This time in eight or so months, my debut novel ALL THE GOOD THINGS will be published by Viking / Penguin UK. It will be a real, hold-able, sniffable, drop-in-the-bathable book.
This time a year or so ago, it was a very long Word Document. It was a very long Word Doc on my laptop for a fairly long time; then it was an attachment in various agents’ inboxes. I walked away from it and onto the train and into work, where no one — at that stage, at least — had any idea about my Word Document and what I was doing with it. I told myself I’d be lucky if one person replied saying it was maybe alright. I went running. I checked my phone. I went running without my phone.
Then one agent replied: no. A personalised, encouraging no. But still, a no. Gutted. I tried to concentrate on my emails and my tweets and my invoices and other things I had to do for work. I went running.
Then another agent replied: they really enjoyed the first three chapters. Could I sent the rest?
Could I send the rest? Someone had read my words and wanted more of them? Jesus. Hell. I destroyed my shoulders reading over and over said Word Doc all night. Then I hit send. Then another agent replied, and another and another… Pretty soon I had six different agents who wanted to meet me. I gave up trying not to check my phone.
Safe to say, it’s been a pretty crazy year . Crazy in all the ways. It’s been fun and exciting. People say things like, ‘Wow! That’s amazing.’ They look me up and down. They say: ‘A real publisher? Penguin? But you’re so young!’ They say: ‘That’s a bucket list thing. You must be so happy.’ Of course, I’m happy. However.
For the past nine years, getting a book published has been my Golden Thing. For some people it’s a marriage, a baby, a house, a job; for me, it was a book. For the past nine years I’ve grown myself around its absence; in the months after getting the deal, I didn’t know what to do or how to be. Anxieties old and new flooded into the space where the Golden Thing had been. I found it hard to sleep and eat and smile and say yes and concentrate and do all the other little things that we do without thinking when we are able to get on with day-to-day life. Rarely was I not checking my phone.
I now know this is a common experience for first-time novelists, indeed, for people who achieve big life goals, but in those difficult months, I felt so guilty. How could I feel so bad when I had what so many people — and I myself — so wanted? It was around this time that Jessie Burton and a number of other novelists started to talk about their experiences of depression and anxiety following book deals; I found it an enormous relief to know I wasn’t the only one.
Thankfully, I’ve had the support to feel my way into a better place. But I want to talk about it. We live in a society which talks about success as an escape route from reality and failure — personal, individual failure — as the cause of depression, poverty and all sorts of other problems. But what if it’s the way we talk about success and failure that’s the problem?
This is the first in a series of blogs where I’m talking about success and failure as I’ve experienced it in this strange and wonderful and difficult year. It’s not a formula for how to get an agent or get published: it’s only what happened to me. All I can offer in terms of advice is that I hope you do a better job at not checking your phone.