As I write this, I am in limbo. I’ve just sent back my notes on the first proofs of my next book Crap Towns Returns: Back By Unpopular demand, and although there’s another proofing stage to go, I’m starting to realise that there’s very little more I can do for the book.
A few weeks ago, when I was in the thick of writing, wondering if I was really going to finish on time, desperately trying to find out new facts about Bury St Edmunds, to trim down my (then) ridiculously long history of the City of London, to find that killer fact about Gateshead, not to mention when I was schlepping round the M25 to grab last minute photographs of Jaywick, Camberley and Southampton – back then I would have told you I couldn’t wait for this moment.
But, as I imagine every writer knows, getting to the end isn’t entirely delightful. I feel, instead, bereft. It isn’t just that writing can be such a peculiar and intense joy. (And I mean joy. Coming up with the right picture caption or one-liner sets me dancing round my study in delight.) It’s that it gives you a sense of purpose and meaning. Even writing a book as daft as Crap Towns is wonderfully validating. The feeling must be extraordinary for novelists – but the come down must also be correspondingly hard. Where do you go after having such a good outlet for your pet obsessions such a long time? What do you do?
It isn’t just that I suddenly have far less to do with my time, and a pressing need to find a new project. It’s also that my book is leaving my hands – and that soon I’ve got to hope it lands in as many other hands as possible. This thought is terrifying. Especially right at this minute, when there’s very little I can do about it. Launch isn’t until September. There are a few things I can do before then to help build interest, but my main job is to wait. And try to resist the urge to email my publisher’s PR people every ten minutes to ask why I’m not on the front page of The Times, who they’ve phoned about my book in the last, I don’t know TEN SECONDS, what they’re planning… I also have to try to remember that while the book is the centre of my universe, it’s just one in a huge constellation for everyone else along the line. The PR people, booksellers, journalists I’m going to need so much nearer to launch time probably don’t even know I’m there. I don’t exist. Oh God! I told you I was in limbo. There must be something I can do..
No, actually, there isn’t much, and that’s really quite disconcerting. The truth is that I’ve also got to start letting go of my book. Every writer must do the same. And I’m sure every writer will tell you it isn’t easy. But I know I shouldn’t complain. The thing to remember is that 12 months ago, when I was putting the finishing touches to my pitch, I’d have been delighted to be in this position. Overjoyed. Two years ago, I’d have been amazed. When you bring a book into the world, it often feels like the goalposts are forever moving backwards. As soon as your proposal is accepted you have to write and edit the thing. Then you have to help proof it. Then help publicise it. Then come up with the next idea. Then get a proposal in… But even if the back of the net always seems to be frustratingly far away, it’s fun at least to be on the pitch.
Sam was born in Alnwick Northumberland and now lives in Norfolk.
After studying Classics at Cambridge he spent some time in the Ardeche region of France where he was a goatherd. He has been earning a living as a writer since the year 2000. He is the author of five books (including the best-selling Crap Towns and Sod That!: 103 Things Not To Do Before You Die ).
He also writes features and articles regularly for the Guardian – and has written for most other national papers in the UK. He is also a part-time film reviewer. He is currently interested in the middle classes and has a website investigating their strange habits at organicpeasandorderlyqueues.com He is quite middle class himself and lives in Norwich with his partner, who is also a writer.