It’s been a mixed week. I’ll start with the good stuff.
I think most authors find selling their work very difficult. It’s been said many a time by much better writers than I that your writing is your baby. To unleash it upon the world, full of flaws and memories, is to unleash a certain part of your heart, your mind and your soul that you never quite knew you had put into it. It is a hugely personal thing, to try to push it upon other people, to make other people love your baby. It is bearing your scars.
So the UK Book Launch of Against the Elements was one of those odd moments where it was both hugely exciting and hugely nerve-wracking. Sitting under the lights on the stage, you are, I suppose, the physical entity of your book. My little sister, who the novel is dedicated to, once said that whenever she reads it, she reads it in my voice, the way she first heard it. A lot of people I know tell me that, that when that reading voice pops into their head, it is me. You sit, as your novel, and you share yourself.
I have read Against the Elements more times than I care to remember. There are sections that I love and sections that I cringe at but I suppose all parents have those sorts of thoughts. You wait for your audience, and then you begin, in a small, shaky voice, not quite getting stronger, not yet, just in case you blow your trumpet too loud. Nobody speaks. Nobody says a word. They watch you. And you talk and talk and wonder what they are thinking when they watch you.
You pick the parts you think they will like. Not the parts you want to. Not your favourite bits. Just in case.
And then, once it is over and you’ve gone home and slept and forgotten about it, people begin to comment. Sometimes their comments are constructive (‘I think it could be better if…’) and I don’t mind that, because mostly I agree. Part of writing is accepting that it is subjective, I guess. Sometimes it is a statement (‘I always thought x thing would be more like y thing’) and that, too is fine, because you cannot argue with people’s internal imagery.
What is more difficult to accept is a compliment.
Which is dumb.
Having someone say they enjoy your work is lovely, and yet you always feel a little guilty about it. Like you don’t deserve it. Like you’re the only person who noticed all of those adjectives and horrible pieces of phrasing and you wonder which book they are actually reading that they think is kind of like yours. Then they get specific (‘I love the bit where…!’) and you sit smiling painfully wondering what to say.
Thank you, for enjoying my ridiculous outletting of emotion and thoughts. Thank you. I guess.
It’s strange. You expect the criticism and dusting yourself off. It’s always something that catches you off guard, having a compliment paid. I always believe that once you stop being nervous about something, you stop caring. Maybe that’s really what it is, that I have to believe in the flaws in order to care about what people think about it. I don’t know.
The morning after the launch, I received some dreadfully sad news – a friend, battling with terminal cancer, had passed away.
All writers write about loss. Because loss is a part of life. But sometimes I suppose you get detached from it, because it is something you use in a plot, as a device, something you can explain with words and metaphor. And loss isn’t really anything like that at all. It’s something that happens, and something that bites.
I felt okay for a while. She was no longer in pain. She had fought, and died unafraid. Or at least, I thought I felt okay. You start to feel regret and confusion and eventually it all becomes a blame game or a preventable thing and you cannot understand how loss can be allowed to be a thing.
It’s funny, because I sat at her funeral listening to words my friends had written about her and realised that if anyone should have been able to put pen to paper, it should have been me. But I couldn’t. I don’t think I could now.
Writing is an exercise in describing the indescribable. Connecting surreal experience with real experience and passing it on to others, hoping that the three match up. Loss always makes you realise that there are things to accomplish, works to finish, and somehow, it spurs you on. My wonderful friend may not be here to tie up all her threads, but I can use her loss to create and inspire, and I think she would be pleased with that.
So, the summary? Compliments are somehow more difficult to accept than loss. Oddly enough. I feel that I have come to terms with what happened to my friend, quite quickly. Even though that too is highly personal and emotional, it is a shared experience, something that you feel with others. Having your book out there, having you out there, is solitary and strange, like you’re naked on stage.
I hope I haven’t been offensive, comparing my experience of grief with how people comment on my work. It somehow connects together for me, I guess. Comments are welcome below.