The paradoxical cave
Past and present tense

A single rope

Two things happened in the last forty-eight hours which, of all the strands of the writing life, came from the two furthest apart threads you can imagine.

On Wednesday, just before midday, I put Radio Three on while I trundled through a pile of self-employed administration. I was knee-deep in receipts for coffee at Goldsmiths ("subsistence for professional training"), and packing up copies of A Secret Alchemy for all the members of the Richard III Society who ordered them after my talk ("stationery" "postage"). And then some gorgeous vocal music - brainy and sexy in the way only Baroque music can be, and Latin American baroque in particular - came to an end. The presenter quoted some of the text they'd sung, and there in her words was the new title for my new, nameless novel. These things arrive, something ordinary which is suddenly not ordinary at all. Sometimes I liken it to a halo, a mandorla, the glow round the Ready Brek kids. But that's not how it feels, that's just a language to explain it. I grabbed a pen and pressed Rewind on the radio. And when I had the words she'd said written down I stared at them, and into my staring arrived a whole... I was going to write 'set', but it was more than that... a whole world of ideas, images, memories, metaphors, heats and colds, tastes, smells, textures, cloths and foods, places. They arrived, downloaded, bubbled up, materialised, condensed from the cloud of unknowing... Words for these things, after all, are only the medium of communication. What happened was real, but it was a reality before and beyond any medium. Still, my usually big, untidy writing on that page is small and neat, because there was so much I wanted to fit on the page and keep together, and so much I know I'll need to keep reading in the months and years to come, while I write. And then I had to sort myself out some lunch and get myself to my yoga class. Normally practicalities press the pause button in my writer's mind. I thought they had, until my yoga teacher said something, and the leaves on the big beech tree beyond the window shivered like gold leaf... and I realised that everyone was looking at me and she was saying, 'Emma, are you all right?'

And then today - Thursday - is the official publication day of A Secret Alchemy. Unless you're incredibly famous and serialised, and there's an embargo in place with some teeth, the chances are that at least some bookshops have already run out of space backstage and so put your books out on display, and that the online booksellers are have been picking and packing for a few days. The writing's long done, the reviews are still being written, the readings and signings are in the diary but a week or two off, and the much hoped for word-of-mouth has yet to get going. In other words, on publication day bugger all happens, although an email tells me that Waterstones Books Quarterly will be carrying a lovely review. True, I have a beautiful bouquet of roses on the kitchen table from my editor and everyone at Headline Review, but that's about it. I did have coffee with one writer friend (conversation: agents, publishers, weird families, children, publishers, agents), made an appointment for a haircut to look smart for said readings, and whizzed up to Goldsmiths to meet my friend and fellow aspiring PhD, Linda Buckley-Archer. We toasted me for A Secret Alchemy, and her for having a book - two parts of her Gideon Trilogy - on the Carnegie Medal longlist two years running. On the way home I diverted via the supermarket and bought a bottle of fizz and a nice supper: the children and I toasted my publication, my son's extra-successful presentation in assembly and my daughter's compliment from her fencing master. And sitting on my desk is the manuscript which is already overdue for me to read it and write the editorial report which its author has paid for.

Two days, two strands and so different: one day the extraordinary, electric moment we can only hope or perhaps pray for, but from which all writing springs. And the next, the ordinary, quotidian stuff of a writer's life which is rarely as glamorous and, even on publication day, is as much about professional and economic survival as it is about art. I spend a lot of time, here and elsewhere, untwisting such strands so that I can think about what, exactly, the fibres are made of: of understanding your writerly self, of writing what you can make me believe you know, of not forcing your novel to tick the boxes which the market says it wants ticked. But though I may try to resist it, how I tackle the nameless new novel will be affected by the reviews of A Secret Alchemy, because although I know what I want to say in it, whether people get what I'm trying to say is important too, and for that I need the whole structure of the book trade and its associated media. The strands aren't separate, not in the end: I may tease them apart, but when I let go they twist themselves up again into a single rope.

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