It is almost surreal, this incarnation of a long-standing dream. Now Inscription is out, and I've had a couple of book-related events, I meet people who have read it and who tell me they liked it, and why. I will restrain myself from actually repeating any of these accolades here! But I never fail to be amazed when I'm told that my book has succeeded in doing what I hoped it might do, but never fully believed it really would: it has succeeded in interesting, pleasing, and even, mirabile dictu, moving a reader.
And after the years of being stuck, over and over again, inside the tangled labyrinth of its creation, this is the sweetest reward.
Yes, the readers are (so far) still very few. Only word of mouth can bring this book, from a small publisher by an unknown author, into more hands. But, for me, every single reader is precious and important. Each person the book reaches is one more person in a group I could hardly believe would ever exist. And yet, simultaneously, while writing the book I did have to believe in the reader, I did have to write for that eventual imagined person who one day might turn the pages of the eventual, imagined book.
So, to any first-time writers of book-length work out there, I can't stress enough the importance of persevering. Yes, I know you've heard this before. It's easy to say; so hard to do. You are writing, often for years at a stretch, in complete isolation. No-one cares whether you write the next page or not, let alone finish the whole book. When I was in the throes of it, and read published writers saying this sort of thing—don't give up—I used to feel a degree of irritation mingled with my gratitude for their encouragement. All right for them, I thought; they are published, and respected, so their work must have been good all along, and they probably knew it, or had some eager agent already waiting, or an editor was sending them the sort of frequent exhortations Maxwell Perkins sent to Scott Fitzgerald. I couldn't, somehow, believe that they had ever really been labouring in obscurity, riding the seesaw of one minute actually being able to hope the book had some merit, the other being convinced it would never even be finished; of one minute thinking the ideas and characters were fascinating, the next feeling sure everything was flaccid and feeble and dead on the page; of balancing the confidence necessary to sustain the project with the humility to keep revising over and over again….I couldn't believe, in short, that they had ever been lost and stuck and groping in the dark, like me.
And yet, here I am, my book published (albeit by a very small press) and enjoyed (albeit by a handful of people). And although it may never go any further than this very modest reception, it has already touched more people whose opinion I respect in ways I could hardly dare to dream. Yet I really was in that place back there, the labyrinth, the seesaw, the morass, the cave (you can't mix metaphors enough to convey what that place is like). I really was stuck, not once but countless times. I really did have to, not merely revise, but radically rewrite the book, not once but many, many times, also without number. And I really was doing it in the dark, with the encouragement not of agents and editors, but of a few friends and family members who probably just wanted an end to the whole sorry "I'm trying-to-write-a-book" saga.
Yes, I know I wrote about this in an earlier post, and said how important the comment by well-known writer Kevin Crossley-Holland was to me. And it was; but today's post is more about the importance of every ordinary reader.
And I keep saying "Don't give up," because an essay is brewing about it all. How to give believable encouragement to the unpublished, labouring, obscure writers out there. How to really convey what it was like inside the labyrinth, with some tips for survival. How not to give up. And, paradoxically, how allowing myself to think about giving up saved the day…..I would like to tell the readers of the magazines I used to comb like a dying person seeking a remedy—Poets and Writers, Writing magazine, and so on—that there is an end in sight. And I'd like to share the things that helped me in the depths, candles that illuminated the dark.
Thank you to everyone who has told me, or told someone else, or posted on amazon, or just mentioned in passing to the butcher, baker, or candlestick-maker, that you enjoyed my book.