This article first appeared on Nik's Blog, the blog of writer Nik Perring. My thanks to Nik for having me as his guest poster
I had a book come out yesterday. My fourth published novel. You’d think by now I’d be used to the experience. But I’m not. I get incredibly apprehensive ahead of the publication date. My overriding instinct is to run and hide. I find the mental image of myself with a blanket over my head strangely comforting. And yet, at the same time, I feel as though I should be doing everything I can to tell people about the event. So every now and then I scribble notes under the blanket and pass them out to whoever happens to be passing. Metaphorically speaking, of course.
I veer between being worried that newspapers will ignore it and I won’t get a single review, and terrified that it will be universally and humiliatingly panned. It never occurs to me to hope that people might like it. Amazon exercises a terrible fascination over me. I carefully monitor the ranking ahead of publication, to see if any pre-orders have generated an upsurge in that dread number. But I’m desperate to cure myself of the habit because, to be frank, that way madness lies. Not to mention heartache and despair. So if anyone knows where I can buy some kind of gadget that administers an electric shock whenever I even think about going to Amazon, I would be very grateful to hear from you.
But what truly characterises my feelings about the fact of publication, the thing that I really can’t get over, is sheer incredulity that this is happening at all.
The reason for this, I think, is that publication came relatively late for me. I always tell writers who comment enviously on what they insist on seeing as my “success” (their word, not mine), that I spent longer as an unpublished writer than I have as a published one. In fact, my first published novel, Taking Comfort, came out in 2006, when I was 46. I’m now fifty, as my fourth book, A Razor Wrapped in Silk, hits the shelves. So that’s five years as a published author and over twenty as an unpublished one (counting inclusively, just in case you’re checking my maths!).
I realise that there are writers who have waited longer for publication, but that’s not my point. I’ve been writing all my life, and desperately trying to get published for over half of it. What this means is that I have been living with rejection for years. And years. And years. You know, when you spend so long living with something, you get used to it being around. When it’s gone, you kind of miss it, even though all it ever did was block out the light like a mental and emotional eyesore.
The unpublished writers among you may find all this hard to believe. But I promise you it’s true. I spent so long in rejection’s company, under its dark shadow, that my relationship with it, abusive though it was, became one of the things that shaped and defined me. I was, in my own mind and others’ too I felt sure, a failure. Certainly a failed writer. I still have residues of the massive clump of misery that permanently inhabited me for decades clinging on to my spirit, sapping my confidence and stunting my hope. For that reason, I can’t quite bring myself to believe that the tide has finally turned. And I certainly don’t trust that my new-found good fortune will last.
You may say I protest too much. And perhaps I do. Perhaps I’m also trying to justify my obsessive amazon-checking and auto-googling (in my defence, what I google are my titles rather than my name). What all this activity is about, I would argue, is proving to myself that this is really happening, that I really do have a book coming out. A book published by Faber and Faber, no less. With my name on the cover. Of course, there’s nothing that proves the reality of publication like walking into a bookshop and seeing your books, ideally on a nice 3 for 2 table at the front of Waterstones. So, yes, I do wander into bookshops and casually look for copies of my own books. Guilty as charged. Strangely, when I see the books I feel even more alienated from the process of publication than I did before. How did they get here? I wonder. Surely there must be some mistake? Or, more often, I must be dreaming.
Sometimes I think that I’m hooked up to a Matrix-like machine that is feeding me the delusion of being a published author (a dream I cherished for so many years and actually came close to giving up on) and almost convincing me of its reality. I must say, if it is a delusion, it’s not quite as great a fantasy as it might be. There are huge tranches of frustration and imperfection – of general crappiness you might say – in my life. So either there are some technical glitches with the Matrix, or it is all real after all: I do have a book coming out on Thursday. Though I for one find it hard to believe.
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