Earlier today, I was sent a photo via email. It was from my mother-in-law, who happened to be passing a bookshop window at just the right moment, and snapped this shot.
When I received it, my heart leapt. This bookshop is Hodges Figgis, Ireland’s oldest (I believe), and certainly a place in which I have whiled away many happy hours over the past twenty years. It is always my first port of call when I’m in ‘town’ (as anyone who has ever lived in any part of Dublin invariably refers to the city centre) and while Dublin is, thankfully, full of bookshops, and I am not a stranger to any of them, there’s something special about Hodges Figgis. We have history. We go back.
So to see my book – my book, with its fabulous, Sara Mulvanny cover – sitting in Hodges Figgis window… well. That was an experience.
Last August, when my book was published in North America, I felt proud too. This, however, feels different. This feels personal, like the book is coming home. This feels like a circle has been closed, like the ‘me’ of twenty years ago – for whom a day like this was a distant, barely-dreamed dream – could walk into Hodges Figgis and see a beautiful foil-edged handful of a book, a book like mine, and pick it up. My book is going to be on the shelves of the bookshops of the city I called home for so many years, where I did all my growing up, where I lived and loved and lost and laughed, and that makes my heart ache with something like nostalgia and pride and pure, bright happiness all mixed in together.
I don’t know how to feel. It’s strange, this publishing a book lark. You’d think it would feel a lot less complicated than it does.
I spoke to a friend a few weeks ago, when my confidence was at a low ebb. He told me: ‘Tolkien, when he published The Lord of the Rings, said ‘What have I done? I’ve given them my heart to shoot at.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard it put quite so well as that. Publishing a book – particularly a first book, the book you’ve had in you for years and into which you’ve poured every bit of yourself – is exactly like placing a target over your most vulnerable self and inviting people to take aim. But somehow knowing Tolkien felt the same way makes it seem much better, even though it doesn’t lessen the sense of panic and anxiety that are always there, like a counterpoint, below the happiness and relief. Perhaps the panic and anxiety are heightened when your book comes home, when it lands on turf you know, when shops you’ve walked through in search of a perfect dream become repositories for your own story. You begin to imagine other seekers, people just like you, for whom your book might be their perfect dream – and that brings a weight, as well as a lightness.
I didn’t know any of this when I began to write. Would I have continued, if I had? Yes. Absolutely. Despite everything, this journey has been perfect, and has all happened just as it was supposed to.
So. Once more, to you – the faithful reader who has been here through it all – thank you. The road has been smoother because of your company. It’s not an easy thing, this realising of dreams, but everything is easier with friends by your side. Thank you for being part of my dream, and for cheering The Eye of the North home.