How are you all? Feeling festive? This is what Christmas looks like here, cool enough for the bauhinia to bloom in the garden again. The little thumb sized cuttings from the plant souq are now ten feet tall, and what was a bare yard is a micro jungle of frangipani, bougainvillea, jasmine. I love this scrap of green - a tiny oasis in a sea of sand and concrete. Meanwhile, the new book has been delivered, last deadlines have been met, and we're looking forward to the pilot being home on Christmas Day, (fresh from a trip to Lahore), for the first time in four years. It's going to be good to stop still for a while.
Maybe you're the same, if you write. The end of a book = complete physical breakdown. After months of intense work, this time I lost my voice (conveniently in the middle of a two day school's workshop - the local press reported on 'softly spoken British author KLB'). Then my neck went (less Nora Ephron than moving with all the grace of Lady Penelope for a week). However, the joy of finishing a book I love - literally putting body and soul into it - outweighs it all. The funny thing with writing is that after all *that* there's nothing concrete to show - not like a painting, or a sculpture, or piling logs, or cooking a meal or anything else that you pour your energy into. A glass of champagne after pressing 'send' and ... So, you wait and it all begins again.
'Be patient' is one of those phrases you feel like you repeat ad infinitum as a parent. Patience is a good thing for a writer. Another of my favourites was always 'there's no such thing as bored, only boring people.' After four years, I've discovered that's not true. I'm bored to the bone by things we never talk about. Remember that post from some time back about my father-in-law's conversation with an editor in Gorky Park in the 60s, who said things rarely got pulled up because all his writers self edited? That. Instead of Don Camillo's angel and devil on my shoulder, it's more like having the three wise monkeys. There's an internal editor there with every post: can't write that because xyz (everything from respect for our 'home-for-now' culture - when in Rome, etc - to people who know me in real life relaying information to family - I'm 42 and I still got a dressing down last week beginning 'Katharine ...'). So, can't write about home, can't write about family (the pilot understandably hates it), can't write about work in progress in case the magic evaporates ... By the time you've had an interesting idea and run through: can't write about that because ... all the fire and fun drains from it, and real life, or articles, or writing the novel fill the space. So there's a sparcity of posts and rather a lot of photographs of the cat and dog on Facebook.
But there have been some great moments. Here are just a few:
Firsts: Festival events in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Windsor ...
First translations - seven in all for 'Perfume Garden'. First (and I hope not last), trip to beautiful Scandinavia. First number ones in UK, Spain, Germany and Norway ...
(And in case you haven't downloaded 'The Last Rose of Summer' for free and prefer Kindle, it's now available on Amazon (at last! That took some persuasion ...). The link is here. Happy Christmas. Hopefully it should be free on all Amazons, wherever you are. And 'The Perfume Garden' is one of their December books, 99p here).
First experience of work going viral - (and no, they didn't ask - I don't even know what the copyright situation is for these things - but it's interesting seeing these passages popping up on memes). One young French perfumer is even getting a tattoo of the perfume line, how do the rights work on that ...
First book column - and the chance to read and promote some really wonderful authors in this part of the world for the first time (there's no other column like this in the region). As long as it lasts I'm enjoying championing contemporary writers and heroes like Atwood and Carter. I think of it as I do the garden ...
Of all the hundreds of books read this year, I loved this novel the most: 'Beautiful Ruins'. From the review for Ahlan!: 'Jess Walter’s ‘Beautiful Ruins’ is a beguiling, Technicolor tale that sweeps between 1960s
Italy and modern day . During the
filming of ‘Cleopatra’ in 1962, an American actress, Hollywood Dee,
escapes to Pasquale’s isolated hotel. Fifty years later, an elderly Italian
arrives at an LA studio searching for the woman he couldn’t forget. Romantic,
glamorous, big-hearted – my book of the summer'. And it hasn't been bettered this year ...
And then, and then, in the middle of all the usual juggling, and writing, and birthdays, and anniversaries celebratory and painfully mournful, and travelling (let's not forget the summer of three house moves, or perhaps we should ...), there was a moment of sheer glorious impulse. I made it home to hear one of my heroes talk in London about his new book. Here is my James Salter story:
I've loved Salter's books my whole adult life. When I heard on Twitter he was going to be reading in London, I booked a ticket that instant, figuring that if it was meant to be the logistics of dates, and leave, and getting there from the Middle East would fall into place. It worked. The auditorium was packed, the reading was heaven, the signing queue meant that Mr Salter would be there for hours I guessed, having seen similar queues for Jeffrey Archer in Dubai where he signed non-stop for three hours. Just as I reached the signing table and handed over 'All That Is', and Mr Salter raised his pen, a beautiful dark haired woman swept over. 'Darling,' she said. I guessed this must be Mrs Salter. 'X and Y have to leave, would you ..?' He signed, he stood, he left the book. Not a word was exchanged. And Mr Salter went with Mrs Salter to talk to X and Y. I stood for a moment wondering: did that just happen? Glanced back at the snaking queue. Is that it, All That Is ..? The people behind me looked as aghast as I imagined I did, perhaps thinking: oh God, don't let that happen to me when I get to the front. It's the kind of situation British people are no good at. What's the polite response? Do you get pushy and wait, and hold up the queue? What could you really say, anyway, except 'thank you'? Thank you for the difference your work has made to me. I've read enough interviews with Mr Salter in which he's said he hates people coming at him with dog-eared copies of 'Light Years' bristling with bookmarked favourite passages, and I've realised something from the small first signings I've done this year - it's absolutely not about you, the author. People want to talk about what the book meant to them, and if you're lucky they tell you their stories. Which is as it should be, I think - you write a book, it goes out into the world, and it belongs to the people who read it. So, at that moment as I walked away it was kind of perfect - surprising, heartbreaking, beautiful. A bit like life itself, lately. I never said thank you, but Mr Salter has his priorities absolutely right. Real life, his beautiful wife, came first, before all the books and all the people waiting to tell him how he made them feel. We can all learn something from that. Luckily, Chris White was also in that queue somewhere, and he took this beautiful shot of Salter signing his copy - thank you for allowing me to share this photo.
This is the moment from the year (at least, the one we can talk about); something, nothing, and everything:
Credit: Chris White
Wishing a peaceful Christmas to those of you who celebrate it, and all good wishes for the New Year. Look forward to seeing you in 2014, and our resolutions. Mine's a simple one.
I'm going to write my way home x