When our portal designers signal that they need to meet us to talk further, Libby is launching her new book, “A Boy Like Me” and Louise is lecturing full time. Our portal builders want to schedule a meeting in nine day’s time. Only Bem and I are free to fly to India. Bem is in Australia and I’m in London to research and write, along with my partner Gordon, my daughter and her friend.
Not quite believing that this fairy story can come true, I nevertheless dash to the internet and buy three flight tickets to New Delhi- cheap, unrefundable ones, always so tempting on the internet. (Gordon has to stay behind in London to work).Then I apply for visas to get into India. In that order. The order is very important to this story. I slosh self-righteously through London rain to the visa place, self-righteous because it’s a whole 8 days before we’re due to fly to India and usually I leave everything till the last minute, especially the boring things. “Madam,” they tell me at the visa place, “Australian visas applied for in London usually take 10 working days to clear. There’s only been once that they’ve been cleared in a week.”
I can’t afford another set of tickets. I’m a writer. I beg the vacation company that sold me the tickets to let me postpone our flight until the visa arrive. They say: “ We can’t. Ask Alitalia.” Alitalia says: “We can’t. Ask the vacation company.” Friends tell me wild stories of how they talked their way into getting changes on unchangeable tickets , stories that involve claims that their child is dying or that they’ve just been diagnosed with a brain tumor. I can only keep hoping. Three times in the next 7 days I slosh again to the visa place- does the rain ever stop in London? Marvelous city but they built it in the wrong place! Each time, the visa officials patiently re-iterate what they told me at the beginning; that when our visas are ready for collection, an sms will automatically be sent to me. But for all my new learning, I’m still a luddite at heart and disbelieve in automatic smses.
On the night before our flight to India, I insist that we all pack. The youngies grudgingly comply.
I wake up with dread. Another grey sky. The flight, Alitalia, leaves at 1.30pm. We must get on that plane, I must, for the sake of my Royal family, for the sake of the revolution in Australian literature, get to the meeting. Rain’s pouring again. The young ones are deeply asleep. Gordon sighs but gets up and makes the coffee. “You’re in fantasy land,” he says. “ Their automatic sms system must’ve been used thousands of times. It wouldn’t fail for you.”
“Get the kids up and ready,” I tell him. His mouth closes grimly. He’s not one to repeat himself: it’s just a fantasy of mine that the visas are there, my silly optimism.
I trundle my bag through the rain to the visa office. I wait for an exasperating hour in the queue, thinking that if we were to get the visas, by now we probably wouldn’t make it to the plane anyway.
“Funny” says the man behind the desk, his eyes squinting in disbelief as he gazes at his automatic system. “Your visas have been waiting for 2 days. And no one’s contacted you?”
Gordon rings serendipitously at the very moment I’m racing up the stairs to get the visas, locked in someone’s office. I hammer at the door as I shout into the phone.
It’s now 10.30, an hour before boarding time closes for international flights. “Get the kids to Victoria Station”, I yelp to Gordon down the phone, the visas now in my hand.
“But I can’t wake them up,” he cries.
Somehow he succeeds in getting them to the station, all sleepy eyed and lumbering luggage, despite the weather and the snarled traffic and a breakdown on the tube. I don’t have a chance to ask him how he managed this feat. The express train to Gatwick’s just about to close its doors when we four roar yelling onto the platform. The guard waits while we stumble on. I insist Gordon accompany us to Gatwick, given my gibbering state. At the airport, construction work hides the Alitalia check in desk, and when Gordon find it, forty minutes before the plane takes off, we stop short, horrified. There’s a long queue. It must be for the next plane! I think to ask the last person in the queue what flight he’ s going on. He smiles nonchalantly, a handsome Italian. Our flight. Still not reassured, I ask another. The same answer. No one seems fussed. This isn’t like the schedules Qantas keeps. I’m shaking so much, I sit on the floor.
Only as we’re going down the tunnel to the plane do I believe that this fantasy is really happening, and ring Bem in Australia, who’s given up on me. It’s the middle of her night. “I’ll make it to Delhi,” she says. “Somehow.”
So we meet our portal designers in New Delhi, a long meeting that takes all afternoon, and many cups of chai. We describe in detail the portal we’ve been imagining all these months, and all the facilities that only authors would think of. It’s taken a year, but I’ve learned so much in that time, I talk easily. I wouldn’t have dreamed this time last year that I could do it.
Our designers have a huge staff of perhaps 2500 people. They service traditional publishers all over the world, providing e books, including Australian publishers. They’ve never been approached before by a group of authors. We assure them that the site is needed by established Australian authors, that it will be driven by Australian authors and their readers. They tell us that it’d be built in 3 months.
So now we wait.