To me, the sound of November has a special ring to it because it’s my birthday month. When I was a child, I would count down from the first day of the month. On the fifth, when the fireworks were launching beautifully, and we were allowed to wave glittery, shining sparklers in the garden after dark, making figures of eight and other shapes, I would know we were half way. Oh go on then, I still do!
This year, though, November has been the most incredible birthday month ever. Not only have I reached the milestone of fifty years old, with, even if I do say so myself, grace and humour, but I am launching my debut novel. Now there will be two birthdays in November.
Aside from all the over 50 jokes, (‘at 50 you’re still hot but only in flushes’; ‘remember now you’re over the hill, you will begin to pick up speed’; ‘only when you’re over 50 you realise that your parents were right about nearly everything’) starting to say things like ‘in my day’ and walking with your hands behind your back, turning half a century has actually been rather fun. I hired a big, old manor-house in Somerset and invited my friends and family for a weekend, complete with dogs and kids. It was a huge amount of memorable, celebratory fun and it will be another fifty years minimum before I’ll forget it.
Publishing my novel has also been a fun journey, but with a huge, bucket full of seriousness and hard work thrown in. For the last three years, Gilding the Lily has been my sort-of nemesis. But last week I received the first paperback proof and my stomach flipped into my heart as I touched the cover, turned the pages like… well, like a real book. And it is… it’s a real book. It’s real. Publishing day is tomorrow – the 25th November 2016 and I can’t really describe what I’m feeling. I think it’s a mixture of excitement and terror.
I was always writing – journals, poetry, short stories – but never did much with them. I have always been part of a book club, creative writing group or similar. It was in my early twenties when a magazine published my first article. I was even paid £75, which back then was ‘quite a lot of money’. Being a ‘proper writer’ suddenly became and idea, but I already had a job as a PA that I couldn’t possibly give up – how would I pay the bills, keep my flat? So that’s how it went on, until my mid-forties when finally I realised that life is just too-damn-short.
In that time, my characters have evolved and became real people, in my head. I am good friends with them now. All of them – they are like actors and are serious about their job. They ask me how I would like them to do this scene or play that role, and they put such passion into their work. Then they perform, and they do so with such convincing and tangible dignity, that I admire them hugely.
So now publication day is here, they are celebrating with me – in my head. It’s their birthday month too and they can finally come into their own. They deserve it, they’ve worked hard for it, and only I can make this possible for them, so they are relying on me for everything. And everything is what I want to give them. Thank you guys for coming into my head – you are my great friends and I will do my best for you. But in return, can you please help me to become a ‘proper writer’? Can you sell my books? Can you help me make a living from this rapport that we have? I know the answer they will give: ‘well that remains to be seen’.