The road to success is paved with Indiana Jones death-traps. Rolling boulders of procrastination, swinging axes of bad reviews, poison blow darts of self-doubt and soul-crushing humble pies to the face.
I’m thrilled that The Shining Girls is doing so well and that I’m in the incredibly privileged position to have been able to tour my book across four continents. But while I’ve had awesome moments, there have been the not-so-awesome ones too.
There was that time where I was nervous and had a champagne cocktail with a sugared rim just before my event, and everyone was too polite to point out that I had tiny crystals on the tip of my nose through the entire reading.
Or my appearance in Houston, which had a modest crowd of 15 people, while the book store half a mile down the road, had 400 turn up for the launch of the cookbook from the blind Masterchef. I don’t know how you compete with THE BLIND MASTERCHEF.
Especially when she knows how to wield knives.
But my worst moment from my entire career was doing a “reading” from Moxyland at the Cape Town Book Fair in 2007, in the booming warehouse space of the Cape Town convention centre.
It involved standing on the corner of a large stand and yelling at the disinterested passersby set on getting cheap picture books from the stall next door, while my husband and two best friends stood watching, quietly dying inside and willing me to skip to the end. I read two paragraphs and slunk away.
Because social media is all about the highlights reel and it’s easy to get the impression that it’s all beds of roses without getting stuck in the ass with the thorny bits, I asked a couple of author friends who are doing pretty well right now to share a personal horror story from the trenches.
I thought Joe Abercrombie was one of George RR Martin’s peers, cos he’s written almost as many doorstoppers, but turns out he’s my age and super-nice as well as being super-talented (and he looks oh-so-serious in a suit).
He’s known as Lord Grimdark for the dark grit in his sprawling epic fantasies and he’s up for both the British Fantasy Award and the David Gemmell Award for Red Country. He has a YA coming out next year called Half A King. He was once accused of living in a jaded literary sewer.
Here’s the painful memory he shared with me when we were at the Celsius 232 festival in Spain:
I have suffered several excruciating book events, but the one that remains foremost in the memory took place in Holland, when I was invited to deliver a lecture at a Medieval Fare.
I prepared obsessively, indeed I think I can safely say that lecture is the piece of writing I have spent most time on. When I arrived, there were perhaps three hundred people in a huge room for the previous event – a short story contest. I was horrified, but a little flattered.
My first book had only just come out in Holland and I hadn’t expected an audience anything like that size. I secreted myself at the back of the room and waited for the time of my lecture. As the short story competition ended, people began to filter out.
This I had of course expected.
There were two hundred, then there were one hundred.
Finally, there were two.
But they were treated to a superb performance.
Richard Kadrey is one of my favourite people, not least for this post on his 20 year overnight success that’s worth reading as a reminder of how much guts and determination and bloody-minded persistence you need to make it as a writer.
He’s the author of the best-selling Sandman Slim series and a dark and gorgeous upcoming young adult novel, Dead Set, about a creepy music store that sells records of the dead.
Here’s his worst ever event:
“I once did a mid-week reading at a big chain bookstore in Santa Monica. The entire audience was a couple of bookstore employees and two homeless people who wandered in because they spotted chairs and free coffee.
The bookstore staff immediately retreated to the back of the room, leaving me to chat up the homeless people. The man wanted to talk about King Kong. At any pause in the incredibly strained conversation, he’d jump in with a question or observation about the movie.
The homeless woman was on a lot of medication or too little medication. She was completely out of synch with everyone else. Whatever question the bookstore staff shouted at me from the safety of the rafters, I’d answer, and she would then repeat the question as if she’d just thought of it.
The entire hour-long session went like that. The staff shouting half-hearted book questions. The man asking if King Kong really was that tall or what is a trick? And the woman asking whatever the staff had just asked me.
With all that, it still wasn’t as bad as reading at a posh Northern California bookstore where the patrons stared at me like I’d seized control of the podium and microphone at knifepoint. THAT was the longest hour of my life.