Last week was Christmas; at least it was for me. I had a UPS package number and I wasn’t afraid to use it. It was like Christmas Eve when you can go on-line and follow Santa’s flight around the world. I’d ordered the first proof copy of my novel, Whirligig, and was tracking it as the internet god that we all are these days.
Ironically, like the American Civil War, the book took physical form in South Carolina and then worryingly headed the wrong way; out west to Kentucky. The next day it popped up in Blighty at Castle Donnington, then Tamworth, then Newhaven and finally ‘out for delivery’ just when I had to leave to get to the London Book Fair. Christmas was put on hold.
I got home late and Sally handed me the parcel. We took it to bed and I opened it as if I was a six year old with my first train set (that dates me doesn’t it, maybe my first PlayStation). The book was wonderful. When I turned out the light I put it on the floor like I would any book that was my night time read.
Since then I’ve been casually taking it along with me to show friends and relatives, enjoying their reactions, jovially extracting promises for a sale when the time comes. On Saturday I was with drinking with ex-student colleagues from Chichester Uni’ and they were asking about how the book came into being, the physical book rather than the words. I started to explain and realised how lucky I was to have been able to steer its production. I love my book jacket and how Lucy Llewellyn at Head and Heart involved me so much in the creative process. The Whirligig on the inside cover comes from a day on my own in Chicago at the Institute of Art, starting at this piece of folk history I’d just discovered and knowing that it mattered to me somehow. And every chapter has its own private genesis from travels earthly or imaginary. On the long walk home from the pub – somewhat mellow – I started to wonder if the cover image of the Appalachian ridges fading away one behind the other was first born in Wales, in my love of the view from our farm over the Welsh valleys when I was a boy. It’s hard to say when you really started a book.
But then I stepped past myself and began to think on how many other people are ‘in’ this book. The turning whirligig sketch was done by the talented Juliet Croydon, my daughter’s boyfriend’s mother. The wonderful period looking maps were put together by my neighbour, Julia Brown. The strapline, ‘Keeping the Promise’, is a cut down version of a suggestion from my ever supportive friend Tracy Fells. Friends and family gave opinions on the draft covers. And then there are all the friends who read early drafts of the book, made suggestions big or small, workshopped a chapter or a scene, corrected my typos; maybe suggested only a single change of word. There are my tutors from Chichester who marked my submissions, worked with me on the Chickamauga sequence for my dissertation. I remember the very first person, Anne Canning, who made me believe she was enjoying my writing for its own sake, that I could really produce a book that people would like to read.
So what a gift it is to have such a thing jetted to you from America. Better than a trainset or a PlayStation. A present made wholly by me and just about everybody else.