It’s the twenty-second of July today, which means – well, nothing special, you might think. (Unless it’s your birthday, in which case – whoop! Happy day!) It’s a Saturday; here in my little patch of Ireland the weather is a battle between sun and cloud, and the sky outside my window right now is a bit like the opening montage of the Simpsons, only without the chaos.
It’s a nice day. It’s an ordinary day. And this day next month – the twenty-second of August – my first book will be published in the United States and Canada by Knopf Books for Young Readers.
Cover image for THE EYE OF THE NORTH (Knopf BFYR, 2017), artist Jeff Nentrup.
If you’ll excuse me for a moment – I’ll just be over here, breathing into a paper bag.
Right. Back to it!
My US/Canadian publishers are the same people, incidentally, who publish Philip Pullman in the US, and the same people who publish Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth. Sometimes I remember that and I feel a bit sick. Not, of course, that I’m comparing myself to these stellar writers for one hot second – but it is such a dream to have even that tiny thing in common with two people I admire so much. It’s quite a feeling, akin to base-jumping, I’d imagine, only not nearly so dangerous.
Can I admit to something, though? Just between us. At times, much as I hate to admit it, I have to deal with something rather nasty, and that thing is: comparing myself unfavourably to others. My path to publication (which I’m still on, I hurry to point out) has been long and bumpy and winding and filled with false starts and dead ends and switchbacks and disappointments, like most people’s, but there are always those rare few whose debut book deal is announced in a huge fanfare, attracting masses of attention and a six-figure advance, and whose journey seems somehow to be smoother and less fraught than yours. There are authors who seem to be living in a perpetual bubble of sunshine, travelling the world and giving interviews in which they reveal themselves to be not only brilliant writers but also genuinely lovely people, whose books sound like infinitely better versions of yours, and whose reviews are – by and large – glowing.
I am not one of those authors.
I didn’t earn a gigantic book deal. My debut was announced to no fanfare, besides that created within my family. My book is one of thousands, just as likely to sink as it is to swim. I haven’t done any travelling. I have attracted some wonderful reviews, but also many which are negative – and I’m grateful for each and every one. I spend most days trying to carve out a few moments to work while also trying my best to be an attentive, loving parent. It’s not easy, and I don’t always succeed. My real life isn’t like the polished version of success that some authors seem to project – but it’s the words ‘seem to’ that are important here.
Every author has started the same way. We all had an idea, and wrote it down. We all left it alone for a while, puzzling over it, until going back over it with a critical eye. We all mustered up the courage to send it to industry professionals for
an evisceration consideration, and we all had the fortitude to wait. (Writing is about waiting almost as much as it’s about putting words down on a page, after all.) We all dealt with rejection in some form and we all rode the rollercoaster of waiting for our debut to be published.
Or, as the marvellous Victoria Schwab put it:
And there you have it. It doesn’t hurt to remember that every writer faces the same track, and that nobody knows what another person is dealing with behind the scenes. None of us have a ‘secret’, and everyone’s journey is largely the same. Some seem to have it easier, but most of that is airbrushing. It does nobody any good to look sideways and compare; it helps only to focus on the ground beneath your own feet, and to stretch out your hands to help those walking beside you when you can.
So, I didn’t earn a million dollars for my first book, and some people do. It’s not a problem. My novel will sit on a shelf beside theirs, all the same.
So, I haven’t written a book which has met with universal acclaim, and some people have. It’s not a problem. I’ve still written a book – and somebody wanted to publish it.
So, I’m not Victoria Schwab, or Neil Gaiman, or Tomi Adeyemi, or Angie Thomas, or China Miéville, or whoever. I may never be a ‘success’, on the same level as writers like these. But I’m a person who had a dream, just as they did; I’m a person who put in the work, just like them. And this day next month my work will sit beside theirs, and my journey to that point is just as valid as anyone else’s.
If you’re just beginning the journey, take heart. It might be hard road, or it might not, but either way I look forward to seeing you at the other end. I have spent twenty-five years trying to get here, and now that there’s only a month left, I wish I’d savoured my trip a bit more instead of wishing I was following someone else’s path.
Four more weeks, people. Thank you all for being here with me. Let’s bring ‘er home.