A Modest Proposal
Scenes from a life

How to make a newish author happy, part two

You might remember that as a postscript (or should it be a postpost?) to a post about covers and blurbs, I linked to Musings from a Muddy Island, which is a booky-writey blog I enjoy, about one thing which makes authors happy: seeing people reading their book. A few other things which have made this particular author happy this week are:

1) A few months ago one of my longest-standing writing friends - let's call her Marguerite - whose beautifully built, beautifully written short stories I admire enormously, asked my advice about arranging and submitting a collection to agents, and as I've never done that I passed the query on to all my short-fiction-writing friends at Glamorgan, who came back with all sorts of helpful advice. We all know that it's next-to-impossible (though not completely impossible) to make your publishing debut with a short fiction collection. But Marguerite sent them off, and settled back to wait. Meanwhile, I happened to mention NaNoWriMo, which she'd never heard of, but dived straight into, and a couple of weeks later I got an ecstatic email about the joys of being able to unfurl huge bolts of story-cloth, and see where they flew. Then Excellent Agent got in touch, talked perceptively and lovingly about her work, said that, yes, the collection would be next-to-impossible to sell, but the longest story felt more like part of a novel, and had she ever thought about expanding it? And Marguerite said yes, she had and in some detail, because she and her trusted readers had always thought the same. And now, with NaNoWriMo behind her, she's suddenly feeling that it's not so hard to write at novel-length and breadth at all. So she's signed with Excellent Agent, with a carte blanche to ask for as much or as little of that perceptive editorial help as suits her. I'll be the one raising a glass for the deal...

2) I've accepted an invitation to speak - along the lines of my Mexico lecture - at the Second World Summit on Evolution, in the Galapagos Islands, in August. Quite apart from the shameless ego-massage of my inviters being embarrassingly pleased that I've said yes, apparently you have to step over the sea lions between the hotel and the conference centre, and if I can wangle a couple of extra days beforehand I can spend them riding in the Ecuadorean highlands.

3) The last heavy-going stage of my PhD is being very heavy going indeed, and on Sunday I admitted defeat and emailed my supervisor to postpone meeting her, because there was no way I could get something to her that would be worth her time. This did not make me happy, though she was as kind and calmly understanding as she always is. And then, like taking a cork out of a bottle, on Monday I sat down, turned off the computer, stared into space for half an hour, rooted out one of the big notebooks I use for first drafts and my favourite biro, and wrote the first two pages of each of the two main voices in my new novel. It's three years since I last began a novel and, unlike either A Secret Alchemy or The Mathematics of Love, this one - working title Kindred and Affinity - is all unknown territory, in characters, period and plot. I've felt like a singer, waiting in the wings: I'm as prepared as I can be, and yet I have no guarantee that when I walk on stage and open my mouth, anything will happen at all. Only it has. I've decided that my self-imposed deadline of submitting the PhD by Christmas is not only impossible, it's also not important. I will do it, but it has to take its place alongside the even more important work. And, yes, I opened my mouth and something came out which does sound like a first, slightly hesitant song.

4) Before meeting Marguerite for tea and getting her great news, I dropped into my favourite bookshop in the world, Foyles, for a bit of Christmas shopping. And this is what made me happy, with apologies for the poor image. (One of the drawbacks of having once taken photography seriously is DSC00018that I don't take the quality of my phone's camera seriously enough). Thirteen copies of A Secret Alchemy in the New Hardback Fiction section - yes, I'm afraid I did count - and I even allowed myself to wonder if the fact that one face-out pile had a copy less than the other, and there's a space on the right-hand side, meant that once there were fifteen, which is a nice, round number, after all: the kind of number you order. (Of course, all these are on sale-or-return, so they could all trundle back to Headline. And of course the right-hand space could be left by selling a different book, but still...) No copy of The Mathematics of Love in the main fiction section, which, paradoxically, also makes me happy, because they do routinely have a copy, (yes, I'm afraid I do check) so I can allow myself to think that, too, has been bought. Since The Mathematics of Love was first published in June 2006, it's good to know that it's still routinely in stock not just in Foyles, but also in Waterstones.

Have a happy weekend!

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