At the end of this month my third book will be out in the world. There is its cover, looking delicious, with my name in huge font. How does it feel? Exciting. Nerve-wracking. A relief. Strange, even the third time around. It’s difficult to explain the feeling of having a book on shelves, of having my work “out there”. It’s such a long journey to reach the point of publication. A relatively isolated journey, just me and my laptop for the most part, but soon it’s available for all. My work in your hands. Possibly even in your bedroom. Imagine.
There is a thrill in seeing my name in print, though it’s probably not quite what you’d imagine. I say that because it’s not what I had imagined. The most excited I get about it is when I receive my author copies delivered to my door a few weeks before the book is released in stores. That is the best moment for me. I can be alone (Or with disinterested children. Probably covered in baked beans. Or toothpaste. Or both.). I get to smell the fresh pages and run my fingertips over the smooth surface of the cover. The kernel of a creative idea I had, that embryo of a story, so long ago, is suddenly tangible. It has heft in my hands; it exists; it even looks pretty. Because I have nothing to do with cover design I’m always excited to see what the book looks like in the flesh, as it were, and to hold it away and then close again and turn it around and flip it over and sniff at it again. You can see why I need to do this in privacy rather than at a bookstore.
After that intimate moment I really enjoy seeing my books in stores but I don’t get touchy – feely – sniffy excited. My husband is always looking for my books, holding them aloft with a big grin, noisily rearranging displays to ensure mine are at the forefront (apologies bookstore employees and owners). He finds it baffling that I am not absolutely beside myself when I see them and perhaps it’s partly the New Zealander in me, terrified of being the tall poppy, or perhaps it relates to why I write in the first place. The fact is I never wrote in order to get published. Many of you know my story so I won’t go into it too much here (but I have written about it here if you’re interested) other than to say I wrote my first novel as a personal project. I devoted myself to the process of writing 1,000 words a day, rather than the outcome of getting it published. I was surprised as anyone (everyone?!) else that someone wanted to do exactly that. That 1,000 words a day project became The Colour of Tea, my first book.
Don’t get me wrong – I am very happy to be published. I like talking about my work, I even like interviews. I really like those curly questions asking things like “What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?”. I’ve loved the launches and really loved the people the publication part of writing has brought into my life – great publicists, bookstore owners, bloggers, event organizers and journalists. They all work very hard, as does everyone in the industry, and are passionate, dedicated and kind. I particularly like talking to and getting emails from readers. The conversations about characters that once only lived in my head and now walk around in someone else’s. It feels like remembering a lost friend. I’m always stunned and moved when someone reaches out to get in contact with me after reading one of my books. But I still don’t write in order to have my name printed on a cover.
Matt and I have just had a long, tiring weekend. It featured nothing too out of the ordinary. The current ordinary, I should say, of getting a baby to nap, entertaining a four and six year old, stealing scraps of sleep and making sure everyone is fed and still in one piece. The baby is relatively new so we’re still adjusting to life with her as part of the tribe and there are many things we cannot do right now. Sleep uninterrupted being one of them but also – days out, nights out, being away from the baby longer than an hour, drinking more than a tiny bit of wine, regular exercise, trips further than 30 minutes away, anything that requires me to wear makeup or a dress or carry a small purse. When there were just two kids my husband and I seemed to manage some personal downtime, sometimes, but with three we are both completely occupied all of the time. At least for now. So there is a lot to miss. But when I turned to him tonight and said “You know what I miss?” he seemed to know before it came out of my mouth. I miss writing.
It’s funny that I didn’t start to write until my late twenties because now I cannot go very long without it. I would trade the wine and journeys longer than 30 minutes and the dress-wearing and maybe even the nights out for it. I’d be sad to lose all of those things, it would be a shitty trade, but I’d do it if I had to because I know, quite acutely, what fills up my soul. What I cannot work out is how I managed to survive without it before. It does, however, explain a lot about the strange lurking discontent I remember from my youth, the inexplicable kind of homesickness, regardless of whether I was home or not. That puzzle-piece of not-quite-right-ness. My life is much better with writing in it.
I don’t write to have my name on a cover. Certainly not because I think my writing is outstandingly good. I write because I must write. Because when I am not writing I am a bit sad and grumpy. Okay, sometimes a lot grumpy. And sad enough to be described as “sulky” and “morose”. Writing nourishes me. It makes me feel alive and purposeful. It lifts me out of anxious thoughts, it makes me lose track of time. It is always evolving, always progressing. It helps me notice the beauty of the world, the details, the intricacies of human beings. Writing is very hard work. Harder work than any other work I have done before. But it is the work that makes me feel the most like myself. Or, like Matt said, when I told him tonight that I miss it, “I know, babe. It’s your therapy.” He’s right. I hate to think of the version of myself unleashed upon the world without it, frankly.
Publishing my work means several things. Firstly, that I get to engage with people who want my work to be at its best; publishers and editors, more specifically. It took me a while to understand everyone’s individual roles, I am still figuring it all out to be honest, but what was clear from the start was that everyone I encountered on the path to publication was wanting the best. This aspect is very exciting. I particularly love working with editors. They are phenomenal people who work very hard for little praise. They are smart and observant. They are absolutely committed to words, stories and books. They are incredibly thorough and sometimes tough, but always with kind intentions. Editors have helped me grow, pushed and encouraged me and taught me so much I wouldn’t have otherwise learned.
And then, when the book is finally out there, it means you can buy it. Buy it, gift it, read it or recommend it to a friend. Review it on Goodreads or mention it on Facebook. Even photograph it next to a cup of coffee for Instagram! [Please do that, I love seeing your coffee cups ;-)] It used to seem very crass to promote my work for sale. I used to shirk away from it. But the fact is, while I would still write without the benefits of publication, publication does have benefits. For starters, it helps me pay for childcare so I can do the work I love so much; that is pretty critical. It brings me into contact with editors and publishers who force me to learn and grow. It introduces me to all those brilliant people who own and work in bookstores, bless their sox, and others who devote themselves to promoting books and the people that write them. It brings readers into my life – yes! – and their reviews, feedback I simply could not get without my work being “out there” instead of “in here” (I am gesturing to my head, where my brains supposedly reside). Publication is part of the process. A vital and important part, that helps support the other parts.
I am very grateful that my work is published and thrilled that this third book is about to hit bookstores. It does not escape my noticing that I am very, very lucky to be published and I do not take it for granted. It is not the reason I write but it brings sweet rewards that I am extremely thankful for.
Max is turning forty. All he wants for his birthday is for his six oldest friends to come to France to eat, dance, drink and laugh for one weekend. And to finally declare his secret, undying love for his best friend, Helen.
Juliette gave up her dream of owning an acclaimed Parisian restaurant to return to her tiny coastal village and nurse her aging parents. But she finds her home much changed, even the boulangerie where she first learned to love baking has fallen upon hard times. Now, as she tries to find her way to a new future, Max’s birthday weekend may just provide the new beginning Juliette is wishing for… but at whose cost?
A French Wedding is a novel filled with love, lies, fights, friendship and feasts, which reads like a love triangle between The Big Chill, Chocolat and Les Petits Mouchoirs (“Little White Lies”).
A French Wedding, published by Pan Macmillan, is available for purchase from May 1, 2016.