Getting used to the idea (of being the first self-published author shortlisted for the Betty Trask Prize)

It’s been ten days since the news broke, and I’m gradually getting used to the idea. Ideas, plural. That my book has been shortlisted for a major literary prize. That, whatever else happens, I have won £3000 to spend on foreign travel. That people whose writing I admire a huge amount have read my book. That people whose writing I admire a huge amount liked my book. Joanne Harris. Michèle Roberts. Simon Brett.

I’m pretty sure that this will turn out to have been life-changing, but in the meantime life goes on. I cycle to the station and I catch my train; I reset some passwords and I design a flyer or two. And I get used to the idea.

So do the people around me: the ones who knew before that I’d written a book, and the ones who didn’t. I’d kept it reasonably quiet at work, at church, in the extended family. People who followed me on Twitter probably knew; people who didn’t, probably didn’t.

And I have to admit that it’s suddenly become a lot easier to tell people. It’s not just, ‘I’ve written a book.’ It’s ‘I’ve written a book, and some very good writers think it’s good.’

One of the most important requirements of self-publishing, and one that I really didn’t appreciate until I did it myself, is a sheer bloody-minded refusal to give a damn what anybody else thinks. Or, less aggressively, the willingness to accept that every aspect and defect of the book is my own responsibility.

I appreciate the apparent contradiction between those two paragraphs, believe me.

I can only speak for myself, but I found that the bloody-mindedness didn’t land until just after I turned thirty. (Which may go some way towards explaining why I’m the first self-published author to be shortlisted for the Betty Trask Prize. The upper age limit is 35.) Up until then I was looking for somebody else to affirm my sense that my book was good, that it was worth putting out into the world. I was looking for somebody else to take responsibility. In the end, I had to do it for myself.

Of course I can see now that it would always have been my responsibility, no matter how many other people were named on the acknowledgements page, no matter who took the final decision to put the thing out into the world. It’s come into starker focus for me, that’s all.

I have this sense that I’m trying to get to the point where I genuinely, honestly, don’t care what anyone else thinks, no matter who they are, no matter what their qualifications. In the meantime, however, a judging panel composed of Joanne Harris, Michèle Roberts, and Simon Brett likes my book. I think that’s going to keep me smiling for a long, long time.

 

A couple of links

I’m still a little bemused by the fact that I now exist in a universe where I’m a headline in The Bookseller, but here it is: Self -published debut on Betty Trask Prize shortlist

And while I was away this very touching review appeared on Love Bytes Reviews. Becca says:

I love this book also because even though the book was fictional it reflects real life. So many people today struggle for so many reasons and being told you are bad or disgusting when the opposite is true can be crushing. People are still worthy of love no matter what they do or how they live their lives, as Lydia learned and finally accepted. The people who love you are who matter.

On top of the world

Santiago de Compostela

Well, on top of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, to be precise…

 

We made it to Santiago, we had a great deal of fun along the way, and I’ll tell you all about it when I’m typing on a proper keyboard.

And I know I said that you wouldn’t be hearing much from me until I got home, but I’ve had some immensely exciting news. In fact, I’ve had to keep it quiet all the way from Ferrol, but I’ve had plenty of other things to keep my mind off it. 1 in 5 gradients, leaking boots, ordering meals without meat in Spanish. That sort of thing.

Today, however, the press release has come out, and I can tell you that I’m the first self-published author to be short-listed for the Betty Trask Prize. I’m absolutely delighted.

Fanfic policy

It occurred to me that I should probably have a fanfic policy.

On the one hand, it seems a little bit unnecessary, given that as far as I know nobody has any intention of writing any fic for Speak Its Name. On the other hand, I’ve written the first fic in many a tiny fandom, and it feels like false modesty to assume that nobody at all, in the whole world, ever, would want to write in a universe just because I was the one who invented it.

I must make one thing clear: this is a policy for me. What anybody else does is up to them.

As soon as a world of my creation is taking up space in someone else’s head, it’s their business what they do about that. Personally, I do not mind at all if people write the missing scene or the crossover with Check, Please! or the OT3 or the coffee shop AU, or if they nominate it for Yuletide, or if they want to argue with the premise of the whole thing through the medium of fiction.

More to the point, my minding or not minding is irrelevant. I cannot and would not stop anyone writing (see also drawing, making fanmixes, whatever) what they like.

However. As a creator, I need to keep my own headcanon tidy. While I doubt it’s going to become a full-blown series, I am planning a sequel to Speak Its Name, and I could do without its getting tangled up with anyone else’s conception of the world. As a fan, I know it is dreadfully awkward when a canon creator leaves a comment, even an approving one, on one’s fic.

And so this is my policy regarding fanfic of my works: I’d rather not have it drawn to my attention. I won’t go looking for it and I certainly won’t comment on it.

Stationery Love at Jera’s Jamboree

I talked to Shaz over at Jera’s Jamboree about my finicky taste in exercise books, my abiding preference for paper diaries, and my unashamedly fannish choice of ink colour. In short, stationery love.

There’s a picture of a page of the first draft of A Spoke in the Wheel, too, if you’re really desperate to know more about that. Although I should warn you that it’s pretty much illegible, and I deliberately chose a page that doesn’t give away much of the plot.

The patchwork analogy

For some people, writing a novel is like knitting. You begin at the beginning, and you go on until you get to the end, and then you stop.

Personally, I’m very glad that I was born into the age of the word processor, because I absolutely cannot do that. Oh, I’ve tried. But if a scene, a moment, a phrase, from chapter thirty-two is dancing around in my head, then I can’t settle down to write chapter one.

For me, it’s more like patchwork. Or one particular project, anyway, which was more of a freehand effort than most of my quilts. Let me demonstrate:

You have a general idea of what you want to create, and you start with an idea that takes your fancy. In this case, it was the four seasons, and I thought I’d begin with a jolly yellow sun for summer.dscf9859

You might want to incorporate something that wouldn’t quite fit into a previous project. (I made more of those blue flowers than I needed. Never mind! The spares will do for spring!)

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(This is a bit meta. Any patches in here which are in English, as opposed to gobbledegook, are from the now-deleted first chapter of Speak Its Name.)

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You get all your ideas down and then move them around a bit, seeing how they fit best, what needs to come after what.

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As you go along joining things together, you see where things can be tightened up.

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You see where the gaps are, and you start filling them…

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… until you get something that’s more like the right shape.

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At that point, you can start tidying it up, taking out the things that were only there to hold it in shape during construction.

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Now comes the backing and the pinning and the quilting, the crawling around on the floor and swearing a lot. You feel like you’re nearly there, but there’s still a frustrating amount left to do. (This is where the analogy falls down a bit. This is, oh, I don’t know, the proofreading. And waiting for people to get back to you to tell you where you’ve got things wrong.)

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But once you’ve done that then there’s just the finishing off. And then you can feel rather pleased with yourself. Because the thing’s done, and while it doesn’t perhaps look exactly the way you once envisioned it, it’s not nearly as bad as you once thought it was going to be.

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Good news

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Speak Its Name was a finalist in the 2016 North Street Book Prize for self-published books (scroll down to the bottom of the page – then scroll back up and read about the actual winners). I’m very pleased about this indeed.

News from the Church of England is also good, though I find myself less excited than I might perhaps have been a couple of years ago. This time around, I got so frustrated by the bi erasure from both sides that I never managed to get into the debate. And I can’t help feeling that things have come to a pretty pass when Synod opt not to note a report that was so dreadful that the Bishops felt that they had to apologise for it and we feel obliged to be grateful for this.

I’m thinking a lot about the Syro-Phoenician woman, thinking about the tables that I sit at and the ones whose legs I prowl around hopefully. Some time over the last few years, it seems, I started wanting more than crumbs.