Writing demands a certain level of ego. I think, therefore I write down my thoughts, or at least something I’ve constructed out of my thoughts. I have hopes this stuff might be worth reading, by myself even if by nobody else. I feel, as so often I do, that there is a vanity about bothering to write at all.
Vanity’s bubble is easily burst, so I have what I think of as my imaginary “iron corset” on hand at all times. It is a very useful protection against the many small pinches of the writing life:
The silence that tells you a submitted manuscript has been rejected.
The email that says, after several re-writes, “we really liked the idea but have decided that now the words aren’t quite right.”
The day when a bookseller tells you that someone at the publishers has told them that your book has gone out of print. Nobody has bothered to tell you.
The moment when someone in a staff-room asks “Should I have heard of you?” Obviously you haven’t, not even with my name written on today’s school notice board.
Every such occasion is an amusing reminder – how else can one look at it? – of how fragile the writer’s role and ego really is. Ouch! That smarts!
So I gird my iron corset around me for extra reinforcement when these small pinches arrive. Now I can pretend the painful digs don’t get to reach me really. Ha, ha, ha!
However, these last two weeks I’ve really needed my clanking virtual corset. Every few days, walking into town, I have passed the only bookshop. It's part of a chain now. I’ve used it over many years and seen many staff come and go.
During this month, I'd had a book out: A Boy Called M.O.U.S.E. Sorry, I know one shouldn’t say this but the book is so good that I cannot believe I wrote it. My name on the front suggests I must have been involved somehow. The thing is a lucky mix of fancy, imagination and words.
Furthermore, the hardback cover looks magnificent. It must be pure cover karma: by some weird chance, I am the author who ended up with all the good luck left over by unfortunate writers who ended up with covers they hate. Before you despise this evidence of even greater vanity, remember that if you don’t love your book, who else will? I feel anyone would be pleased to see the book on a shelf. "Now I have to search for many books in town."
Two weeks ago I was passing the shop, having done the bank and sent other stuff in to Mouse’s publication. Stupidly I was tempted. I thought “Why not?” and edged into the bookshop quietly. After all, I had just had a mention in the local paper, and know at least one person who asked after a copy last week. Was my book there? Nope. Nope. Nope.
Than only a couple of days ago, I needed to get a present for friend so had to call in to the shop. Nope again.
This time I approached the desk, spoke sweetly, humbly and casually to the girls behind the desk. It seems they have only just sorted out who runs the children’s department. The book is definitely on order. The computer says my volume hasn’t come in yet. So odd! Then I recalled grumbles about the company’s central book ordering system in the past, but I laughed too. Ha ha ha! If you’d like me to come in to do some book signing, do get in touch. I said. I felt myself simpering stupidly as I gave my contact details again, again.
Today I passed by the shop. In the window hung a long list of half-term activities. Roald Dahl, Halloween. Horrible Histories, and so on and so on. By now I feel totally in the wrong for even offering anything to the shop. The corset grows stronger round my heart. I am becoming Tin Woman! Clang, clang, clang! You cannot get me now, cruel fate. It is best not to care!
Don’t worry. I’ll be okay soon. If it wasn’t for the support I had from the Children’s Bookshop in Lindley, Huddersfield, and several reports from writing friends who have spotted my lovely tome in independent bookshops all across the land, I fear I might have dreamed the whole Mouse experience up. So long live the great Independent Booksellers of Britain.
I wonder who's your favourite and most helpful bookseller then?
A Boy Called Mouse, published by Bloomsbury October 2010.