It’s five days until the release of my first published novel, Inshallah. I am, to say the least, excited. But at the same time, I am crippled with an unexpected attack of nerves. How am I supposed to be feeling and behaving right now? This is perhaps one of the most important days of my whole life, right up there with the birth of my children, and getting married. It trumps many other significant days – several graduations, career successes, foreign travel, meeting people I admire and respect – because this is the single most sought-after thing in my life.
The countdown seems paradoxically anti-climactic. Most of my work colleagues will not be attending my first launch event – even though it’s on campus and in the lunch hour. I shrug my shoulders and try not to panic at the thought of no-one turning up! I have put posters around campus to try to encourage passers-by, and will put many more up on the day itself. Still, this is all new to me. I’m no stranger to public speaking, but this single achievement represents a lifetime of waiting, wanting, trying and failing, followed by a lot of hard work, more waiting . . .
I keep asking myself – what am I supposed to talk about? Should I just natter on about the book, or about the writing process? What section(s) should I read out? How can I know I am choosing the right bit to read? What about the audience? Will I be left alone with a crate of champagne and glasses looking like a prize fool, waiting to sign books that no one comes in to buy?
And finally, what if everyone hates the book? I loved writing it and I learned a lot and grew a lot as a writer during the whole process. But of course I like it, I wrote it, it’s my baby, my literary firstborn. I can’t help but wonder . . . what if this is a face only a mother could love?
I know it is normal to be beset with doubt and uncertainty, despite the huge grin that breaks over my face at the mere thought of seeing my book on a bookshop shelf, after all these years. I know too that this is a hard transition for any author. I have become aware of the fact that the book is no longer my own. The story, the characters, they become the reader’s own the moment they start reading the story. What they see, feel and read is not what I see, feel and read. It is partly influenced by me, of course, but the story becomes their story because it is set against their own internal landscape, coloured and shaped by their past, their experience, their personality, their perspective. I am an expectant parent, nervously awaiting the birth of the unknown, faced with the unenviable prospect of sending my babies out into the world immediately and knowing little of their fate.
And yet . . .this is also wonderfully liberating. This is a new beginning for me. I can not only call myself an author, I can further legitimise my writing as ‘work.’ This is more enabling than any other part of the process, and empowerment of the one aspect of myself that has always been left to wilt in the shadows, starving for lack of attention or appreciation.
So, love it or hate it, the book’s the thing. It’s physical existence – with a blurb, endorsements, ISBN number, British Library catalogue number – creates a new reality for me. This is another pivotal moment. There will always be before I was published, and after I was published, and I hope that, even though others may not love my baby as I do, embracing it with love, they will at least allow it to attend the odd family get together and even speak of it not unkindly. I can’t ask for more.
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