Of all the authors I’ve been lucky enough to interview over the years, none – not even that impish seer Margaret Atwood, with whom I once conducted an entire conversation in the apt position of supplicant, crouched at her feet for want of a chair – made me quite so giddy as Judy Blume.
It’s all to do with when I first read Blume, of course. Back when I was the resident books expert on an early-hours radio phone-in, we’d ask listeners to tell us about books that were somehow superlative for them – the one they remember most vividly, the one that’s had the biggest impact on them, the one they go back to again and again… The panoply of titles that listeners came up with had this in common: they first encountered them as teenagers.
Most of us met Blume as tweens, on the cusp of that most awkward of ages, and so her books remain drenched in nostalgia for us. Of this she’s well aware. Here’s how she deals with meeting star-struck adults like myself:
I tell them I represent your childhood in some way – like the blankie, I take you back to childhood. It’s not what I ever intended to do, but I accept that. I have the most loyal readers in the world.
Meeting childhood heroes is as risky as returning to a favourite book from back then. What if Judy Blume turned out to a vile old harpy? Happily, I can reveal that she’s about as nice a person – at least to interview – as you can imagine. Heck, she even said she’d cast me in the movie of Summer Sisters when I first interviewed her. (I’m guessing the director had other ideas.)
A couple of years ago, when she published a rare novel for grown-ups, I got to interview her again. It was by phone, and while she sat in her NYC pied-a-terre, I was in the Virgin Trains lounge at Liverpool Lime Street, having tagged along on a beloved friend’s research trip for a book. And did I mention I was pregnant? But as soon as we started chatting, I was 12 again – 12 and doing cartwheels at getting to speak with Judy Blume. Judy Blume!!!
If you want to know how she feels about the controversy her books have stirred up, whether she’ll ever write a memoir, and what she thinks of Taylor Swift, it’s all here. And yet there’s always so much you don’t have space for when you write up an interview. With this one, it was the way she spoke about tentatively starting out on her writing career, and how it was the rhyming picture books read to her children as preschoolers that made her think she might be able to get some of the stories she’d always had in her head out into the world.
It’s an inspiring thought if you’re a closet writer who’s just had to read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom ten times over to a defiantly wide-awake tot. And how just like the Judy who helped us navigate a path into adulthood to come up with it.