You go through so many moments on the writer’s journey: the moment you decide to, and then finish, an actual book, with characters, and plot and that you actually think, yeah, this is worth working at; the moment you think, ‘maybe someone else might want to read this’; the moment you go, ‘no they won’t’; the moment you KNOW they won’t; the throwing in the towel; the picking it up; the hand wringing and friend-making and tentatively stepping out into the professional world of words.
The most common moment is when you tell someone, ‘I’m a writer,’ and they (family, friend, colleague, the person you just met on the bus who would really rather you were not having a conversation with them) say, ‘Oh, can I buy your book.’ (or something to that effect), and you rapidly change the subject.
There’s this new moment now, when I get say ‘I’m a writer’ and then get to back it up when my conversational partner sits up, looks a little taken aback, and then, leans forward and wants to know more. I’ll be honest, for the rest of my life, I will love this moment the most. And I get to say, with chest puffed and hair flicked, ‘why, yes, thank you for asking, you may buy my book.’
Launching a book in a pandemic, however, was not something I ever expected to happen. When I was 23 and was briefly working at Bloomsbury publishing, the highlight of the whole experience was supporting and promoting a simultaneous book launch for Susanna Clarke’s ‘Jonothan Strange & Mr Norell’, the amazing Kahled Hosseini’s ‘The Kite Runner’ and ‘Havoc, in its third year’ by Ronan Bennett. It was so glamorous. People would come up to me thinking I was a person of influence (I was not, but I let them think it for a little while). I was mostly there to sell books and on occasion pour champagne. When I was alone at that party I’d look out of the glorious window into Soho Square and imagine it was my book launch. I was the aloof, cool author who everyone wanted to talk to but no one could find.
By the time I actually launched my debut novel, one month ago now, it wasn’t anything like that. I’m sure glam launches happen (and will happen again) but multiple KidLit launches I’ve had the gift of attending rewrote my expectations.
Now, all I wanted - expected - was a gathering of loads of lovely people, some family, warm wine, cake with a sugar content that would put twinkies to shame, and maybe I’d say a few words before letting everyone mingle and then hop to the pub with a copy of my book under their arm. It would be cozy, full of laughter, and with some moments of abject embarrassment and pride.
My launch, virtual as it was, delivered EXACTLY that (minus the pub part, for now).
We only had ‘room on the zoom’ for 100 people so I even got a little of the exclusivity my young and deluded self would have desired. The one thing I always dreaded doing at a launch - an interview - was going to be a necessity, and the incredible Dr Leah Phillips, who I have fangirled over for a few years agreed to host. Leah has written some amazing academic books and papers about YA, and women and identities in YA, and is the founder and chair of the YA Studies Association. So it was sort of like being interviewed by the foremost expert in the thing I have been fangirling about, and also slaving away at for decades.
Speeches preceded, of course. My incredible editor Mattie Whitehead basically made me cry (my other fab editor, now Senior Commissioning Editor of Oneworld’s Rock the Boat children’s and YA list, Katie Jennings was there too to celebrate). Everyone joined wearing masks to mimic the masks worn by the women in the Auction events.
Some of the people I thanked included my fabulous crit group who were part of so much of this journey: Charlotte Teeple-Salas, Olivia Wakeford, Helen Simmonds, Jenny Rees, Mandy Rabin, Andrea Fowkes; the fabulous SCBWI and the Undiscovered Voices team, Golden Egg Academy and Word Theatre, through whom I learned to hone the craft I had been working on for years alone. Thanks of course included my family for all their support, and my husband who missed his thanks as he was addressing crying babies in the room two doors down. Then we got down to the interview, I drank 3 glasses of fizz - still being poured by me after all these years - and we closed with a fab Q&A. We recorded the event so hopefully I’ll share that soon!
There’s a sadness in me though as one person who I wished could have lived to see my book published, the INCREDIBLE person and talented Jane Zingale died a week before my book was published. Jane was one of my greatest supporters and my twin in submitting flash stories. She was there when I gave up my last book and when I told her about this new idea I’d had. She was the first to read a lot of my work. Her writing is spectacular, please read her words or listen to her stories when you can. She also inspired a character in the book, Madam Cramp.
A virtual launch meant some of my dearest friends from overseas could dial in. My 94 year old great-uncle and my friend’s 2 year old. How many book launches get such amazing breadth of experience and geography attending? Certainly not the kind of events you have in posh houses in Soho square. It may not have been glam, or exclusive, but it was magnificent. It meant lots of lovely booksales for the awesome Through the Wardrobe Bookshop during a time when it’s so important to buy books!
Also, I got dressed up for the first time in almost a year, so that was definitely a bonus. Though, I was also wearing jeans and slippers. Best of both worlds. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Now … onto book 2! See some of the tweets from the amazing people who attended, pictures and even drawings from the launch! https://twitter.com/i/moments/edit/1358042288111427596