Two events last week tested my resolve as a self-publishing author. Neither had anything to do with writing, and both were concerned with that other side of the business, the one that starts when the book is finished and printed and needs to be offered to people for them to buy. These two events were both ‘discomforting’, in different ways.
One of them involved sitting in a cold and draughty tent at a local agricultural show for six hours, of which the first two seriously sapped my spirit, although things did improve later. The show actually figured in ‘Fallout’ as the location in 1957 of yet another family row triggered by my heroine Jessie Whelan’s habitual indiscretion. It was a classic ‘set-piece’, in which various characters are brought together to provide an opportunity for things to happen, and the setting provided an opportunity for some local colour too:
“they squelched from tent to tent, seeing onions the size of footballs, gleaming leeks with green fanned leaves, dahlias and gladioli, shortbread and rum butter and knitted jumpers and crowing cockerels. Outside in the gated enclosures there were cows and calves, and big Herdwick tups, their fleeces rouged with raddle.”
When the time for the 2014 show came around it seemed a fitting place to sell this book and the others, and perhaps meet some readers. And so it proved, but not for the first two hours. We arrived at nine and set up the table at one end of the History tent, next to banks of old local photos on boards that drew fascinated crowds all day. It was cold: the wind flapped and roared. I read the paper, I sought out a cup of tea, but still no-one came, and my spirits fell as low as the temperature. I asked myself whether this is what I really wanted to be doing on a Saturday morning; whether this was why I want to write fiction; whether it was all an embarrassing folly. But I stayed put, and stoicism was rewarded.
Actually, it was the rain that drove people into the tent, and it was my partner’s cute collie dog Meg who drew them towards my table. But once they were there, the conversations and the sales became more rewarding. By 3pm I was warmed up but ready for home after six hours at my post.
The other discomfort of the week was less easily resolved as it involved confronting photographs of myself, always a ghastly experience. I’ve needed a new photo for ‘promotional’ purposes for several years. The last one was taken in a hurry in St Johns Newfoundland in 2006. On holiday there I had a call from my Canadian publisher saying they needed a photo immediately for the back cover of a new book. A gale was blowing horizontal rain from the Atlantic as I struggled down into town to find a photographic studio and the next hour was purgatory, an experience best forgotten and not to be repeated. But ‘promotion needs photos’, and last week I had to go through it again. At least this time I was on home turf, but I still hated it, and that was before I’d seen the results. Suffice to say, my body may look younger since I lost weight last year but my face has aged alarmingly. Not exactly like my mother in her dotage, not yet, but I look a lot older than I feel. Out of 50 pictures there are about three I can live with, but that’s all I need. It’s all over for another few years, thank heaven, and I can get on with the fun part of the writing business, the writing.