I’ve misplaced my comfort zone. If anyone out there has found it, can you please return it to me forthwith, or sooner, because it’s weird out here in the outer realms. Really weird. And scary. Very, very scary.
My journey into the uncomfortable began awhile ago and, as is the nature of these things, I didn’t realise at the time that I had set myself on this path. I didn’t even realise that there was a path.
My brother-in-law, Bob, wanted me to write him the first chapter of my book as his Christmas present. He didn’t care what it was about, or how long it was, or even, I suspect, how good it was. He was totally flexible.
He just wanted a chapter. I didn’t think it would be easy, but I figured it was doable, and inexpensive, and so I did it. Eventually. By then, of course, I owed him the whole book.
That’s him done for Christmas and birthdays, for life, I thought as I finished the last sentence and hit save. I printed it out, wrapped it up and gave it to him while we were on a cycling holiday in Holland. Instead of taking it as the joke it was, he read it, out loud, every evening, to all the other cyclists on the trip. Sadly for them, we were on a canal boat. They had nowhere to go.
They had to listen.
It was embarrassing, but everyone had cycled all day and was tired. So, I figured, it was ok because they weren’t really listening. They were probably just nodding away and wondering what was for dinner. I know I was.
But they were listening, and they said I should send it to a publisher.
So, I did.
And that’s when it happened – the march to the border of where I am comfortable. Writing a book in my front room, for my brother-in-law, in my pyjamas, was the easy part. After all, no one knew I was doing it. I could always hit the delete button. Sending it out to a publisher was a challenge. No one who knew me thought I would do it. So I did.
Getting a yes back was…
And, looking back on it, that’s the moment when I hit border control. Behind me was the life I knew: my front room, my pyjamas, my fooling around on the keyboard. Before me was ‘Published Author Land’.
Still, there are a zillion books in every book shop. I know, I’ve counted. So, if all those people got published, how uncomfortable could it be?
Suddenly, you find yourself in a conference room, discussing film rights in America. And Fiji. And the merits of hardback versus trade paperback editions. And whether you would be willing to appear on television panel shows, and radio debates, and at literary festivals. To all of which, of course, you say..Yes, absolutely…while the entire time thinking ‘Are you people SERIOUS?’
But, that wasn’t the worst part. The most disconcerting part. The part furthest from the zone of comfort. No, that came when the publisher asked me to send in ‘the author’s photo’.
Ok, I understand that most of you would have just whipped out the last photo you had uploaded on to Facebook and been done with it. Not me. I don’t take photos.
When archaeologists sift back through the rubble of my house, they will discover that many people lived here, gradually growing older. And may wonder who documented it all. That would have been me. Behind the camera.
That’s the way I like it.
So, taking an ‘author’s photo’ was a total nightmare for me. The publisher kept asking for one. I kept ignoring the emails. I thought about sending in a snap of me from when I was in high school After all, John Grisham doesn’t seem to be ageing too much in his back of the book photos.
But, no. They wanted the real thing.
Luckily for me, my friend Beth happens to be a photographer. She said she would be over. Next Friday.
And so, I spent the week at the gym, and the hairdressers, and learning what has been happening in the world of make up since I last checked in on it 30 years ago.
The day arrived, and so did Beth, with a ton of equipment. I was somewhat taken aback, having vaguely thought she would be using her iPhone to do the deed. But, as she unpacked lights and flashes and tripods and that strange reflector thing you always see people holding in movies about making movies, I realised that this had not only gone beyond the ridiculous, but that there was nowhere to hide. And so, I stood, and sat and looked over one shoulder and then the other, while she took photos. Millions of photos. In almost all of which I look like a person wildly outside her comfort zone.
But, I thought, that’s it. I’m done. That’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever going to happen to me…
…until Beth said while driving away ‘See you at the launch party’.
Which, by the way, is on 23rd October at Daunt Books in Marylebone. And to which, of course, you are all warmly invited. Just look for the sign:
…I’ll need someone to hide behind.
Not Leo Tolstoy (aka Eileen Riley)