Two Months till Publication – December

I’ve been trying to write this post for weeks. But Christmas is quite a big thing round here. Four children who still believe in Father Christmas and the Advent Fairy (lovely fairy, brings a small present every day and leaves a note saying where to find it. Except she doesn’t always remember to put the present where she says she’s put the present and the whole house has to run backwards for a few seconds in order to turn back time so we can try again. It’s quite time consuming). Lots of non-family children (and adults) we like to buy presents for. Small traditions – the Muppet Christmas Carol, crepes for breakfast on the last day of school, doing the rounds of the pharmacy, the surgery, the paper shop with mince pies and gingerbread snowflakes…plus, this year, my determination to get the children to a theatre, to see my sister in Sheffield, and the children’s own growing desires to see their friends, to bake things we haven’t tried before, to decorate all the drinking glasses with Sharpie pens. And, of course, the ever expanding round of concerts, nativity plays, parties, final sessions of dance/swimming/Cubs/Brownies, to which parents are cordially invited. For which much thanks.
And a lovely friend who lives locally had her first baby this week. That’s the kind of thing everything stops for. And another friend, who’s training to be an opera singer, organised a concert in aid of the most important charity in the world (to us), and my Sheffield sister brought her boyfriend to visit, and I had the chance to go and see the audiobook of The Ship being recorded, and so here we are, on Christmas Eve, with much done but still more to do.
Nothing stops for a blog post, and maybe this one wouldn’t have happened, except for this: yesterday, Sophie Buchan, an editor Weidenfeld and Nicolson, practically alone in the offices, took delivery of the finished hardback of The Ship. Even thought I’m not Sophie’s author, Sophie arranged for a courier to bring me a copy. A courier! So yesterday, in the middle of a baked ham and a rosewater-scented nougat glacé and a panic about insufficient green veg (because green veg are what everyone wants from a Christmas dinner, right?), a parcel arrived. And, because Christmas is largely about the children, and about other people, and because we long ago decided not to exchange presents between adults, and because I’d been off Twitter and so wasn’t expecting anything, the contents of the parcel were a complete surprise.
Reader, it’s beautiful. It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing. W&N have created a font for the title, and they’ve carried it through in the chapter numbers. The cover is strong and vibrant, but it’s vulnerable, too, and asks difficult questions, just like Lalla herself. When you open it, all you see are words on paper. You can’t see the life’s blood that’s been poured into it, the things I had to give up in order to find the time to write it, the frustration, the rejections, the sleepless nights, the number of times I decided, in my own interests as well as everyone else’s, that it was time to find another brick wall to bang my head against. There’s just this book.
Maybe it’ll succeed out there, maybe it won’t. Maybe I hold a new career in the palm of my hand – maybe I’m just holding a book. On February 19th, it’ll be out there. Hopefully, you’ll read it, and Lalla’s story will mean something different to every one of you, and from that moment on, The Ship will belong to anyone who picks it up and gives it the gift of their time. And I can’t seem to think about anything else.
There’s so much more I want to write. I want to write about the incredible experience of watching the audiobook being recorded, and the stunning voice talent that is Melody Grove. I want to write about about January’s 40+ debutantes’ lunch (if your first novel was published when you were over 40 and you fancy meeting others, do get in touch). I want to write about the people I’ve met this year, writers aspiring and writers published, publishers and agents and industry professionals, book bloggers and readers, and about my complete failure to locate the Magic Fountain of Unlimited Time. I want to write about the joy of rereading Middlemarch and the wonder of all the new writing I’ve loved this year. And about the sheer magic that was Forced Entertainment’s production of The Possible Impossible House at the Barbican, which got a measly review from the Guardian’s (adult) reviewer but held my crew (and me) spellbound.
But, y’know, there was this baby. And so my writing world’s going to stop, just for a few days, while the house fills with extended family. Of course there’ll be arguments and disasters (my poor mother, arriving yesterday to find my kitchen in chaos, washed up as a surprise and threw out my carefully-prepared sugar syrup which was cooling for sorbets). Of course the board games will cause tensions and we’ll all eat too much, and we might come to regret buying that longed-for drum kit, however much we’re looking forward to seeing it being opened. But when it’s over, what we’ll remember is that we were together. The future is unpredictable, but for three short days, we’ll devote the present to each other.
Happy Christmas, everyone, and thank you for reading.