A byline picture

Can you send me a byline picture of yourself please?

The question, via email, oughtn’t to have inspired panic. We were, however, holidaying with some friends in a French Airbnb sans WiFi, travelling back from a trip to Tours where I had dispatched husband and kids and had eventually found a café avec WiFi to respond to last-minute edits for my piece about micro-libraries, which was in the FT Weekend magazine this Saturday. (Link here – I really hope you like it. If you are stumped by the paywall, you can register with the FT for free and get 3 free articles a month.)

I rather enjoyed asking around for wee fee, because it sounds so daft in French, although laptops in French cafés seemed to be extremely not done. The only thing that resulted in a more bewildered expression was when I handed over a reusable cup at a motorway branch of Paul. Do you want water? Or milk for the children? asked the lady, utterly thrown when I said, no, just my double espresso please. Evidently, in France coffee is something to be enjoyed, à table, sans distraction. Or, those of you more in the know, please correct me.

Tours was only half an hour away from our Airbnb, in theory. This was without reckoning on the inevitability of my directing us the wrong way down a motorway. I am not very good at following Google Maps and this particular error happened several times during our trip to France. Understandably the husband had a sense of humour failure about it. Vita too. Nothing, thank god, that an enormous food market could not cure.

So when this email about the byline picture pinged on the drive back, while the children were squabbling over newly purchased unicorn balloons and we were listening to Stephen Fry read Roald Dahl’s The Enormous Crocodile for the umpteenth time and I was busy assuring the husband that this really was the right road to take, I instantly thought oh hell: how can I return to WiFi and, moreover, what byline picture? While I have written for various newspapers and magazines, I haven’t yet been called upon for a picture of myself. Would it need to be one of those funny ones where the writer seems to be magically cut out and floating in the text? Help!

Buy yourself some time, I told myself, and asked the picture ed if she could wait till Monday, when I’d be back from France. Then I instantly texted a more experienced journalist friend Is a byline photo the same as a headshot? She responded in the affirmative.

The husband grunted in annoyance when I asked if he might take a photo of my head once we were home. ‘You should get one done professionally.’

Oh how I would like to get one done professionally, but how on earth could I do this, when on Monday – the day I had to send it – I would be looking after the children, and we wouldn’t be back in England until Saturday night. He agreed to have a go, rather grudgingly.

Sunday evening, children in bed, thoughts turned to the week ahead.

‘Could we do my headshot now?’ I ask.

‘Why didn’t you say anything before? We need to do it in the daylight.’

‘But it’s still light.’

‘It’s not the right light. It’ll have to wait till tomorrow.’

Monday morning. Ezra is up at 5am, still on France time. I get up. The husband pulls a pillow over his head and rolls over. At 7am, Vita awakes, and I summon the husband. We sit around the kitchen table bemoaning the lack of fresh baguette and croissants and French butter.

‘Shall we do the headshot now then?’

‘I have to be at work by 8,’ he says.

It is 7.15, which gives us just under half an hour. I attempt to retreat upstairs to get dressed, brush hair and apply make-up, but am followed by Ezra, who is so unused to seeing me apply make-up that he is enraged when I don’t let him have squeeze my tinted moisturiser, or paint with my mascara wand. We return screaming.

Ezra is placed in his highchair with a pancake. Vita says she doesn’t like pancakes, and only wants a marmalade sandwich. (Thanks, Paddington.) I slip into the bathroom and try to remove a streak of marmalade from my hair and wish, fervently, that I had found the time over the past year to get it cut.

There is a moment of quiet, as I stand against the wall of my office and the husband aims his phone at me. (The camera has not been charged.) ‘Look over my right shoulder,’ he says. ‘Now look somewhere else. No not like that.’

‘I hate this,’ I say, pointlessly.

‘I know,’ he says. ‘It’s awful.’

Vita appears wielding a pineapple. ‘What are you doing, Mum?’

‘Trying not to look silly,’ I say as I scroll through the first bunch of terrible photographs feeling increasingly old and haggard.

We try again.

‘I don’t think I should be smiling, but then what should I do?’

‘Try to think of something that makes you really angry,’ the husband instructs.

I picture people throwing plastic bottles into the bin and getting books from Amazon instead of a bookshop.

‘Why does Mum look so cross?’ Vita asks. ‘When can I eat the pineapple?’ Ezra starts roaring from his high chair. Our five minutes are up.

There are a couple of photos that seem passable, and I email one off with a hopeful Is this ok? The husband departs. The pineapple is cut.

A few hours later, I’m pushing the children on swings when my phone pings: Yes – thanks so much.

Oh, I think, if only you knew.

Emily Rhodes byline

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17 Responses to “A byline picture”

  1. Liz Says:

    You look lovely. Very natural and cool.

  2. Rachel Bateman Says:

    Love this post. Your writing about family life is spot on. And love the pic by the way.

  3. Caro McAdam Says:

    This did make me laugh – esp as I’m currently trying to get a new passport online and the photo requirements are bewilderingly exacting..

    It’s a great pic! X

  4. eharriswriter Says:

    Good story. I’ll never look at an author’s headshot the same way.

    I myself suffer from RBF (Resting Bitch Face?) so, for a photograph my husband was taking of me to promote a book, I asked an animated friend over to chat with me while my husband concentrated on his camera shots. That worked: I looked much more natural listening or speaking intently.



    • emilybooks Says:

      That’s hilarious – and good advice, to have a friend there to chat to – I can imagine that working really well.

  5. miketroughton Says:

    So funny and relatable. J got asked for a work call this week (an exciting one!) but the kids are off daycare for a looong time, and I’m at work and so instead of being able to prepare for the call and think about how to respond, she has to think about childcare and how to find someone to come in and take care of them, but then where does she do the call? It’s all a nightmare and we should live in Finland or I should work less and (certainly) help more. And you look great in the pic!

    • emilybooks Says:

      Ha thanks Mike. And glad to hear that Jessica has an exciting call to prepare for. If all else fails, has she thought about (dare I say it) putting them both in front of the telly, and er closing the door?

  6. Maureen Says:

    Lovely photo. You look so serene – who would know what went before! Your post was so entertaining. Mx

  7. Rowena Says:

    Loved this post. Read it to my husband who would have had the same reaction as your husband to the wrong turnings and the photograph taking. Lovely photo – you do look very calm.

  8. miladysboudoir Says:

    Loved the article in the Weekend FT. I subscribe to the paper copy and it’s always good to see your name with an article or review which, of course, I am going to read anyway. There were lovely book boxes serving as libraries in parks, squares and cemeteries in Chur, Switzerland when I visited a few years ago. The photo is a bit dark in the Magazine – but I know what you look like anyway. Very nice. Barbara

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