This is publication week for the paperback edition of my debut novel Paris Mon Amour, and this is a difficult post to write. You’re probably thinking, ‘What? Isn’t that the best post ever?’ And you’d be right – there have been some fabulous moments recently. It’s just that I feel totally overwhelmed, and that’s hard to put into words without going through six drafts. I just made myself a cup of coffee and I’m giving this an hour*.
As some of you will know, Paris Mon Amour has a pretty unusual publication history which kind of reflects the eventfulness (other terms may apply) of my writing career. There’s a line in the book which held no special significance for me at the time, but does now: To think that I might have missed all this. I have so many of you to thank for the fact that I didn’t.
This week is the start of something new and very exciting with my self-published paperback going on sale, but it also makes me think back on the almost-year since the book was first commercially published by Canelo in ebook, and by Audible, and further back, to what made me write it, and why I didn’t give up (because I certainly felt like it) when my previous book didn’t get published.
I love writing and I couldn’t face losing that. And I had a story I wanted to tell, one I believed readers would relate to, if I could just get it out there somehow. This book feels deeply personal to me and inevitably, with it being a first person female narrator, there’s been a lot of curiosity about whether, or to what extent, it is autobiographical. In the broadest sense, no – would I really write a novel about it? – but the truth is, I can’t give you a straight answer. That’s because I don’t know of a way to exclude my five decades of being human and all that entails from my efforts to create characters who are human and experience what Baudelaire called ‘the horror of life and the ecstasy of life’**. Fortunately for all concerned, this doesn’t make it about me or limit it to my experience. (A few lines from the book are out of my head uncut, and you probably don’t want to know which they are.)
And that brings me to the only part which really matters – what readers make of it. Obviously there’s no such thing as a book everyone likes, but over the past year, and again just recently, so many people have connected with Alexandra’s story, have seen it through different lenses depending on their own perspective; apparently it touched them the way that many novels have touched me. Some of the messages I’ve received, especially concerning the sensitive themes of the book, have made me cry (don’t worry, others have made me laugh out loud – clearly some readers will never see corporate reception areas the same again). It’s fiction’s strange potential to allow connections between strangers that makes it such a powerful thing.
Paris Mon Amour looked like going the way of the first book I wrote. It could easily have not made it out there in any form. And that is where the three pages of Acknowledgements come in. I won’t repeat them here but if you are reading this, you are there by default. For all its lack of whatever the magic formula is supposed to be (don’t tell me, because I don’t actually care), this book has elicited the support and commitment of people I hugely respect and can never thank enough. I can never thank anyone who has encouraged, supported, appreciated or just plain tolerated me enough.
If you know me, you’d be surprised if I didn’t end with a few words to those on the same road – and it’s not as if writing is a journey where you ever arrive. It has taken me eight years to get here. It has been bloody hard work and has driven me to the brink of despair at times. It has also widened, brightened and deepened every aspect of my life. It has given me friends, skills and experience I would not have gained any other way. It’s shown me that writing what matters to you matters, and that you’re far more likely to encounter ‘success’ if you don’t measure it in numbers. There is no doubt in my mind or my heart that it is worth it.
*It took way more than an hour!
** This is from Baudelaire’s journals entitled My Heart Laid Bare, (Mon Cœur mis à nu), from which the epigraph to my novel is taken.