How The First Book Really Feels

I haven’t posted in over a year, but I figured launching my first book is something worth noting down now, while it’s happening, because your first book publication will only ever happen once.

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I suppose people will expect me to gush here about the elation, the excitement, the surging rush of ecstasy at finally seeing five years’ of work and a dream I’d nurtured since I was writing two-page ‘novels’ in felt pen in front of The Powerpuff Girls. I’d envisioned it and doodled it into the diaries I kept stashed in my pillowcases for years – me at a table in Waterstone’s, no longer the shy, sad mousey girl in secondary school but a grown woman signing books in front of a line of people who didn’t think writing was ridiculous or uncool. And you know what? Yes, it feels amazing. I’m still in disbelief that I can hold a physical copy of my book in my hands. I never thought I’d be able to stand up and read in front of an audience, let alone thoroughly enjoy it. Every time I look up and see all those who’ve come to support, I feel a massive rush of gratitude and try desperately to flit between everyone so that I can chat to and hug as many people as I can, because without their encouragement I might not ever have brought my words out of their hidden notebooks in my bedside drawer.

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On the launch tour, I’ve been fortunate enough to have read and done a Q&A session at Laugharne Festival with the utterly brilliant Caerphilly writer Thomas Morris, winner of Wales Book of the Year and who edited the wonderful literary magazine The Stinging Fly in Dublin. Laugharne was a special place to start for me, with its obvious links to Dylan Thomas.

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In Cardiff, for the official Welsh launch, And Suddenly You Find Yourself found itself nestled alongside the works of two women poets I’ve always turned to for inspiration – Christina Thatcher and Emily Blewitt. Their energy, their passion and the sheer power of their words puts 2017 in good stead to be a glittering year for Welsh poetry, particularly for women writers. With both the wonderful Susie Wild and Sophie McKeand releasing debut collections later on this year, there’s still so much more to look forward to.

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Strangely, there’s a flipside to it too. Shortly after returning from India, after an unforgettable launch at Kolkata Book Festival, I found myself spending days just sitting vacantly at my laptop, my newly-published collection staring up at me from the desk as I sat there feeling like an utter failure. Empty. I couldn’t explain it. Partly it was the comedown a familiar mizzling grey filming the windows as I sighed heavily over English breakfast tea, my sari bagged and stashed at the back of a wardrobe. For every congratulatory message, I felt like a fraud. For every photograph that someone would send me of themselves perched on a bench, or reclining in their garden holding a copy of my book, I felt both a surge of gratitude and a shuddering dread that they’d look at it and think: Bloody hell, this is awful. I should have just bought a copy of Joey Essex’s book for its poetic depth after all.

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After talking to more and more writers, I was relieved to find that this is a fairly common occurrence, and fairly reasonable too: after all, if you’ve so much time putting blood, sweat and tears/ink/red wine into this one piece of work, letting it go into the world feels oddly like releasing a fledgling you’ve been nursing to health and then staring at the stray feathers left after it’s fluttered free. What if something happens to it? What if everyone hates it? What if it wasn’t quite ready? Will it get attacked right away? Is it no longer mine? What do I do with myself now?

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In the weeks that followed, writing became arduous. For the first time, writing even made me angry. Why couldn’t I write anything decent? Why was the creativity blocked? People would ask (and still do), ‘Have you finished your novel yet?’ to which I always sheepishly smile and change the subject. I’m almost afraid of it, not quite ready to go back to it yet. It’s like peeling away a plaster to see how bad the wound is underneath.

So, if anyone else is reading this and feels like they’re lacking in confidence a little, don’t be so hard on yourself. The truth is, we’re taught to be constantly working, working, working, and reward induces feelings of laziness or guilt. Remember what you were working for: to enjoy the moments like this you’ll never get back.

Writers: when you can’t write, read. Remember why you started and where that love of words came from. Discover new writers, new stories, new ways of seeing the world. Be present, always – whether that means reading at events, curling up with a new book you’ve treated yourself to (and your celebratory fifth bottle of book launch prosecco), or just going out to do something totally unrelated to writing. Writing is a way of channeling the way we see the world. How can we do that if we’re too caught up with staring at a blank word document to go out and collect these precious little moments we can write about later?

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Haven’t hung out with your cat in a while? Get off the computer and hang out with your cat. Alternatively, you should also seek a human friend to do this with too.

I know now that the book tour is about enjoying the fruits of five years of work. It’s about embracing every event and giving it 100%. This is the fun part, and it’s finally time to step away from that notebook for a bit to have fun and reconnect with friends, my job, colleagues, family and all the people (and cats) who really matter.

It’s not a fairytale. It’s hard work. But it’s love.

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