It's been a month since my debut novel Try Not to Breathe came out in the UK, Ireland, Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand, and another couple of weeks before it comes out in America and then Germany. It's been thrilling, numbing, weird, wonderful and at times, raw and scary. I'm prouder than I thought possible but I've also learned a few things along the way.
1. Reviewers are amazing
I am grateful to everyone who has taken the time to read and share their thoughts about Try Not to Breathe. My favourites are the ones who notice something that I hadn't even seen, a little theme or a mirror between characters that had come from some pit in my head rather than a plan. And those amazing souls who actually make their own little graphics with quotes from MY BOOK! I feel like a Beatle when that happens.
2. Reviewers are infuriating
You can't please everyone, and I made my peace with that a long time ago. But very occasionally I have to sit on my hands. The key times for my fingers to get crushed under my fat bum are when someone says that I'm clearly trying to write a book like x,y or z - and I've never read x, never heard of y and didn't enjoy z. You know, it's great that you read my book, I'm genuinely grateful but your guess is wrong.
3. People love hearing about where the idea came from
So it's lucky my "conception story" is safe for work and involves roast potatoes. Turns out everyone loves a story that involves roast potatoes.
4. You can do more than you think, even when you're scared
I'm an anxious, shy, fret-pants. And in the last few weeks I've flown on my own numerous times, given radio and video interviews, got up at the crack of dawn to talk to people on the other side of the world and even had a Q&A with a book club at Random House HQ in New York over Google Hangouts. In my PJs. And I've loved it. Every time I've been confronted by something new, and have managed to face it down and, often, enjoy it, I walk taller as a result. I'M FINALLY LEANING IN, SHERYL!
5. You realise how often you play your achievements down
I realised that, because this is the first time in my life that I haven't done it, and it feels like I'm breaking a rule. Isn't that frickin' stupid? In the past, when people have commented on career achievements, I've squirmed and claimed it was luck (it wasn't). Or people have asked what I did and I hid behind motherhood (this one particularly peeves me, but that's a blog post for another day). Or even, as vacuous as this maybe sounds, someone will have paid my outfit a compliment and I'll have yelled that I'm wearing Spanx. Ugh, just eff with that. So this is the first time in my life that I didn't do any of that.
"Are you proud?"
Yeah I'm f***ing proud!
"I really enjoyed your book"
That's great to hear!
And so on. It's hard, actually, to change the British habit of a lifetime but I'm working on it. Because I am proud of my book, fiercely so. And I'm not wearing Spanx.
6. It's so hard to write a new book
Okay, it sounds like the headline of this blog is misleading as everyone has heard of writers' block, but that's not what I mean. I mean, writing a new book, with a different plot, setting, characters and era, while people are reading your first book for the first time. I'm talking about my girls Alex and Amy (from Try Not to Breathe) on a daily basis, but I'm writing about a whole different set of characters (from a totally new story) every night. My brain is frothing over. I have all these different scenarios, settings and histories battling for attention, and it's not conducive to efficient writing. It's a nice problem to have, right? It's what I dreamed about my whole life. I am not complaining, but it's unique and it's new, and I didn't know. And I'm knackered.
7. Your family and friends are the best
It's not that I didn't think they liked me or anything. But when folks from my publisher had to scare up a carrier bag at my book launch party so my Dad had something to carry the SEVEN copies he'd bought to distribute, it got me a bit. (A lot). And then there are the people that I haven't seen in years, who have bought my book and got in touch, blub. Everyone thinks their family and friends are the best but my family and friends are the best.
8. You'll feel numb and vulnerable
I was in another country when my book came out. I watched as friends and relatives posted pictures of themselves on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram holding my book in shops, or with screenshots of the e-book. I felt a bit weird and detached. I felt vulnerable that it was out there, too late to change a word or correct a typo (and of course there will always be a handful of typos, with all the will in the world). And I felt sad that I wasn't doing cartwheels.
I was sitting on my own, hundreds of miles from my friends and family (my husband was away too), eating toast and doing the same boring daily shit I always do, while trying to write 'cartwheeling' posts on social media.
But then I flew to Heathrow the next day, met a bunch of lovely authors who had also been chosen for the WHSmith Fresh Talent campaign, saw, touched and photographed my beautiful book, that I had written, that was on the shelves, that I was so insanely proud of. And then my heart did a cartwheel, and I finally celebrated with a nice British cup of tea and a smile as wide as a hardback.
Try Not to Breathe is now available from all AMAZING bookshops.