It’s 3rd June – exactly a month since my new book, 21 Miles, was published. The actual publication day – the 3rd May – was a bit of an anti-climax. There was no trumpet voluntary, let’s put it that way. But a few days later on 8th May, the book was officially launched at the first event of Fertility Fest 2018 at the Bush Theatre. 150 wonderful people came, the majority of whom had supported my book into being by pre-ordering it in advance. And the launch did feel a bit like I was the bride at my wedding. It was an amazing night, and the stars of the show, for me, were some of the women I interviewed for the book who joined me on stage for a Q&A with chair, Janet Ellis. It was a celebration of female achievement and solidarity (and there were a few men there too: not many but the best few!).
If you have been following my blog for some time, you may remember my last post on the 15th April – the one entitled On Blogging. I wasn’t actually sure after I’d written it whether I would ever blog again. I said to a few people close to me that I’d left things hanging – a bit like when a character departs a TV soap and there’s a chance they’ll come back. Or they might not. But here I am seven weeks later. Hello again!
I hope you didn’t think I’d stopped writing because I haven’t. I’m already working on my third book. I just needed to overthrow the tyranny of bi-weekly blogging for a while. I wasn’t quite sure how long I’d be gone.
Lots of people tell me they want to write a book. I think many people do and there’s a saying that everyone has one in them. I think you know if you really want to, if you do it. It’s a hard process – sometimes you like what you’ve written, sometimes you think it’s shit. Then you rewrite what you’ve written, like it and then think it’s shit all over again. Eventually you might have something that you’re ready to give to the world. But the world is more discerning than you. Agents say ‘no’; publishers say ‘no’; critics don’t want to review it; journalists write what they want to cover not what you do (for a case in point see my recent article in the Daily Mail. Serves me right I know, they’re only interested in my sob-story, not my book!).
So if you want to write a book, it’s important to know that the writing – however hard it seems – is actually the easy bit. Because when you’re writing it, it’s just you and the page. And sometimes you’ll think what you’ve written is terrible, but sometimes you’ll feel as if you’re as good as Jane Austen or Charles Dickens (you’re probably not but whilst it’s just you and the page who cares?). But ultimately most writers want to be read so there does come a time when you have to let it go, and accept that the book will have to live its own life. I imagine it’s the same feeling as a mother has with her children (apologies for the naff analogy but it is an obvious one, especially for a woman who has been on her pursuit of motherhood for over a decade).
Over the last month I’ve been watching my book baby take its first tentative steps and what’s driven me back to my blog is to say that I’m proud of how it’s doing (I guess this is a bit like putting up baby photos on Facebook). Yes, I’d like it if I had a few more reviews on Amazon and Goodreads (please do leave me one if you’ve read it, it means a lot). But I have had nearly 100 people contact me about it – by email, text, phone, whatsapp, twitter, facebook, instagram (does anyone else feel there are just too many modes of communication these days?). I’m amazed at how quickly people have read it (it takes me months, sometimes years, to get to books) and I’m so touched by the things people have said. I love it when someone writes and it’s clear they have ‘got it’ at a profound level and I equally love the things people get that I didn’t even know were there. I love hearing which woman I interviewed that they connected with the most, and getting new words (NB. I asked each woman I met in the book to give me a word for my Channel swim and just this week I’ve been given ‘wow’ and ‘hope’ to add to these). I love hearing the bits that made people laugh, and cry (yes, sorry, some of it is sad). And I love hearing about the things that have resonated with their own lives. Someone wrote to say that like me their motherhood fantasies had been played out through shopping catalogues (not dolls), and someone else said they also cut up cupcakes into quarters with the back of a spoon.
And this week, I got the sort of message I dream of from one of the busiest women I know – Sue Macmillan who is Chief Operating Officer at Mumsnet, a local councillor in Hammersmtih & Fulham and mum to a toddler. At Fertility Fest we’d done a brilliant event together entitled ‘Does motherhood make you happy?’ which is the central question of my book. She wrote and said: “I agree with every one of your conclusions at the end and felt that within a few short pages you’d almost summed up the entire truth and meaning of life.’ Now that’s the sort of message a writer dreams of getting.
I think one of the best things that happens when you publish a book is that you realise what the book is actually about by what other people tell you. So I now know that 21 Miles is about many things including family, career, female identity, life fulfillment, food and swimming. It’s also for anyone who is coming to terms with something sad and difficult in their life. In my case, my unrequited pursuit of motherhood. And although I am proud to be called a fertility campaigner these days (as I was when I was on Radio 4’s You & Yours this week telling the fertility industry what they need to do better) my book is about far more than my pursuit of motherhood and unsuccessful IVF. If you’re interested and couldn’t make Fertility Fest you can come and hear me talk about it at this FREE Event next Wednesday 13th June in Soho. Either way, I hope you’ll read it, and continue to read my blog. I’m sure it will be back. I just don’t know when.