Friday, 29 July 2016

A book - with my name on it

A threshold moment

It’s a strange game, these days, writing fiction. There are the joys of learning your craft, improving in tiny increments over the years. Alongside that, a series of disillusions occur, like nasty little tales told by the bigger children, about what will happen to you. Each of these either sends you into retreat or makes you more determined, only grimly so.

As green writers of literary fiction, we are presented with a kind of slough of despond to traipse through. Hardly any books of the kind you are writing get published, we are told; it’s about luck more than quality; such books sell in tiny numbers and are basically subsidised by the publisher’s range of celebrity cookbooks; advances are trifling compared with genre fiction. What are these books, then? Cheap window-dressing for publishing houses raking it in on stocking-fillers, whilst pretending to be patrons of great writing?

That would, of course, be the most horribly cynical view. I admit I’ve been there, in dark moments, wishing that somehow, I’d grown up to write vampire-police-procedural-raunch-horror-teen-romances in tweet form (I’m not ruling this out). It is true that I have had to ditch the now laughable fantasy that most literary fiction writers can make their living almost entirely from their books. I’ve also absorbed the news that things are even worse for short stories; there may be the odd prize, but hardly anyone wants to publish those tricky little monsters in a book, apparently.

All this is fine with me. It would be lovely, wouldn’t it, if short stories were like diamonds not just in a metaphorical sense, but a financial one. On the other hand, if I want to plough on with writing fiction for its own sake, without worrying about the hourly rate for my toil, that’s up to me. Millions of us do it, and are rewarded in myriad ways that do not have to equate to coins.

I’ve worked quite hard at staying positive about writing. I’ve checked in with myself often, asking, are you sure? Is this still worth it, despite the latest bit of doomy news about your calling? After a while, you can let all that stuff go. Probably, you need to, in order to get any blooming writing done.

After all that, imagine my surprise when I found myself with good news to share. The second surprise was that, now it was happening, I felt shy about telling anyone, and especially my fellow writers. We’re all working so hard, chipping away at those veins in the rock; we’re all at different depths, different heights. In a way it was easier to be looking up in awe at the professionals. The expectations were lower, there were many conspiratorial winks to be shared.

But here it is: my first fiction book will be published by Bloomsbury in early 2018. The dream has come true, and I am awfully happy.

I considered writing a post describing how this came about – from my first wonky words to a real publishing deal. But there is no magic formula to be distilled from such stories. Instead, I think it is best to hope, to write, and see what happens. You never know.