The end and the beginning
Thursday, 8 February 2018
One morning roughly a year ago, I sat down at the kitchen table with my coffee and checked my mail on my phone before getting ready for work. Nestled between one piece of spam and another was a message regarding a submission I’d made to a publisher several weeks earlier. After years of hearing no, no, no thanks, not for me, I just don’t love it enough, and no, Unbound was saying yes.
Yesterday, when I came home from work, a box was waiting for me. From the shipping label and the weight, I knew what was inside. I’d been waiting, well, most of my life to tear open the cardboard and hold a book I’d written that someone had deemed worthy of publication. But I waited some more. After all, after years of trying to cultivate patience with the publishing industry, what are a few minutes? I put the parcel down on a chair and sat for a while. I thought about exactly where The Hope and Anchor began: With me, utterly bored in a lecture for a PhD I would eventually quit, staring into space in California and wondering why I had left a good life in London. I knew I had made the biggest mistake of my life, and possibly an irreparable one at that. There was nothing I could do but open my notebook and write.
I don’t remember the topic of the lecture, but I do remember what I put to paper that day. On that page, I put a woman on a bicycle and sent her riding along the Grand Union Canal. I couldn’t be there anymore, but she could. I didn’t need to remind myself of what that journey looked like - I had made it so many times myself. What was more interesting, more fun, would be to see it through that woman’s eyes. In essence, wondering what I’d be thinking if I weren’t me. I gave her a name - Angela. I gave her a background, a place to live, a face. I drew my memory of this one corner of London all around her, and waited to see what she’d do with it. What she’d do with other people. What they, and life, would do to her.
I quit the PhD. While I’ve often argued that thinly-veiled autobiography has no place in novels, and the events and characters of The Hope and Anchor are fictional, I found it crucial to make Neely, too, a failed academic. I wanted her to have stumbled at what seemed like a sure thing. I wanted to see how someone entirely of my own creation would react, and whether she’d sink or swim when confronted with problems far greater, and more concrete than, any proverbial angels dancing on the heads of pins. Now that the book is out in the world, you’ll get to find out.
Over the next several years, I rebuilt my career - slowly, often painfully. The one constant I had as I moved from city to city, filled out one unanswered job application after another, re-established myself professionally, found my stride, built up a wonderful relationship, and finally got to a point where a few years of detour could be looked at in the rear-view with a blush and a shrug, like a night with one too many pints, was that I kept working on this book. I wouldn’t let it go. It changed, as I did, for the better, with constant graft.
The Hope and Anchor has grown with me and I’m so grateful for the support of everyone who pledged. I hope you enjoy it. It was the book I wanted to write, and the book I had to write. I’m lucky it was both. Your paperback shipments and e-book downloads, if you have not yet received them by the time this update goes live, should be available very soon. Those who pledged for other rewards, I will be in touch over the next few weeks to arrange delivery.
My one request of you (SERIOUSLY, JULIA? YOU’RE ASKING FOR SOMETHING ELSE NOW?) is that you keep up the momentum of this book by writing a review online, if you have a moment. I would be very grateful. Word of mouth sells more books than anything else when you’re just getting started, and apparently magical things begin to happen with Amazon algorithms once you hit 70 reviews. You can also pop in to my page on Goodreads:
I will be in London later this month and am planning a casual get-together for Tuesday the 20th...watch this space...
Anyway, I opened the box. I held that first copy of my book, the compact weight of years, and marveled at how, out of one of the worst decisions I ever made, a dream came true. And you helped. Enjoy.
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