I have often compared writing and publishing a book to having a baby. Not only does it take about nine months to gestate but then, once it is in your arms, it takes over your life!
Before a book is ‘born’ it is normal for the author to be a bit nervous…
What will it look like?
Will it change my life?
Will it hurt?
What on earth have I done?
Early this month I gave birth to my 32nd book, Monday Morning Emails. As is normal for any conception, there were two of us involved. This time, I co-authored with Canadian, Terry Anne Wilson, who, like me, has lived abroad for about three decades, has sons in their twenties and is not quite sure where to call home.
I remember so clearly how it felt to open the first box of my first book, French Tarts, back in 1985. Since then, despite writing an average of one book a year, nothing ever matched up to how that one felt. Until Monday Morning Emails.
This time, I have changed from my usual safe genre of ‘how-to’ books. Books that are practical and informative and teach the reader something. This time, my heart was on my sleeve and as the book arrived in the world, my heart was in my mouth.
I have been teaching a course on how to write life story for more than ten years. I have mentored many writers through the process of planning, writing and publishing their own memoirs: Maggie Myklebust, with Fly Away Home; Niamh ni Bhroin, with The Singing Warrior; Carolyn Vines, with Black and Abroad; Laura Stephens with An Inconvenient Posting; Paula Lucas with Harvesting Stones; Jack Scott with Perking the Pansies and its sequel; Lindsay de Feliz with her Saucepans series and many more. (Maggie deserves special mention because it was only because Terry Anne read her great memoir that we discovered each other). I wonder whether they realized that I felt a little like a fraud? Because, until Monday Morning Emails I had not really known how it felt to be faced with writing raw, authentic, vulnerable truth about myself and those close to me.
So when the first box of Monday Morning Emails arrived, I tore it open carefully with some trepidation. What had I done? What had we done, Terry Anne and I, writing about the reality of being an expat, on our umpteenth posting, still in limbo, now with adult boys not yet quite on their own roads, elderly parents, our own issues with identity, career, health and so much more? And now we had bared our souls, what would people think and how would we be judged?
The birth was fairly long and painful. The third stage of labour took us to well over 25 edits and read throughs, times when gas and air did not quite hit the spot and we needed wine. But, in the end, about a month ago, our baby slithered off the press, silky skinned and gorgeous.
Now I felt like hiding behind the sofa, ready to be judged for what I had written. Was I a terrible mother? Had I worked too hard when the children were growing up? Had people suffered too much because we made the choice to keep on moving from country to country? We launched the book in The Hague on March 7th and at the Families in Global Transition conference two days later.
And only then did I dare to peak over the back of the sofa where I discovered words such as:
“I wanted to thank you both for putting those issues on the table in such an honest and compelling manner. Already, it has been a catalyst for my parents to discuss decisions they made all those years ago, and ask me what I think now, as an adult.”
“It’s the best thing you’ve ever written.”
“Thank you for starting the conversation.”
As with the birth of any baby. The hardest work of all begins after it arrives. Terry Anne and I have work to do. There is a website, a new blog, flyers, reviews to elicit, a book trailer, book club questions, promotions, articles to write and readings to do. Thirty-two babies in and it has not got any easier…