I loved British writer Clare Pooley’s heartwarming second novel- The People on Platform 5 or Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting for readers in the US and Canada. It’s a story about unexpected friendships and the joy of connecting. What would happen if an eclectic group of London commuters broke the first rule of commuting and spoke to one another. A grape-choking scene breaks the silence and Pooley is off with an unusual cast of characters who it turns out could all use some help from Iona, the eccentric, colourful grand dame of the commuter carriage, who has a few issues to work out herself.
Some of Iona’s other rules for commuting: You must have a job to go to (this may seem obvious but it turns out not all passengers do). Don’t consume hot food. And always pack for any eventuality. Iona’s handbag contains amongst other things a glass, a flask of ready mixed gin and tonic, along with a ziplock plastic bag containing a couple of slices of lemon. I might add these essential items to my handbag, but then again, I don’t commute or have a job to go to. But I do walk a dog. I can see me now, channeling Iona, on a park bench.
Pooley’s fiction draws on her own eventful life.
At 30, Pooley was the youngest member on the board of a top ad agency, but by 40 felt ageism affecting her career. She had a secret drinking problem which led to her writing an anonymous blog called “Mummy was a secret drinker,” which garnered nearly three million hits, and led to her memoir The Sober Diaries, often described as “Bridget Jones Dries Out.”. Pooley’s first novel The Authenticity Project became a NYTimes bestseller and was published when she was 50. Like her character Iona, Pooley is all for 2nd acts.
Below is my Q&A with Pooley, who lives in Fulham, London with her husband, three children and two border terriers.
The first line of your novel is: “Until the point when a man started dying right in front of her on the 8:05, Iona’s day had been just like any other.” Tell us about the importance of the first line of a novel.
I usually read the first line of a novel before buying it, as I believe it should set the tone and theme of the whole story. The first thing I do after writing THE END on my initial draft is to turn back to page 1 and rewrite the first line. Iona’s first line introduces her, tells us that the story is based around a commute, but hints that the journey you’ll be taken on is not quite what you might expect…
I loved all Iona’s pearls of wisdom like ‘The only way to be guaranteed of failure is not to try” or “Love is the greatest risk of all, but a life without it is meaningless.” Do you have any particular Iona favorites and why?
I particularly like “The whole point of life is to stand out, not to fit in.” I think we all spend far too much time trying to be just like everyone else. We’d be much happier if we just accepted and celebrated our individuality.
You can read the rest of my Q&A here on 26, a UK group for writers or anyone who believes in the power of words. And PS the Audible version of the book is terrific.