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Out on the town: Maria Roberts

Emma Bovary heads to the Temple of Convenience to meet the writer of Single Mother on the Verge: a Manchester woman with a past

Published on August 18th 2009.

Out on the town: Maria Roberts

“If you invite a writer to your table, you run the risk of being written about.”

It’s an unnerving thing for someone to say as you’re joining them, literally at a table.

“I had to put myself back there mentally. Luckily, I keep loads of text messages and emails.” I choke on a mouthful of gin. Text messages and emails from the romantic past? Is she INSANE?

Luckily, I’m a lady who’s as familiar with sweeping statements as she is with hard liquor. I put down the drinks.

Maria Roberts – award-winning blogger, published author, and the woman responsible for single-handedly, Shamelesslyyou might say, putting a South Manchester council estate on the map – brings a glass of cold rosé to her lips and shoots me a heavily mascara’d wink. She’s a petite coquette of the highest order.

The scene of our little tête-à-tête is underground ex-cottaging joint The Temple on Oxford Street. It’s 4pm on a Monday and we’re enjoying the limited seating facilities before the post-work rush. I’ve told Maria, my debut interviewee for Confidential, that I want to talk about the difficulties of writing about people you know – this in the light of the publication of her first book, Single Mother on the Verge.

Maria’s work is a memoir, similar to an autobiography but more heavily themed, and recounts her adventures as a young single parent with a GSOH seeking romance – and finding instead a vegan eco-warrior, an open relationship, and a stolen Viagra tablet in a ladies’ loo.

Just another weekend in Hulme, you might think. But no. It started with a blog – a blog that won Best Personal Blog at the Manchester Blog Awards 2007 – and was quickly snapped up by a highfalutin’ London agent, and then the even higher-falutin’ Penguin publishing house.

Maria set about lengthening and strengthening her story-so-far into a 300-page memoir. She says she got through a lot of wine. Ah, a girl after my own liver. But you see publishers, like most literary types, are sex-obsessed, and as blog became book, the memoir’s muck factor was upped faster than a silver fox after a Viagra cocktail. Given that all this sex was with real-life people, and not just, say, characters off Coronation Street, I suggest that the process can’t have been an easy ride – so to speak.

“I panicked when the book was about to be published,” Maria says, vigorously swirling her rosé. “I realised I was actually writing about real people. I’d written columns and blog posts for years about people I knew, but they always found them humorous. This was different. I suddenly found out that certain people were unhappy I was putting them in the book.”

Surely, though, it’s always flattering to have a writer’s eye on you?

“Sometimes. Other people I knew complained they didn’t get a big enough part, and started feeding me information all the time in the hope I’d write more about them.”

And did she appease the naysayers?

“I changed things where I could, when it wasn’t too late. But you have to accept that your work won’t fit into everyone’s idea of who you are. I realised I wasn’t writing for everyone. I was writing for my female readership. And I did it under my own name. I hope I’ve written something that’s truthful but also tactful.”

I always thought tact was for doctors and undertakers. What I really want to know is: what did her mother make of it all?

“I handed the book to my mum with the warning: Just pretend it’s not me! I told her to read before anyone else, but she wanted to wait until she was on holiday. She got back last week and said: You little minx.”

Maria’s method of revisiting old feelings might also strike fear into anyone, like myself, hiding a skeleton or three in the closet.

“By the end of the book I felt so differently about my life than I had when I started blogging,” Maria says. “I had to put myself back there mentally. Luckily, I keep loads of text messages and emails.”

I choke on a mouthful of gin. Text messages and emails from the romantic past? Is she INSANE?

“I must admit, I glanced at some of them and thought, Oh, Maria, you’re such a nobhead. But they showed me where my head was at the time.”

Personally, I burn my bus tickets, never mind my diaries. But Maria says she found this private archaeology useful.

“I was able to keep very detached,” she says. “I felt like I was writing about myself as a character – like you would if you were writing fiction.”

And she never once felt as though she gave too much away?

“Sometimes I do think, Have I invaded my own privacy? Have I lost that? But I don’t think I’ve written about anything that private. Even the sex is situational. I lead up to a situation and withdraw from it. You can only ever capture someone momentarily anyway. You pin them down for a moment, and then they’re off again.”

Which makes for an apt point to wind-up. But before that, one for the road. I believe it was dear old Raymond Carver’s wife who once bitterly spat at him during an argument: ‘I hope you’re going to write all this down in your little notebook!’ Which of course he did. That’s how we know about it.

So there you have it. Invite a writer to your table and reap the whirlwind.

Adds Maria: “Invite one into your bed, and you’re really in trouble.”

Touché, chérie.

Single Mother on the Verge (Penguin, £6.99) is out now. Read Maria’s blog at singlemotherontheverge.com

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Mountains TableAugust 18th 2009.

What excellent drinking companions you two would make!Scott does have a good wine list doesn't he?

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