Wednesday, 13 April 2011

On Letting Your Baby Out Into The Cold

I read a very interesting blog by fellow Legend Press author Ruth Dugdall the other day, who mentioned that prior to the release of her first novel she wished she had taken the time, just before the novel was released, to ask herself what exactly it was that she expected from her book when it was eventually published. A couple of local book signings, a mention in the local gazette? While I was writing The Intimates for the first time in my life I kept a journal, most of which is filled with vague romantic preoccupations and reflections on the copious numbers of gigs I was attending at that point in my life.

But flicking through it last night I noticed one or two mentions to the book that would eventually become The Intimates (known as The Fountains at the time, until my editor Lauren wisely instructed me that that sounded like a Barbara Cartland novel). Reading them I was struck by the rather humble ambitions I originally had for it. For it to be ‘a decent impression of a thoughtful book’. For it to be a way to exorcise certain demons lingering at the back of my mind, be they faded romances or little obsessions. For them to scratch certain itches left on me by visiting certain places, and dwelling amongst certain moods. At most, I hoped a few people would like it, and I was going to try my damndest when writing it in the hope that they might. And, effort wise, I did not let myself down. By the time it finally saw print, I had written and rewritten those bloody 51,000 words so many times that I knew passages of it off by heart – more out of frustration than vanity, I assure you.

Just before the book came out it started to gain some advance notices, which were exceptionally kind, and soon after followed the first reflections from Amazon customers, which I was pointed towards by a fellow author friend. I was fascinated to see that the book seemed to be garnering extreme reactions – at first of intense dislike, but later of an appreciate bent that I felt fairly touched by. Both reactions were interesting and – eventually – useful to me. Had I ever thought about it, I would have hoped for no more than for some people to have read it, and perhaps a couple to have even liked it.

Originally it took some adjusting to see that you could focus your efforts on a project which you had addressed with utmost sincerity, and that effort could garner strong dislike as well as appreciation. I was surprised to see the Amazon page for my book turn very quickly into a very considered forum for debate (with currently nineteen reviews and counting). Once I had got over my rather petulant adolescent hope, lingering inside me like an errant germ, that wanted everyone to like what I did, I started to realise that it was in fact just as instructive to have people disagree with your work than agree with it. I realised too that many of my favourite books and albums had provoked strong reactions when first released, and what are they if not something to aim for? Not that I would ever, even for a moment, put my work in their league, but novels like Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero, and albums like The Cure’s Pornography – which on first approach could be easily seen as listless and uncommunicative.

I think I hoped, when writing The Intimates, that despite perhaps initial impressions I would have put enough into the book for it to eventually reveal itself in time. It didn’t mean that when some people didn’t like it at first I didn’t petulantly sulk like a spoilt child. But when an interviewer on BBC radio recently started to ask me questions about my ‘controversial new novel’, now that my skin had grown slightly thicker, I realised that this new suit was starting to fit a little more comfortably. But it doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t prefer five stars over two...

First published online 6th April on

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