Three months doesn’t sound like very long.
It doesn’t sound like very long at all.
By the end of next week, I should have decided on and booked a venue for the launch party. On Twitter, where everything is shiny, I shall post much (genuine) excitement about this. But here, on the blog, with more than 140 characters at my disposal, I can admit that I’m terrified. If I wanted to be the centre of attention, I wouldn’t have worked so hard to be able to do a job where I’m completely alone. And yet I desperately want to be the centre of attention because, you know, I wrote a novel, and it’s going to be published, and that’s a cause for celebration. And that contradiction has me in its clutches and is threatening to crush me altogether, a bit like the scene in the rubbish compactor in the original Star Wars film. James is either Han Solo, firing off his laser guns in an attempt to be decisive, or Chewbacca the Wookie, reduced to grunting inarticulacy by my dithering and insecurity. My mother is C3P0, informing us in a polite and slightly panicked voice that we’re all going to die. All we’re missing is a woman in a spotless white dress screaming, ‘Don’t just stand there, brace it with something.’ (No wonder Princess Leia changed into a bikini for the sequels; much easier to hop into the shower than launder all those flowing white robes when you’ve had a brush with a rubbish dump. But I digress.)
So, it’s business as usual really. I’m squeezing the writing a novel around the house and children, and as they haven’t changed much, neither has the way I spend my time. My deal is just for the one book, so on one hand, I’m back at square one, writing with no guarantee of publication. On the other, I’m reliably informed that to be free of the pressure of the second novel is a good thing. Oh those crushing contradictions – whoops, down the chute and back into the rubbish compactor. Only by now, R2D2 has become terribly bored and gone off to have a cup of tea, and I really don’t blame him.
This month, I read an extract from The Ship in public for the first time. Years ago, I dreamed about giving a public reading. In my dream, I was calm and composed, secure in what I’d written, wearing something long and flowing and speaking calm authority. And I’d tried. I’d built in an extra hour to my travel time so that I could find a café near the venue and gather my thoughts. I’d sorted everything out at home. I hadn’t actually TOLD many people it was happening because they might think I expected them to COME or something, but other than that… And then someone threw themselves under the train in front of ours, and we were decanted at Wembley Park with no certainty of onward travel, and as I hurried umbrella-less around King’s Cross in the rain, trying to find the venue with less than ten minutes to spare, my poor mother rang to say that the seven year old had left her school uniform and bag at Brownies and the hall was all locked up. So I made my entrance dripping, smudged and anxious, juggling my ungathered notes and shouting, ‘I don’t know where Brown Owl lives,’ into my phone.
Ian Ellard and Nicci Cloke, who host a monthly Literary Speakeasy at Drink, Shop & Do in King’s Cross, were wonderfully welcoming, as were fellow writers Tom Melrose, Stephen Dea, Linda Mannheim and Marc Burrows. The event went beautifully, and The Ship (to my great relief) was very well received. The best bit by far was meeting the audience afterwards and talking books. It was hard to drag myself away in time for the last train home. In true Cinderella style, I left my Oyster card and my car key behind. Outwardly, therefore, the journey home was almost as fraught as the journey there. But I’d achieved something. Hanging on to that took the frustration out of the scrabble for change for the tube (since when was a single journey within zone one on the Tube £4 without Oyster?), kept me company on the long walk home in the dark and the rain, and took the sting out of the fact that the second car key proved elusive to say the least.
Being a published author is going to be full of those rubbish chute moments. They’re unavoidable in an uncertain industry – and publishing is full of uncertainty. When the walls begin to close in, the voice yelling for constructive action needs to be mine. And the something I need to brace them with is a belief in what I’ve achieved, regardless of what happens to it.
Which brings us back to the launch party. I’ll be the one in the long white dress and plaited earmuffs. I’ll leave to you spot James on your own.