Saturday 27 June 2020

Publication Day in Lockdown - by Holly Race

I had been warned. So many people had told me: 'Don't be surprised if at some point on your publication day, you stop and think I'm really unhappy.'

I had been warned, and I was prepared. I spent a large portion of the week in the run up to the publication of my debut novel, utterly miserable. Get into the right frame of mind early, I told myself, then you won't be disappointed on the day. A friend invited me out on a socially distanced walk, where I moaned to her the whole time. When the Whatsapp group I'd set up months previously excitedly asked what our plans were for a Zoom launch party, I half-heartedly passed on the organisation to my husband. I fretted that my best friend had suddenly become less available to chat, now, in my time of need.

In short, I was awful.

The day arrived. I attempted normality: toddler up, milk given, ready for nursery. I was watering the garden when the doorbell rang.

'Something for Holly!' the DPD driver chirped, indicating a flat parcel on the porch. Inside: a silver box, beautifully illustrated. Inside that, an array of chocolates, each one delicately iced with flowers and letters: 'MIDNIGHT'S TWINS BY HOLLY RACE'. The card told me it was from a scriptwriter who I've never met in person. We have been working together remotely since the start of the year, and I was starting to think of her as a friend, but this - this was beyond normal six-month friendship. But she knew how much the book meant to me, and being a writer herself knew how much of one's soul you can pour into your work. I message her effusions. Her response: 'I'm just glad they didn't forget the apostrophe.'

Then my husband approaches. 'You know that parcel from Germany that arrived the other day?'

'The one I teased you about being even more camera equipment you didn't need?' I say.

'Yeah.' He hands the box to me. Inside is a heavy, enamelled pen. Engraved on the lid: today's date. 'For all the book signings you're going to do.'

I'm already welling up a bit, so I cover and show husband my thanks in the form of several badly decorated cupcakes. I'm interrupted in my baking by a socially distanced visit from my parents, who have gently supported my writing hobby since I, aged five, wrote 'The Mirror Girl', about a girl called Holly whose reflection stepped out of the mirror and caused havoc in her name. They bring that story with them now, and hand me an envelope containing a sketch of a horse - horses are an important feature of my book - by a prominent artist.

So many instances of kindness and generosity. I realise, once my parents have left, that I have only felt warm joy today, my anticipated disappointment balmed by my loved ones' excitement.

I spend my afternoon cycling to my nearest friends to give them the aforementioned questionably decorated cupcakes. When I get home we order takeaway and, in anticipation of tonight's Zoom party, I brush my hair for the first time in three days. I like to make an effort.

When the time comes to open Zoom, I am expecting to see a small but lovely gathering of familiar faces. As it happens, not everyone will fit onto our screen. Fifty friends and family members have turned up. It's more people than I've seen in one place since my sixth form leaver's do, let alone since lockdown.

That's when things start to get weird. My tech-savvy husband begins tinkering with the laptop - in itself this is not unusual, but when combined with the expectant silence of my friends, my spidey senses are tingling. Husband presses 'play' and suddenly my best friend's unavailability over the last couple of weeks is explained. He had been making this:

When the video ends, I'm directed towards the doormat. Lying there is a copy of my book, filled with messages from friends and family across the country. Alongside it: a package containing a necklace that appears in Midnight's Twins and an enormous chocolate cake, complete with a fondant copy of my book, decorated in painstaking detail.

Over the course of the next few hours, as I get gradually merrier on elderflower champagne, the logistics of how they did this are explained to me. That walk I took with my friend? Engineered so that my best friend and husband could finish the video. Socially distanced meet ups in a Cambridge park, with friends driving in from the Fens to leave a message in the book. A drive around London, carrying not only the book but hand sanitiser and masks to ensure Coronavirus safety. And so many postcards and messages sent in from further afield to be slotted into the pages. I don't let myself read all the messages in front of my friends, because I know I'll end up a blubbering mess.

Later that night, when everyone else has gone to bed, I open it up and read the messages in private. Half my friends barely read at all, most of them are not particularly interested in young adult stories. This is true friendship, of the kind I never thought I'd have and certainly don't deserve - not if my behaviour over the last week is anything to go by, at least.

Over the next few days, friends visit my garden to help me eat the chocolate cake. The chocolates sent by the writer friend dwindle; iced flowers first, then the ones bearing letters. I put the necklace away, to be worn when I see people or take book-related photos. But nothing will ever replace the gooey knowledge of how my friends and family turned what was set to be an anti-climactic lockdown publication into one of the best days of my life.


Penny Dolan said...

Holly, so nice to read a happy story here on ABBA.

What a wonderful launch day you had after all, and what wonderfully clever friends and family you have too.

Big Congratulations on the arrival of MIDNIGHT'S TWINS!

Joan Lennon said...

Congratulations and what a lovely launch day!

Pippa Goodhart said...

Wonderful! Well done, the Holly Team!
Now I'm longing to know, where does one order chocolates with letters on them from, please? I want to copy that bit of kindness for a friend of mine.

Sue Purkiss said...

How wonderful! The chocolates and everything else - just glorious!

Holly Race said...

Thank you all! Pippa - the chocolates are from - I'm definitely going to be using them for gifts myself, it was such a lovely idea!

Pippa Goodhart said...

Thank you, Holly!

Rowena House said...

So glad you had a great launch day. Massive well done on getting your story out there.

Lynne Benton said...

Congratulations, Holly! What a wonderful Launch day!

Unknown said...

This is so lovely! Congratulations!