Yesterday, I had to have some medical tests done (Nothing serious! Don’t go rushing to purchase yards of black tulle and/or order the memorial cards just yet), and they were not fun. These things rarely are, I find. They involved several blood draws, which had to occur after I’d been fasting, including no water (the unimaginable cruelty!) for 12 hours.
I’m a deep-veined, thin-veined person, and I’m comfortably upholstered. Finding a suitable vessel from which to take a blood sample is challenging at the best of times, for even the most gifted of phlebotomists. However, when one hasn’t eaten or drunk anything for half a day beforehand, it means that, basically, the nurse and I were one step away from getting out a naked blade and slashing me with it in order to get the samples she needed.
We didn’t, though. FYI.
In the course of the mutilation… I mean, examination, the nurse chatted away to me, as nurses are wont to do when they’re seeking to distract you from the fact that they’re holding a nasty-looking needle which is thirsting for your blood. Among the topics we discussed were what I did with myself on a daily basis, and my career – and, for once, I didn’t bluster and splutter and make something up, as I sometimes do when real adults ask me about myself, but I told her the truth.
‘I write books for children,’ I said, with every pretence at confidence. ‘Actually, I have a deal with a US publisher, and my book will be coming out next year.’
‘Really?‘ she said, bright-eyed, as she jabbed the needle in. ‘Well, isn’t that just fabulous.’ As the trickle began to do its thing, she asked me all about the book, and what it was about, and where it was set, and how long it took to write, and all manner of other questions. The words flowed out of my desiccated body a lot more easily than my blood did, and I told her all about it because it was better than thinking about what was going on.
She was rapt. Now, I’m aware she was somewhat of a captive audience, and didn’t (let’s be fair) have a whole lot else to do at the time, as I’m sure taking blood is something she could do in her sleep. But still. Her interest appeared genuine. She was fascinated by the book’s setting, which is sort of an imagined version of our own world, transposing a lot of our modern environmental problems onto a older historical setting, and she was interested to know about the age bands in children’s and Young Adult literature. A lot of people don’t think of ‘children’s books’ as being anything besides picture books or early readers for 5-8 year olds; they tend to forget about the richness of the Middle Grade years, the 8-12s, where my heart lies. She listened to me witter on about why I’d written the book, and what it meant to me, and over the course of the hours I spent going in and out of her office periodically so she could stab me afresh, we got quite pally over the whole ‘book-writin” thing.
Reader, I felt accomplished. I actually felt interesting. And I learned that I can talk about my book, without hesitation or preparation or hitch, quite freely. It’s an interesting counterpoint to my PhD thesis, which I could never talk about without getting myself into a tangled mess and convincing myself, by the end of my speech, that my work was a load of old cobblers which would add nothing to the sum of human achievement. That was if I could get past the ‘Um. Well. Um. It’s sort of like – er. Well, it’s as if – okay. Right. Well, if you can imagine three imaginative worlds in medieval literature, right, um, like bubbles? Or maybe as fields on a Venn diagram? You know, overlapping?’ bit, which normally put most people to sleep. I used to put terrible pressure on myself, too, knowing all the way through my doctoral studies that at the end of the writing process I’d have to face an oral examination, during which I’d have to speak about my thesis for hours on end; that was almost enough to put me over the edge.
But I did manage it, just about. It took over three years of work, though. My book is easier to talk about, and I’m not sure why – it came from my soul, sure, but so did my thesis. My thesis was being examined, but so – in a way – is my book. My thesis brought me work, albeit temporary, but so will my book. They’re almost exactly the same, yet talking about my book is so much easier.
Perhaps if I’d had airships and derring-do and scary villains and marvellous machines in my PhD thesis I’d have found it easier to talk about – but that would’ve left very little magic left over to siphon into The Eye of the North. So, maybe all those years of stuttering about my thesis were worth it. The work I did then has led me, in a roundabout way, to where I am today – and where I am today, needles and uncertainty and stress aside, is a pretty good place.
And hopefully I’ll have the chance to talk about my book a lot more over the coming years, to lots of people, and hopefully (fingers crossed!) they’ll be as charmed to hear about it as my kind and patient phlebotomy nurse was yesterday. Meeting her was almost worth the pain.