.
‘Let’s be honest,’ she says. ‘Your book is full of squelchy bits.‘
There seems to be a general consensus that the book is pretty female, which is no surprise to me as I am pretty female. I’m more startled by the fact that no quarter is given to the male characters in the book. Having been a rabid feminist all my life, I’m now finding that other women leave me standing in their lack of tolerance of ordinary male behaviour. No-one likes my kind tenor because he‘s been unfaithful to his wife and the husband of the baby snatcher is written off as a waste of space. Even the hot art teacher who marries the sealwoman is roundly condemned.
‘He’s exploitative,’ says Ms Lennon in crushingly final tones.
The male gender having been dismissed, we go on to more literary discussion. The stories feature shape-shifting, baby-snatching, two infanticides and a hanging, so are not gentle domestic dramas - the book’s strapline, Is Motherhood Every Woman’s Destiny? was worked out in conversation with the fabulous Sara Hunt, Saraband’s publisher. With such subject matter there are few options for the reassuring ending. I’m thinking of adopting No Redemption as my new motto, though my publisher is not entirely convinced. (‘I can actually conceive of a situation where redemption might be appropriate,’ she notes.)
As the carrot cake is handed out and more wine is poured, there is discussion of the demands society makes on women, the myths around motherhood, and of women finding their own identity outside marriage and childen. Though it seems I have failed as a writer: ‘I thought the baby in the second story was going to turn out to be a demon child,’ says Maggie Lennon accusingly. ‘That would have been a much better story.’ A plotline I’ll save for future use.
Despite the breaks in tradition Ms Anna is in contemplative mood tonight, looking back to the past and the start of the salon. She had just separated from her husband and wanted to find out what she liked rather than what they had done as a couple. ‘It’s totemic for me,’ she says. ‘I had to work out who I was again, what I wanted to do.’ She gestures round the high-ceilinged room with its elegant cornices, its feeling of space.
'This place can soak up a lot of people. I like it when it's full of friends, noise, wine, books. Joe complained after one salon that he couldn't get to sleep because we were laughing too much. Sorry Joe, but that's the way I like it.'
Looking round at everyone still volubly discussing identity and stereotypes and gardens and Asda’s bread, I can only agree. Divine, Ms Anna.