Throughout January, The Ship was sailing to and fro between my editor and me. It was a strangely comfortable process. I had list of things to consider, to change, to polish. Frightening words that are still foreign to me – publicity, marketing, the elusive but seemingly essential concept of a writer profile – could be safely ignored, because they have no meaning unless there’s a novel to go with them. My precious writing time was devoted to tasks of transparent and immediate value, and, as anyone who’s ever written anything knows, that’s a rare experience. The three months of editing have been like the best and most productive kind of housework. The weather’s been bleak and wet and grey, but The Ship is tight and shining and ready to sail.
Now I can do nothing but wait. The Ship is with the rights department at the publisher’s. If I’m lucky, an editor from another land may come on board with insights and ideas of their own and there’ll be more editing to do. And – perhaps inevitably – I’ve thought of a tiny tweak I’d like to put in (although I’m sitting on my hands for now). I’ve neither finished nor not finished. It’s like the period after your offer (with everything that’s entailed) has been accepted on what you’re hoping will be your future home, but before the contracts have been exchanged. If you badger your solicitor, you’re holding them back from doing their work on your behalf. And the questions I’d like answered seem very shallow. Like, will I have a launch party? Will I ever see my novel in the window of Waterstones? Will I get to speak at a literary festival? Will I ever get up the courage to walk into the Shakespeare and Co. bookshop in Paris and ask to go upstairs and revisit the little crooked room where, once upon a time, I sat and listened to Jeanette Winterson talking about language and desire and muscularity and realized that what she was talking about was work? Backbreaking, blood-drawing, soul-cracking work? Will real, live, curious people who read books, read mine?
The thing about literary success is that those who’ve got it come across as though they’ve always had it. Confidence. Oozing out all over Twitter, the internet, the press. Launch parties, festivals, reader comments, lovely reviews by book bloggers…tweeted and blogged about as though they’re the most natural things in the world. Sometimes, being on Twitter feels like being stuck in the scene from American Beauty, when Peter Gallagher tells Annette Bening that, in order to be successful, you have to project an image of success at all times. I look around me, and all I can see are people projecting images of success at all times. And although I am genuinely happy for all those people, and love reading the books, and enjoy helping to promote them and discovering new ones, a little piece of me feels like Alice. I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole and now I’m a bit lost and wondering which potion I have to drink to bring me up to size.
Except I didn’t fall. I wrote and wrote and wrote until I found the hole, and I dug and dug and dug and dug until I squeezed through it, and then I threw myself down, head first and voluntarily. Suddenly I’m tiny. But hey, we all fall into a pool of our own tears from time to time. I’m splashing about a bit, true. But I’m here, and the snowdrops are out, and if I keep working, and keep reading, and keep it together, maybe I’ll find that I’m not drowning, but waving.