It's a lukewarm Saturday night. The location: Liverpool Street Station. The ground is lightly shaking as the Central Line trains trembles below. You're walking through the hustling station site, the people unwittingly walking past your nervous frame, floating around their own business, their own debacles and stresses. You make your way to a small alcove just outside the brash station. There he stands; your date. He's not.... what you quite expected, but you mutter to yourself "I think I'll give it a shot, I paid the £1.40 for the bus here anyway."
This was the scene for me just after attending the book launch of author Tamara Dumas. The evening was spent with a group of darling ladies, the raucous laughter of the guests and the clinking of champagne glasses forming a backdrop of debaucherous sound. I walk out of the Ninety Eight Bar, an eclectic little pocket in Shoreditch. Dumas' book resonates with me as I trot up the metallic steps. Her new book, rather ironcially, is a light exploration of the dating scene in the metropolitan city of London.
As my date came to an end, one thing was clear, I have to talk to Tamara Dumas and get to the heart of her new book, 'While You Were Awake' (well, that and that I really need to check out a guy's profile before meeting with them, oh dear...).
We met in a small Cafe Nero on the corner of Green Park. You could smell the bourgeois wafting in from the Mayfair Hotel not so close by, I was semi hoping a rich man would walk in and fall in love with me and lavish me with gifts, but oh well, maybe next time! Sipping her fruity tea, Tamara was peppy and was in a shinier mood than Donatella Versace's forehead. Sitting down, we chatted everything from Estonian literature, to the worst date she's ever been on:
J: So, tell me a little about yourself, Tamara!
T: I’m 29 years of age!
J: Oh wow, I’m 19 years of age, aha!
T: Aha! I’m from Estonia, it’s a little chilly up there.
J: Getting straight into it, what brought you to writing? Did something inspire you to write, or have you always had a bit of a penchant for writing?
T: I started writing small stories when I just moved to London, because in Estonia, it’s very small. Everything is less unified, everybody thinks the same, has the same values, the same background for everybody. So when I came to London, it was just… wow! There’s so many different people, different social backgrounds.
J: It’s very eclectic.
T: Exactly! And I just started scribbling down what I saw an the different people and relationships I saw. There’s just so many different patterns in relationships, and I wrote short stories about them till eventually I thought “Hmm, I have quite a few now, so I could just put them in a book!”
J: What kind of short stories did you write?
T: Well, it’s my dating experience! Aha!
J: Dating in London is definitely an experience, to say the least! I think we've all had the one where we kind of think “Oh gawd, why am I here?”
T: You’ll find a lot of that in the book!
J: I could only imagine! You could write a series of novels about mine.
T: Maybe that’s something for you to think about! In London, dating is interesting. It’s my personal experience, and it’s also the experience of my friends who would tell me these crazy stories and I was thinking “Oh my god, I can’t imagine what I’ve done in the same situation.” So I kind of developed their stories as well, it’s dating and night life, pretty much.
J: How do you see dating and night life in London? Is it different to Estonia?
T: Ahh, it is! It’s much more fun, well, if you live in a small town there’s one place you can go, so you know where your evening is going to take you. Whereas in London, you can go to different clubs endlessly.
J: Okay, I’m going in! What was your worst dating experience?
T: I think it was just an accident. I was hiding from the rain in some eatery place, and one chap came to me. The rain finished and he kind of goes “Okay, shall we go to my place?” That was kind of woah.
J: No time to waste! I’m guessing, well, hoping you said no…?
T: I just ran away! I suppose that was the craziest one for me.
J: Did you write a short story about that, or?
T: I did write a short story about that! It’s not in this book, though, maybe the next one.
J: So your writing is very diverse?
T: I’m just trying to challenge myself.
J: Do you feel that growing up in Estonia and then moving to London influenced you in anyway in terms of your writing?
T: It definitely influenced me because I wasn’t writing before moving to London. Everything I saw amazed me.
J: Did it inspired you?
T: Definitely! The people of London.
J: Any interesting characters spring to mind?
T: A lot! The prototype for this book was a girl whom I met by chance, and she’s an actress. She’s so quirky. She happened to be in some crazy situations. I used her as a model for my book. A lot of people, I can’t describe them all. Everyone has a story to tell, everyone is interesting. Even you josh!
J: Oh, even I am! Why, I can’t help it! Do you think there’s a difference in Estonian and English literature?
T: There is definitely a difference. Estonian literature is more dramatic, it’s all about drama and it’s all deep feelings. If someone decides to write in Estonian style it would be to do with something about past generations. Whereas in England, obviously you can find whatever you want, it is very representative of different forms. From comic to short writings. There’s just so much more here. And I was reading English texts before I came here, just because it offers you such a variety.
J: What books did you read?
T: Classics, I was reading Richard Green’s ,’48 Laws of Power’, I was reading some time management books… Harry Potter, too!
J: I think if you haven’t read Harty Potter then just leave the planet.
T: Aha! It wasn’t a lot, but I was just enjoying English literature.
J: Tough question. Name your top 3 books.
T: Craig Taylor’s ‘Londoners’, I found it is so unique. The guy didn’t write a single word himself apart from the introduction. He interviewed about 200 people who live in London about their experiences and I found it so fascinating. Another one, it’s hard because every book I read I think “Oh my god, it’s so good!”
J: Story of my life.
T: I’m scanning my bookshelf. Dawkin’s ‘Selfish Gene’, it’s not a fiction. It’s about the behaviour of human beings. The author goes into describing evolution from a different perspective. How we’re all selfish not because that’s our character but because that’s how our gene pool ever survived. Even altruism. He prove that they’re actually being quite selfish as we fight for our own genes to survive. So if I die for someone else, it’s not because I’m altruistic but because my genes are telling me my gene pool will survive. Now, what else?
J: One more, one more!
T: Let’s say it will be ‘Revolution’, by Russell Brand! I went to his book launch actually.
J: I love him! Did you get to meet him?
T: Yeah! I find the way he writes fascinating.
J: I would have asked him how he does his hair!
T: Aha, he’d probably say by not washing! I’ll ask him what products he uses next time I see him.
J: Random, but you mentioned about the book about the Londoners. If that author came up to you, what would have been your story to tell?
T: Now you've got me, aha! My story would be how I came to London, because he also interviewed people who also traveled to London. Refugees travelling through fronts, almost dying. It wasn't that drastic for me. I was meant to go to Australia, actually, and everything was planned for me to go there. One day, I just woke up and I decided, I don’t want to go there. “Okay, now where am I going to go? Let’s say London!” And here I am. London calling, aha!
J: What do you think would've happened if you went to Australia? Apart from being very, very tanned. And maybe owning a pet koala.
T: I don’t even know! I wouldn't have started writing. Apart from writing I also work as a script reviser for a couple of films, so I wouldn't have gotten into that. I’d be in something boring, like an office.
J: And sweating, that would be your daily job!
T: London is definitely the place for me. I’m just trying to grab them all.
J: Well one opportunity you grabbed was your book, so how would you describe ‘While You Were Awake’?
T: It’s all about dating and night life in London, it’s written with a bit of humor, like I said previously, and I think that’s the part I’ve managed to do more. So it’s quite a dramatic piece, but because there’s humor, I don’t leave the reader down for a long time. It would be an easy read! Beautiful cover, too!
J: It’s very glamorous! She’s staring dramatically at herself.
T: Yes! It’s full of unexpected twists in the story. I wanted to show how a story can end differently depending on what decision we make, what perceptions we have. So that would be interesting for you!
J: Definitely! Final question. I thought I’d go a little deep. I feel that dating has changed. I know it’s everyone’s dreams, oh how I swoon at the thought, I think the likelihood of me being at a café and reading a book and looking over and the gorgeous guy to my left is also reading the same book, I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon! You have apps like Tinder that have commoditised romance and dating, it’s a lot more superficial. In a way, making dates disposable. Do you feel dating has become like that?
T: It has become the experience of my main character, definitely. She can hardly remember who she met last week. We’re not trying to keep what we have, we just think “Ok, next, next, next.”
J: Like a conveyor belt of just men.
T: I do agree, it has changed.
J: Changing for the better?
T: I think it just takes people’s time away. And while we’re rushing for the next one, and the next one and the next one, and we get flattered by new relationships every time, at the end, we end up just thinking “Where did I spend all my time?” is it for good or not? I’d say it’s different.
J: If you were dating again, would you prefer in-person, or download the app and go for it?
T: I’d rather friends of friends, rather than a complete stranger. Simple because people are so different and you might feel like he’s a cute guy, and then you discover so much about him in such a short period of time where you think “Woah, that was not what I expected.” Whereas when you have similar friends, you have similar values, so it’s not only just superficial, but also what they believe to be true.
Can you remember the name of your last date?
To be honest, I can't remember the name of the guy I had a date with that affable night. This is what plagues the primy protagonist of Tamara's book. Naming her suitors by the location she met them in, one after the other. Consumed by a materialist binge of money and lust, she feels hollow as she flirts with the pleasure sense of the polished males she entices.
I read the whole book on an excruciatingly slow rail replacement bus trip (yay TfL yay) and I do agree with Tamara, her writing style is very feathery and laid-back. On a relaxed summer's day, this would be a great read! The plot is smooth, dealing with quite tense issues, yet in a way that even Neil Patrick Harris could turn into a musical number. I literally gasped aloud on the bus a couple of times! I empathised with a lot of the topics raised in the book, so if you're young and single, this book is for you (and the academy award for cheesiest selling line goes too...).
I have such a resounding respect for Tamara, her repertoire of talent is awe-inspiring. I have every hope that she and her book are going to far.
Let's just hope she can remember my name for next time...