Saturday, 4 July 2015

We Need To Stop Asking Permission To Tell Our Stories - Alice Jolly

I am in a strange no man's land at the moment. My book came out yesterday but the book launch isn't until next week. And more importantly, a couple of articles in the national press about the book will also not appear until next week. So the book is out but it isn't. And I have no idea what to expect.

A couple of friends who have no knowledge of the book world have said, 'You must be feeling pretty confident about all of this.' My response is, 'Unless you are an absolute fool, then you never feel confident about a book.'

Having said all that, the omens are quite good. The book has had a lot of good publicity, the cover is great, I think. Although the book was crowd funded, it is being distributed by Penguin Random House. Certainly, it should do better than my novels did.

But the truth is that 95% of books sink without trace. And this is true of good books as well as dodgy books. Even publishers are often completely unable to understand why, despite plenty of good omens, a good book goes nowhere. Publishing is like the weather. There is no point in asking why.

From a personal perspective, I have had a wobbly day. Partly it is just that flat feeling that comes at the end of any project. But I'm also suffering from all those strange feelings which do come with having a book published. It feels like walking down the street with no clothes on. It feels raw and invasive. It makes me want to hide. It makes me feel silly. It puts me in the spot light in a way I don't want.

I know my novels produced all these feelings - but a memoir is even more worrying. People can like a novel or not like it. Memoirs have the capacity to cause offence, even to provoke law suits. I do live in fear of the person (and there is certain to be one and maybe many more) who don't like what I've said.

But just a few days ago I found a wonderful quote which made me feel much calmer. It comes from the memoirist Alexandra Fuller. If there is anyone out there who hasn't read her wonderful memoir, 'Don't Let's Go To The Dogs Tonight' then you really should give it a try. I admired it so much.

Since writing that book Alexandra Fuller has written a number of other memoirs which are deeply personal and challenging, as well as being funny and shockingly honest. Her latest book is about her divorce and this is what she said in an interview when the journalist asked that inevitable question about whether family and friends might be upset.

'There's almost this expectation you need to get approval. I doubt Hemingway was asked what his ex-wives thought of his writing. I think women have to stop asking for permission .....'

To me that quote is important and so right. I don't have to ask permission. We none of us have to ask permission. And, in fact, if we do, then we're unlikely to write a good book.


Kathleen Jones said...

This is a wonderful blog, Alice - and you've nailed that slightly giddy, nauseous feeling that come with publication. I hope the book does really well - my copy is waiting for me in England and I'll review it as soon as I'm able to read it.

Umberto Tosi said...

I know the feeling. Congratulations on your new book."Dead Babies and Seaside Towns" sounds like a fine piece of work, with an especially intriguing title. Memoirs need compelling titles even more than novels. And, it's so true that a book's prospects in the marketplace can be as capricious as weather. Butterflies expected, but really, you've done the writing, which is all you can fully control. The rest lies mostly beyond that. You know inside, when you've written a fine work, no matter where it goes after you let it fly. I've found the Buddhist maxim works best: attach neither to praise or blame. You are your own best counsel. Sounds like you hit the mark on this one, like others. Best of luck. (or should we authors say, "break a leg," like actors?)

Chris Longmuir said...

Congratulations on getting your book out there, Alice and I hope the launch goes well. And you are so right about that flat feeling that comes at the end of a project, but next week that will be replaced with the exhilaration of the launch, and then when all the activity lapses you'll get that restless feeling which is the precursor of starting something new. And then it's back on the merry-go-round again. Enjoy your moment of fame next week and I do hope the book continues to sell, and sell, and sell.

Susan Price said...

Congratulations, Alice - and Chris, you're so right about the merry-go-round.

Umberto - was Kipling a Bhuddist?
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

Lydia Bennet said...

yes congratulations Alice and I hope it goes well, you certainly have some strong supporting big hitters on your side though of course nothing is guaranteed in this writing life! it's normal to feel flat and empty once you've 'done' the book, but then later you fall in love with it again! it is particularly hard when it's personal, I had the same with poetry written about the deaths of loved ones - but we have the urge to get our stories 'out there' and we need ask no permission for that as long as we don't defame anyone - and if you look in the latest SofA mag, there's a piece on the new rules re defamation which will be a big help to writers! Basically in brief, there has to be actual provable harm caused to a person, not just them not liking it.

julia jones said...

Am sharing your feelings just now. Good luck

Alice said...

So sorry not to reply to these kind and thoughtful comments sooner. A lot has happened. I had a heavy teaching schedule and got diagnosed with Lime's Disease while trying to do that. Actually, it is not bad. Just like flu. Need to take lots of antibiotics. And then my book launch got hit by the transport strike. But we had a good evening anyway. Some people walked miles to get there. I was so touched. Lovely to find all these encouraging comments. I think writing a book is like bringing up a child. You do your very best for them. Then eventually they leave home - and it is up to them after that.