It’s Wednesday night, 27th July 2016. My second novel comes out tomorrow. It’s a book that I have put a huge amount of thought, effort and love into. I have tried to be delicate, tried to create something that will touch people without hurting them. When I had a pre-launch signing last week, and I signed copies for people (THANK YOU PEOPLE) I felt I had to hand them back with two hands, carefully. For me this is not just a book, but a hope. My hopes are modest, but sincere.
The other thing of note is that the Booker Prize Longlist was announced today. Being long-listed is something I aspire to one day (yes really, because I want to write really amazing books), but I think it’s a few books down the line, if I’m lucky. I want Booker-listed books to truly blow me away. To challenge me and inspire me to be better. Two novels in to my writing career I think I would be disappointed if I hit this kind of aspirational standard. But I have been following some of the various predictions in advance of the announcement and to be honest I have felt uncomfortable for some of the authors touted as likely candidates. I think you must have to have a robust personality to manage someone planting that seed of hope in you, especially early on in your writing career before you have developed a thick skin of experience. A lot of the predictions and cheerleading for the longlist are, I feel, are fuelled by a buzz that feeds on itself. Or by an authentic desire to reward someone for a beautiful book you yourself loved. Or by a feeling that the author, somehow, personally deserves the honour. That it’s their time. But there are some 150 books put forward for the ManBooker, so it’s natural that most of us will not have read them all and will not be able to make an truly informed prediction. Still. Being on the receiving end of the cheerleading and hoping could be fun, right? Like sex without climax.
Authors are often fragile creatures, who take the risk of putting their hearts on show, to be loved or ridiculed. For most of us, that love comes very personally, from somebody who was touched by something you wrote, not in a tide of fandom. And yet something still compels us (me) to seek broader approval, even as we are also telling ourselves to run off and occupy ourselves with something else.
My friend, author Barry Walsh, quoted Virginia Woolf on twitter today: “I think the weeks when it [one’s novel] is first out are humiliating. People will talk about it, or they won’t talk about it. Which does one want? All that is miserable; and yet a necessity—one goes snuffing round after it.”
Same thing, right? But why? I blame my id. Freud used the analogy of the id as the horse, while the ego is the rider. I think we authors, no matter how skilled we are at riding, have pretty frisky horses.
Still with me? Bravo. In any case, all of this is to say that it’s a funny old feeling, launching a book out into the world. Particularly a hardback, which for most authors is a sort of prelude to the main act of a paperback. Book foreplay, if you will. It can be the kind of launch that can feel anticlimactic, if you’re not sure what’s going on or you’ve never done it before. This year I’m in the privileged position of doing it for the second time around, and based on my previous experience I plan to enjoy it, expectation-free, shape-wear free and wearing flat shoes.
In the publishing world, experience comes slowly. The process of writing and publishing a book takes years. It’s a long cycle. But if you are courageous as an author you can circumvent it. How? By actually talking honestly with other authors and learning from their experiences. This is not as easy as it may sound – we have a shiny image to project, right? Letting your guard down could be a risk. You won’t hear these kinds of conversations on twitter, unfortunately. But I think as authors we owe it to each other to have the conversation. Fortunately, in the last month I’ve been lucky enough to have a couple of amazing ‘off the radar’ author chats. Honest chats, in confidence, where we have talked about some of the (frankly ridiculous) vagaries of publishing, about the Emperors New Clothes, about advances and agents and expectations and disappointments and all the other things that are usually not said on social media or at parties. Of course I can’t tell you what was said. But I can say that these chats have left me feeling positive, good humoured and happy to be part of a community of like-minded, kind, clever, individuals. Learning as we go, sometimes disillusioned, but still hopeful.
I said earlier that my hopes are modest, but sincere. They are. I hope you will choose to read my book. I hope it will find a place in your heart. And I hope, if I’m being honest, that it sells enough copies for me to be a good bet for book three.