By the time you read this I'll be in the Highlands of Scotland with fifteen other writers, hopefully lying in a field somewhere staring at grass, trees, lochs, mountains - and doing a bit of work of course. It is (at last reports), 46 degrees cooler than here and raining. Sounds like bliss. Meanwhile, I'm delighted to welcome debut novelist Emma Jane Unsworth to WKDN with a guest post about how it feels when your book is published. Over to Emma - enjoy x
‘Aggghhh’ is a word I’ve found myself typing a lot lately. Of course, ‘Aggghhh’ isn’t technically a word but hey, I like to think anything goes when you’re blogging – at least that’s what I tell myself when I write long, impassioned posts about the antics of the birds in my garden, which can’t be interesting to anyone other than me, and perhaps Bill Oddie (although I’m pretty sure he doesn’t subscribe).
Anyway, back to ‘Aggghhh’. I’ve been typing it in response to the many lovely people who have been getting in touch to say they’re reading my first novel, which is winging its way into the world this month. It’s the strangest feeling, getting something published. Publication is ultimately a brilliant thing if you want to make a career out of writing – but it’s also pretty bloody strange. This is partly because the process is a slow one. From the moment you sign off the final edit of a book it’s approximately a year until that book sees the light of day. That’s a year on top of the years it has taken to write and redraft. And that’s on top of the time you’ve spent thinking about the ideas and characters and letting the story ferment in your mind (for me, thinking is at least 75% of writing). It adds up to the best part of five years: a very long time. And then all of a sudden there it is, your book, staring back at you – a real, solid thing in the real, solid world.
It gets stranger still when you think about the fact that not only is out there, but people are actually reading it. Every time I think about this I find myself saying/typing that same Aggghhh! It’s not an exclamation of despair or joy, but somewhere in between. A sort of intense, exquisite confusion. In some part it’s excitement too, because it is exciting, and there are times when I can surrender to the pure excitement of it all (usually after a few vodkas). And I think, in part, it’s also probably a case of good old healthy stagefright. That fear of exposure, of standing up naked in front of everyone you know; of – as my sister-in-law would say – “baring your bum on the town hall steps”.
There’s something else at work, too: an inherent frustration in suddenly not having control over something I have thus far controlled every last iota of. I find myself wishing I could peer over the shoulder of everyone who’s reading it and say things like Just to clarify what I meant there and What do you think of that bit? but instead I’m having to sit back, shut up, and let it do its own thing. I have to trust it. Let go.
I don’t have kids but plenty of my friends do, and they’ve told me how they felt on that first day of school – when they had to leave their baby at the gate and walk away – and I feel as though now I know something of what that’s like. The parallels between books and babies are well worn: from conception, to gestation, to labour (NB painful as that is for novelists, I’m sure childbirth is worse, although it is usually over faster) and finally to birth. Similarly then, you spend immense amounts of time and energy making and moulding something for the sole purpose of abandoning it to become something without you. And so it must be.
In his 1967 essay ‘The Death of the Author’, the French literary theorist and general misery guts Roland Barthes insists that when a text goes out into the world it becomes detached from its creator, rendering that creator essentially “dead”. If only! Au contraire, Roland: I’m actually a little bit too alive right now. If I was dead, I wouldn’t be worrying half so much.
Joking aside, when I think about what (I think) Barthes is really saying – that the work is all, in itself – it’s actually a very calming sentiment. Writing novels feels like an intensely private act most of the time, but if you want to make a living as a writer by selling your work, then you have to be prepared for the exact opposite of that, too. You have to promote it. And then, you have to surrender it to anyone who might want to read it. And, once you’ve got over the initial bizarreness of your novel existing independently of you, it’s actually immensely liberating, and you find yourself freed up to write the next thing. At least, that’s the plan. Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a shoulder somewhere I should be peering over…
Emma Jane Unsworth’s first novel Hungry, the Stars and Everything is published by Hidden Gem this month. It is available to buy here:
Emma also blogs here:
And if you are near Manchester:
Manchester Book Market
Dates: Fri 17th - Sat 18th June (Next week!)
Location: St Ann's Square, Manchester
Now in its fourth year, the Manchester Book Market is the largest open-to-the-public book market specialising in independent publishers in the UK. It features publishers from across the country publishing poetry, novels, short fiction, art, photography, artists' books, non-fiction, local history and collectible editions. The market will be accompanied a live performance space with through-the-day readings by poets and authors published by presses featured in the market. This live space will also include a juice and food stall and will be partitioned off and feature over 30 authors a day.
Featuring over thirty publishers, including: Route Publishing, Comma Press, Commonword Press, Crocus, Satchel/Suitcase Press, The Hidden Gem Press, Night Jar, Peepal Tree Press, Flapjack Press, If P Then Q, Thanatos Books, Caton Books, Shearsman Books, The Reader Magazine, TTA Press, Manchester University Press, Societa' Dante Alighieri, Poke-in-the-Eye Publishing, Nude Magazine, and many others.
The readings will feature Manchester’s premier spoken word collective, Penultimate, the launch of Emma Jane Unsworth’s debut novel (and the first book from Hidden Gem Press), Hungry, the Stars and Everything, a special 25 anniversary showcase from Peepal Tree Press, and a whole host of Northwest poets and prose writers