Maverick Life

BOOK EXCERPT

‘Love at First Flight’: ‘I’m not sure how many surprises a person like me can take in one day’

‘Love at First Flight’: ‘I’m not sure how many surprises a person like me can take in one day’
'Love at First Flight' by Jo Watson. (Photo: Supplied by The Reading List)

‘Love at First Flight’ is a heartwarming romantic comedy about life and love on the autism spectrum by bestselling South African author Jo Watson. Read an excerpt.

In what was a South African (and probably a global) first, Jo Watson’s latest novel Love at First Flight was launched at altitude recently, on board a flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town.

“As an aeroplane enthusiast myself, launching a book at 36,000 ft is probably the most epic thing I have ever done in my entire life,” Watson said. “I was initially nervous that some of the passengers might not take too kindly to me commandeering the flight for a few minutes, but I was really excited to see that everyone enjoyed themselves and the response was far better than I could have ever hoped for.”

South African author Watson is a bestselling author of romantic comedies, including Love to Hate You, which sold over 100,000 copies. She’s a two-time Watty Award winner, with over 50 million reads on Wattpad and 85,000 followers.

Watson wrote Love at First Flight after receiving an autism diagnosis late in life.

“When I started writing this book, I had no intention of writing Pippa as an autistic character, but when my diagnosis came in, I just decided to do it,” she says in the introduction to the book. “I gave Pippa many of my traits, but also traits that are common to others on this very large and diverse spectrum.

“Some of the traits we share are a slight obsession with airplane crashes and synonyms (I always have my thesaurus open when I write and can spend way too much time scouring for an alternative word that usually lands up sounding wrong anyway, and then I delete it later), a challenge when it comes to maintaining connections with people like friends, social exhaustion hangovers and a terrible affliction to say what is always on my mind, and what springs to my mind in the moment …

“I am very new to my own autism journey, so am still discovering and uncovering things about myself.” Read an excerpt from the book below.

***

The plane took off very smoothly, and it was strange to hear Andrew’s voice in another setting. I’d only known his voice through my headset in the air traffic control tower, not in a coffee shop, or inside a plane. Yet another surprise this day had delivered. I hoped there weren’t going to be too many more. I’m not sure how many surprises a person like me can take in one day.

I checked my seatbelt once more and pulled my small notebook out of my handbag. Lowering the tray table, I opened it and poised my pen above the paper.

Small talk for tonight, I wrote, and underlined it.

I looked at the page and bit the tip of my pen. I always found it useful, before going into any social situation, let alone an unfamiliar, anxiety-ridden one, to have a set of small-talk questions in my arsenal, jotted down and memorized so they could be pulled out when the need arose. I always practiced conversations and found this very helpful. I tried variations of these conversations too, testing them beforehand like one might test a hypothesis. I lowered my pen to the page.

What do you do? This was always a good one, unless of course the person hated what they did, which would then throw the conversation into uncharted territory. I scratched that question off the list.

So what does your husband do? Ah-ha! This was a better one. This kept them talking about their husbands and their manifold delights. That was a question I could definitely use. And this time, when it led them to ask me what my boyfriend did, I could smile confidently and tell them he was a pilot. I sighed with relief. I could finally answer that question without it filling me with dread and anxiety. What I’d almost said to Andrew earlier, but didn’t, was that the question of why I was still single didn’t have that much to do with my career, after all. That played a part in it, but it was also something else. Something about me, intrinsically. But that was not something I would share with him, not something I shared with most people. It wasn’t necessary in everyday dealings, but whenever relationships progressed to a certain stage I found that this something else was always the thing that tripped me up. That made it so hard for me, impossible even, to sustain any kind of relationship. But I didn’t want to think about that now, so I thought of some more questions.

How many children do you have?

What grade are they in?

What do they like to do?

All excellent questions, and I quickly practiced the various responses in my head to make sure they sounded perfect.

Two, how lovely, what a perfect number.

How sweet, grade one is such an important year for their development. (Or, maybe I should google that?)

Video games! Did you know that almost twelve per cent of children who play games will become addicted? (Okay, that might not be the best response to that question.)

I put my pen down when I felt the stranger next to me bump my arm. I leaned into the aisle as far as I could go, without offending him. I didn’t like touching strangers, I didn’t like strangers in my space, and whenever I flew I took an aisle seat so I wasn’t sandwiched between two people and could lean into the open. But the person next to me was a rather broad-shouldered individual and, in order to avoid him, I had to extend half my body at a very awkward angle all the way into the aisle. This had caused the air hostess to look at me oddly a few times.

I ran over a few more general pointers for tonight in my head.

Make eye contact, but not too much.

When they start looking around, they probably want to end the conversation.

Share, but don’t overshare. (This one was very important.)

Don’t just talk about yourself, ask questions.

Try to let the other person finish a sentence before jumping in and cutting them off.

Other people didn’t need to remind themselves of how to have conversations, but I did. Other people seemed to find socializing and interacting easy; it came naturally to them. Me, I always seemed to miss those unspoken social cues, the ones that people made with their body language and vocal tones. I struggled with the interactive nature of a conversation too, and often filled the spaces between sentences with things that others found inappropriate. Things that flew out of my mouth before I was able to censor them. Teenage masturbation probably being a prime example of that.

But tonight I wouldn’t do that. Tonight would be different.

Andrew glided the plane down for a very solid landing, despite the strong southwester, something the Cape was known for. The winds in Cape Town had caught many pilots off guard, making for plenty of go-arounds. But Andrew got it right first time, despite the very turbulent approach, despite the crosswinds that pushed the back of the plane out on the runway and caused a loud and dramatic skid as he slowed the plane down. He was a very accomplished pilot, but I’d known that. I hoped he would be an accomplished fake date too. DM

Love at First Flight will have another, more traditional, launch at Exclusive Books Rosebank in Johannesburg on Thursday 7 March at 18:00. Love at First Flight by Jo Watson is published by Headline (R390). Visit The Reading List for South African book news, daily – including excerpts! 

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