Stoughton writer Olivia Fane on the joy of talking

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We just don’t talk enough. Life is rushing past, and we simply don’t find time to get down to the glorious business of conversation.

So says Stoughton writer Olivia Fane who is on a one-woman campaign to get those conversational juices flowing up and down the country.

The Conversations: 66 Reasons to Start Talking is her latest book – and the perfect starting point for all of us, she believes.

Olivia offers 66 short essays as the basis for 66 conversations you can go on to have with a partner, friend, stranger or simply yourself: though-provoking and stimulating short discussions on happiness, vanity, infidelity, education and more, all proffered in the hope that we will ask the questions that will help us get to know the people we share our life with, not least ourselves.

“There are many things that came together in this book. One of them was that I heard an item on the radio that said that married couple are only talking to each other something like 40 words a week. In both my marriages, I was often aware of not having as many proper conversations as I would like. We did the domestic details in both marriages, but we didn’t just sit down and discuss the important things in life, like whether we have a soul. It’s terribly important to know whether we have a soul or not!

“For a start, in most families, you have got two working parents. You have got tired people at the end of the day. People seem to be working harder and harder, and it is very difficult to keep up with the stamina. You have supper together and then you just slump in front of the television – and so you grow further and further apart in this strange world that we live in.

“So this is 66 essays on the meaning of life. Each is about three pages. They are very, very varied. Some are quite serious, like God and the soul. There is another on the art of flirting. Also snogging. What happens to snogging when we get married? Do we continue with it? My husband asked around, and I rang up all my friends. We did a little survey!”

There is also a section on being irritated. For all she was attracted to her second husband, she just couldn’t stand the way he said the word ‘pleasant’ – so she told him.

“I have irritating habits too. Mine are to do with eating yoghurt in a disgusting way. I now eat it in another room where I can get the full pleasure of making slurping sounds.”

But there’s a serious point: if you don’t talk about the ways you irritate each other, the irritations become bigger and bigger.

Ultimately, that ‘You’re annoying me’ conversation could prove a marriage-saver. It’s all about offering food for thought and a surprising window onto some of the big subjects that define who we are and how we live

“The book gives you a reason to look at all those questions. If you don’t ask them, you could end up having a mid-life crisis. You could avoid that crisis by asking yourself those questions before someone else starts asking them.”

And in that respect, Olivia is delighted to count herself as an evangelist for conversation – though she recognises it does have to be between consenting adults and you do have to recognise those ‘Don’t talk to me now’ vibes.

“But if someone is giving off that vibe all the time, then you have really got to confront them!”

The book is published by Square Peg, part of Vintage Publishing, at £15.99.