So, this is it. The review copies have gone out, the advance advance copy has come back with some wonderful words from Sir Ranulph Fiennes, and we're all set for the big launch at the Natural History Museum on 15th March. But are we really all set; am I?
Dead Men has already had one review, more or less wonderful and complimentary, finding depths in the book even I, as the writer, hadn't seen, proving that our words are often more profound than we think. And yet, and yet, no disrespect to the reviewer, my nervousness at the prospect of the launch does not diminish. What if even one reviewer thinks it's a poor book, what of even one voice amongst thousands declares that it's trite and inappropriate, what if the Polar community judges it inaccurate and ill-conceived?
One day last week, I was supposed to get up at 4 a.m., to catch the train to Doncaster, to record an interview, my first interview about the book. I overslept, having finished my next book the day before, being bereft, without wife and without 75% of my children, who were away, and didn't wake up till 6, feeling like proverbial shit. Seriously. And asking myself, not if all the effort was worth it, but if I wasn't being a touch arrogant, arranging interviews and signings all round the country for launch week. After all, my mind said, this is only one small book by a first-time author, by someone who hasn't proven himself yet, just another wannabe best seller by another wannabe author. Why pretend otherwise?
So I swore so loudly I woke my son, went out, had a smoke, texted all sorts of people apologising for oversleeping, and could we do the whole thing an hour later, when I'd bought my much more expensive train ticket (re-nationalise the railways, by the way), tortured my old and rusty car to the station and jumped, half-asleep and half-regrettingly, onto a train to Stowmarket (if only John Peel were still alive, I'd have got off there and walked to his house). Two jelly-babies, two changes of train and one misdirection by a non-National Railways member of staff, I was in Doncaster. And one Danish pastry later, I was sitting in the interview studio doing my stuff, which aired earlier today. And do you know, I thought I came across quite well, aided, without doubt, by the wonderful Sheila North whose interview skills and people skills obviously know no bounds.
You probably think this is off-topic, but for me this whole episode summed up the dilemma we writers are in, especially those of us signed with indie publishers, or those of us who decide to self-publish. In fact, on the train up, I had a long twitter conversation with a lady in East Suffolk who was getting a mass of abuse from people on facebook and elsewhere for self-publishing. Why?
So I sit here, the calendar clicking past me as my infected eyes (conjunctivis and blepharitis) try to focus on the screen, all my event dates moving closer, and me asking myself if this is what all writers go through, these extended periods of self-doubt and even more extended periods of self-loathing, if this is what it means to be published, to question even more the work we do, to doubt even more if it has any value.
And then, nervously, I open my book on a random page, look at the words like I've never seen them before, read a sentence or two and lose myself in those familar and unfamiliar words and feel myself being moved by something I've written, by some random phrase inspired, no doubt, by some random event, some random picture imprinted on my psyche, and I think It is worth it, after all; these words will outlast you, Richard, live beyond your death, and speak even when your voice has fallen silent.
Because that's what we do, all of us who write; we don't believe in ourselves, but we cling to the faiths our words scatter into the world.