Thursday, 23 April 2015

When did you come out? – Jess Vallance

I was with a group of friends the other day when one of them announced she was pregnant. 

After all the congratulations and the looking at the scan picture and all that business, the rest of us started to carefully analyse the previous three months – the time when she’d known she was knocked up but hadn’t wanted anyone else to know.  I said something about how I didn’t think I’d be able to keep a secret for all that time, especially not from people I saw every day. She pointed out that I hadn’t told anyone I was writing a book, which was true. 

I know it’s not really the same situation, but I suppose there are similarities. I didn’t tell anyone I was writing a book because, to me, the whole writing a book/ looking for an agent/looking for a publisher episode is kind of like the trying for a baby part.  

It’s not something I’ve done myself but I can imagine that trying to get pregnant is quite a big deal, taking up quite a lot of mental and physical (ahem) energy. But even though people must be thinking about it all the time, most people don’t really announce that they’re trying for a baby, do they? I’m guessing it’s because at that stage, you don’t know if anything’s ever going to come of it and you don’t want people asking you about it all the time. Pretty much the exact reason I didn’t tell anyone I was writing a book. 

And I definitely wouldn’t have considered calling myself an author at that point. I know you don’t HAVE to be published to call yourself that, but to me it would’ve been like someone who likes a kick-about on a Sunday calling themselves a football player. 

Then I got a book contract, and I did tell some people about the book, but I still don’t talk about it much. Not in real life anyway. I still don’t use the word ‘author’. This is partly because I get a bit bored of this conversation: 

Me: I wrote a book.
Them: Blah blah JK Rowling.
Me: For teenagers.
Them: Oh! Blah blah vampires.
Me: No.  

But also because I suppose I now consider myself to be book-pregnant. Hopefully, if all goes according to plan, there will be a published book. But I still won’t fully believe it’s going to happen until my publication date (Birdy, out 2nd July, thanks for asking). 

All sorts of things could happen between now and July. My publisher might decide it was all a stupid mistake and find something better to publish instead (fair enough). Their whole office and everyone in it might be swept away by a tidal wave. I might be swept away by tidal wave. 

So, at the moment, I don’t really think of myself as an author. I just wrote this book-thing once and it may or may not go down well. When people ask me what I do for a living I do say ‘writer’ because that IS how I earn most of my money, but I tell them about the training and educational stuff I write, never the books (unless conversation is really drying up).

Maybe I will be more forthcoming once my book is published. Once the baby is born. (I’m getting bored of the pregnancy analogy now.) But even then I’m still not sure. 

Maybe I just want to avoid all those question that Clementine Beauvais covered a few months ago. Maybe it’s just that I want to wait until I’ve sold a certain number of books.  Or until writing books takes up more of my time than my other work (a time which is unlikely to come). Or until it’s my main source of income (as above). I don’t know really.

Anyway, I’m interested: When did you come out?
Twitter: @jessvallance1


Anne Cassidy said...

Jess what's your book called. Mention the title of it whenever you talk/blog about it.

Jess Vallance said...

Ha, good point, thanks, Anne. Edited now.

Joan Lennon said...

Book-pregnant - good analogy! I think I started saying "I'm writing" at about 8 but didn't get to saying "I'm a writer" till my 50s.

Nick Green said...

Vampires, honestly. On what planet have they been living? Clearly if your book is for teens it must be a sci-fi dystopia. Them are so behind the times.

I did come out but I've gone back in again. I once had a traditional publishing contract, which apparently legally entitled me to call myself an aufor, but then I lost it and no more have been forthcoming in the four books I've written since. So I'm back on the Sunday kickabout list. Even though I'm a much better footballer now than I was back then.

Penny Dolan said...

Answering the "what do you do?" by saying you're a writer rarely goes with "small talk" and its short time spans, in my experience. "Writer" is for close friends only.

I try to brace myself for those well-intentioned comments that hurt, as well as using quick deflecting strategies to move the conversation on. But maybe other workers have their own version of such questions? Like talking to doctors or medical people about a latest ailment? Or a miracle cure seen online?

Nice post, Jess.

Stroppy Author said...

I am actually more likely to answer 'what do you do?' with 'I write children's books', because that is a 'doing' not a 'being'. And that's fair, because people don't ask what you 'are', do they?

Emma Barnes said...

As for the "what do you do?" question, there's worse things than writing. My husband is a mathematician, to which people always say "I hated maths at school..."

Jess Vallance said...

I'd love it if people started asking 'What ARE you?' when you met them.

Ann Turnbull said...

I 'came out' in the office where I worked when I was about 18 - years before I was published. It was accidental. I was scribbling away in the lunch-hour in my shorthand notebook and one of the other girls said jokingly, "Are you writing a novel, Ann?" and I said, "Yes." Mind you, I didn't say I was a writer, only that I was writing. Years later, if asked what I did, I would admit to being a writer. But I still prefer not to be asked.

Tamsyn Murray said...

Great post, Jess. We're going to have our books around the same time - my next one is out on 1st July. Want to share some gas and air?

I do tell people I write children's books, as Stroppy does, in an active sense. Still get asked, 'Will I have heard of you.' But I was in the closet for a long time. Sometimes it's nice to have this secret no one else knows, the knowledge you are making something only you can do. Coincidentally, that works for babies too :)

Jess Vallance said...

Blimey Tamsyn, another one! I thought you just had one out!

I have always rather fancied giving gas and air a go, actually.

C.J.Busby said...

Holding back in case it all goes wrong at the last minute worked for me when it did! My then-publisher of my first book went bust (or at least admitted they'd gone bust) about 2 weeks before my book was due to come out! Happily, it was picked up by another publisher and came out a year later!

Jess Vallance said...

Bloomin eck CJ, don't say that. That's the tidal wave I'm talking about.