When people ask me what my main strength is, I don’t tend to say writing. I tend to say enthusiasm. I am like a child. Give me a task and I’ll see an adventure. On the right day, I may even jump up and down and clap my hands. I love what I do. I love writing, teaching, reading, editing and helping people learn to harness their gift. But goddamn, it’s exhausting sometimes.
Creative Entrepreneurship teaches us that, as artists, we are likely to get our wages from a variety of income streams. The more strings to your bow, the more you can make. Now, I’m not saying a 9-5 isn’t exhausting, but this whole multiple income streams business makes me look like I’m vibrating on a different frequency. You have to be able to switch between projects pretty quickly, as well as travelling, planning, executing, arranging and looking out for new opportunities whilst making sure you don’t lose the ones you already have. Plus there’s social media, which can’t be ignored. What’s the point of doing all this work if no-one knows about it?
I wasn’t this exhausted when I worked a PAYE job, and worked for myself part time. And I got up at 5am most days.
This is the question: Should we do many things, and do them well enough, or do a few and do them brilliantly?
When you split your income stream, you split your focus. If you have to teach to make more money immediately, then the novel gets put on the backburner in order to plan a lesson. Do we end up prioritising away the whole reason for this lifestyle?
When your job splits down into five or six different jobs, and then you consider the average tasks that come with being a human- paying bills, grocery shopping, socialising, doing laundry, going to the bank….how do we ever get stuff done?
I think I’ve found the answer. Or rather, I’ve known the answer all along, I’m just incapable of sticking to it:
CALM THE HELL DOWN.
Frazzled, exhausted minds do not do good work. Unless you’re Hemingway. Or Kerouac.
If we are our own boss, we need to treat ourselves nicely. We need to know when to switch off the laptop, put down the pen, turn off the phone, and STOP WORRYING. We need to sleep well, eat good food, exercise. Spend time thinking about things that aren’t work. Stop thinking that we’re not going to survive if we don’t do it ALL RIGHT NOW. Make plans with friends and stick to them, prioritise them over the chance to make a little more money.
I’m terrible at this. I’m an overachiever, right until I burn out and spend weeks feeling ill and depressed. And then obviously it’s so much harder to get back to work with that attitude. Balance. That is what we need, and what I’ve been searching for. We all know the basics: Eat well, exercise, work, learn, socialise, have fun, create, sleep.
I used to think the busier I LOOKED, the more successful I was. This isn’t true. You think you’re juggling balls and spinning plates like a pro, when actually you look like a run-down jittery maniac running on coffee and determination. No-one approves of that person, because their work is destroying them. That’s not smart.
So, next week I will be on holiday. Problem being I’ve already agreed to do a proofread on a client’s novel and set myself the task of polishing up one of my novels for perusal by an interested publisher. So I’ve pretty much just agreed to sit doing two weeks worth of work in 5 days. Why did I do that? Because I looked at them and thought ‘Ooh, those days are free!’ THAT IS THE WAY THEY’RE MEANT TO STAY. My holiday is usually for reading and writing, but in a non-uniformed, enjoyable and open way. No goals, just fun. And I’m not saying I won’t be sitting there with a cocktail in hand whilst I do it, but the lesson has yet to be learnt.
We need time to ourselves, to heal and reboot and relax. So I hope you can learn from my mistakes!
So, just incase anyone missed the first few thousand times I talked about it, you can buy my debut novel at the publisher’s website. If anyone would like to post reviews in the comments box on this post, I’d appreciate it!
In other news,
I’ll be starting my writing residency over at Red Door Studios in Newham in the next few months. I’ll be running workshops, doing a writer’s cafe and arranging a mini lit fest! So come get involved out on London’s East Edge. You can keep up with my musings at Red Door over here.
I’ll be at a bunch of festivals running creative writing classes with The DumbSaint Project. You can find us at Larmertree (where I’ll also be doing a special reading from my novel, and a chat about being entrepreneurial), Cornbury Fest (Where my amazing mum will be coming along to make some excellent Sea Stories themed crafts- AHOY!) and End of the Road Fest, with fabulous poet Joe McBride. It’s going to be a busy summer!
I’ll also be performing at She Grrrowls! in Kingston on the 22nd July. Run by the most excellent poet (and current writer in residence at Bang Said the Gun! -frickin’ awesome) Carmina Masoliver. This is the first time I’ll be performing excerpts from my novel since the launch, and I think that’s removed a bunch of the nerves. So come down for some excellent performances and good booze!
So, it’s been a while since the book launch for Wine Dark, Sea Blue, and life is still getting back into it’s own little rhythm.
I have been assured by everyone it was a wonderful night. (Am I reminding anyone of Mrs Elton in Austen’s Emma? Where she flatters herself by saying how much other people enjoy her company?) To be honest, I was buzzing around like a bumblebee on crack, so I’m kind of depending on everyone else’s opinions here.
So the UEA INTO Launch started earlier in the day, with a wonderful speech from Professor Sarah Churchwell (Who you can find out more about here). It was so great to hear a writer and lecturer who didn’t know me at all really get what I was trying to achieve with this novel. To have someone who knows good writing understand my themes and narratives, and the point of my writing just made the day for me.
Then we went down to Dirty Dicks Pub, where festivities were about to begin! Opening the show was Northern Irish writer Louise Davidson, who has also helped me with work on The DumbSaint Project. It was then followed by a ‘thrown voice’ poetry show by Joe McBride and Joe Shefer, exploring the voiceless poet. We had a spoken word/sound art collaboration with Victoria Karlsson (using Joe McBride’s work- you can listen here). Poetry from Stairwell Books’ Rose Drew. Songs from the excellent Emma Weston, accompanied by Sam Weston. And then onto partying with The Elisa Jeffery Collective!
So, my advice for a launch?
Pre-sign ALL THE BOOKS. Sure, it’s nice to write specific messages, but it’ll take time and make your life difficult.
Get someone else to deal with ALL the OTHER SHIT. You will not have the time to greet people, sign books, sell, check the state of the nibbles and make sure the band have leads etc. Get HELP
Themed cupcakes are always a winner
Provide entertainment but maybe not too much entertainment
Maybe trust that when you invite your friends, and they invite their friends, you probably will have enough people!
So, over this last year or so, the goal has been to get published. Yay, level up! The next goal is to sell those books.
Wine Dark, Sea Blue is a coming of age story. It’s about London, the recession, finding comfort in strangers, escapism, loyalty, and never really knowing how to say the things you want to say. It’s about secret keeping, family connections, unsaid truths and making art.
You can buy Wine Dark, Sea Blue from my publisher Stairwell Books. It will soon be available on Amazon and kindle, but please bear in mind, if you want to support the author and publisher, don’t buy hard copy books from Amazon, buy them straight from the source.
I’ll be blogging about the launch party and how it went (fantastically!) but for now, get hold of your copy, and show how much you’ve enjoyed it by posting a pic of yourself with the book, and hashtagging #almichael #winedarkseablue like all these lovely people have done! Get involved!
So, the day of The Book Launch is almost upon me. The books are at the printers, the merchandise has arrived, the venue is confirmed. And yet, I’m still panicking. Why? Well, firstly, whilst it’s a moment of accomplishment and joy, it’s also bloody stressful. And really, so far, things have gone smoothly. So why the stress? Is it the idea of talking in front of a crowd? No, there’ll be wine to deal with that problem. Is it the judgement, the idea that people will be reading your work and forming opinions and not all of them will be good? Maybe, but as writers we become accustomed to that. Is it, perhaps, that all of this is going swimmingly, and yet I still feel like a bit of a fraud? Bazinga.
Writing is about bullshit. Writing itself is a world of lies. Talking about writing is giving opinions on something that may mean something different to someone else. Talking about your own writing is pointless, because it should speak for itself. When we teach writing, it’s a different kind of bullshit again. We are determined to make ourselves sound good, because no-one else will do it for us.
I am destined to say ‘I’m a professional writer and teach workshops’ for a very long time, and will almost always be confronted with questions of what my ‘real’ job is, and sniggers of derision. That’s fine, they don’t really get what I do. My job will always be a patchwork of various opportunities coming together at various points in time. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it’s a colossal mistake. But that’s what my job is. Bullshit about how much I’ve achieved, bullshit other people’s CVs, bullshit my way through interviews, editing, talking about my students’ progress. This is not to say I’m lying, that I don’t do the editing, that I don’t have experience, or my students aren’t improving. But with everything we do, as creative entrepreneurs, it feels like we’re just winging it.
So, the book launch will no doubt be a lovely event where I’m surrounded by people who love and support me, even if they’re not sure about my writing. But here’s some things to think about when considering launching your book:
Appropriate excerpts. I don’t know about you, but I write a lot about sex and drugs, with a lot of swearing. Finding a family friendly excerpt is proving pretty difficult. Similarly, finding something where family won’t assume I AM my narrator, or people present won’t be looking for themselves in my fiction is pretty damn hard.
Swag! Man, who doesn’t love merchandise? I do! Big time. So I’ve had some tote bags and bookmarks made up that the first hundred people can claim with their buy. Added value, and extra publicity for me.
Press release. Despite having written these on my MA, it’s pretty hard going. Again, it’s a form of bullshittery. What sounds good, what fits the theme? What do people want to hear? Some may fight back against pigeonholing but it’s the easiest way to draw in your target market.
What do you want from your evening? I went for laid back, dingy pub, making use of my excellentcreativefriends by having them perform or get involved. Themes are also useful. I’m all about collaboration and creative community, so anyone who wanted to be involved was.
Okay, so there’s my guide to bullshitting your launch party. Act confident, be proud, and enjoy it. I’m sure I’ll be talking about my event once it’s happened. Which, if you’re about in London on 10th May 2013, can be found here.
(Without losing your mind and sense of perspective)
Is there a better reason to write a book than to get to have a big party and celebrate? Well, maybe that the story needed to be told, that you’re a committed writer or a thousand other important reasons. But the idea of a book launch, and the level of legitimacy that offered, really got me through the last face-dragging, eye-rolling, teeth-grinding round of editing.
But if you’re a new author, or being published by a small press, or self-published, how do you do it? I’ve read articles, surfed the web for ideas, called on all my writer and artist friends, and it’s hard to get a set idea. Especially once family get involved.
You’re there to celebrate an achievement, having created something. Now, the ‘Book as Baby’ analogy has been done to death, and I won’t go into detail likening inspiration to conception, or editing to childbirth (or the desperate hunt of the singleton with low self-esteem to the writer looking for her perfect publisher husband) but it’s something you’ve created. You worked hard. You made something. Finishing a book (and being pleased with it) is a big enough deal. Getting it out into the world for people to read is a bigger deal. So party on! Food, drink, music.
2. Make it about you.
It should be something you enjoy. I had the option between a fun pub environment with a band and spoken word artists, and a gallery event with canapes. Now don’t get me wrong, they’re both fun, but take into account your book’s concepts, and what makes you comfortable. I’d much rather be joking about how many glasses of wine my main character drinks than making awkward speeches in a white room. Also, I tend to spill stuff. Plus, there’s things like cost, location, guests to consider. If you’re the kind of author who can eat a salmon-dill crostini without dropping it down your cleavage, then go have a grown-up party!
3. Don’t Make it All About You
Yes, your friends love you, your family are proud of you, and they will probably do everything they can to help you sell books and celebrate. But they do not want to spend an evening listening to you recounting what made the story arc come to life in chapter sixteen, and how many times you changed the main character’s surname. No matter how much wine you ply them with. Give them a few guest speakers, some music, some entertainment of some sort that isn’t you. Now obviously, you’re going to need to do a reading, but hours of you reading segments of the book is probably not going to sell it. Unless you have a voice like David Attenborough or Stephen Fry.
Facebook, twitter, flyers, posters, invites. All the basics. Word of mouth, friends of friends. Book groups, writing groups, people in ‘the biz’. Even more importantly, people desperate for a bit of local news, like local radio stations and magazines/local newspapers. Maybe even your old schools/clubs etc. If you live in a suburb of a big city like me, it’s surprising how much they need news. Otherwise it’s all letters from angry people, and articles on changing the paving. Go on, invite them to a party, send them a press release with an invitation and see what happens!
5. It’s Not Just a Party
By this I mean that if you are a young female author like myself, then sometimes your family get very confused about having a big party in this time of life that is not a wedding. So do as I do, and don’t let yourself get drawn into it. Keep it simple: snacks, drinks, entertainment, sales. It’s a celebration, but it’s also business. If you feel yourself getting too drawn in to colour schemes, floral arrangements and seating charts, go outside and slap yourself in the face. Or do as I do, and desperately scour the internet for people who will tell me how to do this correctly.
I’ve read various reports on sales at book launches. Some say it’s just a party and not really good at selling your books, and others have claimed they’re invaluable starters to a brilliant sales target. You need to remember why you’re there. 1) to celebrate your achievement with people who support you, 2) to sell books and get the word out about them. Ideally, get someone else to be in charge of sales (I have bribed friends with wine and everlasting gratitude) and be that person who can talk to everyone. Answer questions, get to know people, be available- don’t ramble on about it for ages, but a chance to chat and actually explain what the book means to you is probably invaluable.
7. Merchandise/Neat Touches
I decided to copy an idea found online and print my own bookmarks to put inside the books. These will say thanks for supporting the book, offer more info, website, future possibilities to support etc. It’s a cute way to stay in touch with your readers, give them a little something extra, and publicise. I’m also tempted by tote bags, badges and all manner of other ridiculous things, but I’m a merchandise whore. I also want to make book cupcakes.
Do what you feel
I haven’t had my launch yet, these are just some thoughts I’ve had whilst planning it. I find a lot of American authors have had great ideas, but some of them aren’t always applicable in the UK. This is definitely a list in progress, and I’ll keep you guys informed as the publication for Wine Dark, Sea Blue looms nearer. In the meantime, you can see my author’s profile over on the Stairwell Books Website. Fun Fun.
Any recommendations or launch night horror stories?
This is the first chapter of my novel ‘Wine Dark, Sea Blue’. It’s similar in themes to my piece ‘Atomiki’, but obviously, a lot more in depth. I’m currently working on a new book at the moment, before returning to this and putting the final shine onto it. Feedback is appreciated!
My mother’s voice was on repeat as my brain lining trembled and began to disintegrate.
‘Accidental overdose, the paramedics said.’
‘How the fuck is that possible?’
‘She was getting older, so many different medications…’ Mum’s voice was tinny, lost down the phone line in the white noise. She forgot to tell me off for swearing, and her voice trailed into sighs and silence.
‘What do you need me to do?’
‘Get home now,’ she said and hung up. It was ten am, and Mum never called before twelve. I should have known when the phone rang. There’s never good news before twelve. Especially not after half a gram of MDMA and almost an entire bottle of vodka, shared in a South London flat with a boy whose name I’d already forgotten. He was pretending to be asleep when I took the call, and I was grateful. I paced the small space of his flat, bare feet scratching on his carpet, waiting to see how I felt, if I would feel anything at all. If I would panic when I didn’t.
He made a big show of waking up, yawning and stretching. He looked much like all the others, dark hair, nice arms. His smile failed to hide a concerned expression.
‘Everything okay?’ As he stood, his jeans slid down to his hips. A thin line of hair ran down from his belly button to the start of his boxers, and I focused on that. A dark trail of ants, a line not to cross, a line of coke, a line in the sand. Give me a line, a lifeline, anything.
‘What’s your name again?’
He smirked and ran a hand through his hair, ‘Daniel.’
I tried to place that somewhere amongst the memories of the night before, of the breathless laughter and the way I stroked his fingertips. The guitar sat untouched in the corner of the room. He hadn’t played for me. His fingertips were flat and rough, and I had traced his filed-down nails in soft delight. He was amazing last night. They always are.
But in the little white-flaked flat, with the green curtains that tinted the daylight, I felt like I was looking at this Daniel person from far away, through a haze of heat distortion. Like I understood that humans were just walking, talking lumps of meat, much like every other animal that lived and died. Except humans had things like Topshop and SkyPlus and Hello Magazine. This Daniel person was just another part of that world.
‘My grandmother’s dead,’ I said, staring past him to the posters on the wall. They were in French, pretentious twat. I scanned his bookshelf for Sartre and Nietzsche, and found them, broken spines and folded pages. Last night he was my best friend, this Daniel.
‘Are you okay?’ He started towards me, and I stepped back, ‘sorry, stupid question.’ He detoured to the sink, ran the tap, and handed me a glass of water. I drank desperately, so that I felt it hit my insides, rebounding off my organs and making waves. My stomach was an ocean. But it was always that way on the comedown. Nothing was different, not the boy, or the drugs, or the Saturday morning feeling. Except that she was dead.
Moving took forever, each muscle moaning, telling me I was stupid to do anything but lie down and get warm. Slow motion. Cotton wool head. Fuzzy.
Daniel was kind and earnest, like a lot of them are, willing to chat, eager to carry on the party. Some are like me, and happily say goodbye in the morning, not expecting anything more that a one-night friendship. Some are ashamed. Most of the time they’re asleep, and I just pick up my bag from by the door and get out. There are rules.
‘I’ve got to go.’
‘Maybe have a cup of tea first, eh?’ His voice had a northern drawl, soft around the vowels. I hadn’t noticed it last night, hidden behind the clipped London sound.
‘I don’t…’ I shook my head, surprised by how lost I felt, ‘I’m numb. Completely numb.’
‘That’s the comedown. You do know that? Last night, you said you knew. Chemical imbalance, body fuck-up. Right?’ He reached out a hand, and I backed away.
‘I know, I do know. I just…’
‘Shock.’ He nodded intently, and moved closer, almost whispering. ‘Look, I’m going to make us a nice cup of tea, and we’ll sit for a bit, and you can go when you’re ready, okay?’
He’d reached me by that point, and I couldn’t stop my teeth from chattering, my hands from shaking. So cold, ridiculously cold. How was he shirtless, the bloody idiot.
He wrapped his arms around me, his cold palms flat against the base of my spine. You don’t do that on the comedown. The night before is for touching. Loving the sensation of hands on shoulders, fingertips encircling wrists. Skin on skin isn’t right the morning after. You’re back in your cocoon, and every other human is a hundred lightyears from where you are. He could have been anyone, but he was warm, and that was enough. And I put my arms around him, encouraging him to hold me tighter, harder, because if I was going to fall apart, it may as well be when someone was holding me up. It was only when I had to gasp for air that I finally pushed him away.
‘Don’t confuse what this is.’
‘And what is this, exactly?’ His smile was a half-twitch at the corner of his mouth, like I was a child he was humouring because he wanted to see what funny thing I did next
‘This is two people who got fucked together, and in the morning said goodbye.’ I strode past him, and grabbed my bag from the floor. Purple party bag, always ready for the escape. Toothbrush, fresh from a pack of ten, four of which are remaining. Ancient Nirvana hoody with the smiley face symbol peeling off. Scarf, always useful. Large bottle of water, because it helps. Chewing gum for the gurn, painkillers more for the placebo than the effect. The comedown kit.
‘Ellie.’ Daniel smiled and shook his head.
‘Don’t say my name like that!’
‘Like you know one fucking thing about me!’ I pulled on my hoody, tugging on the hood and pulling my hair free. My hand rested on the door handle.
‘I was listening last night when you spoke.’ His smile was smug, his hands open, palms up.
‘I hate to burst your bubble, but this is a weekly occurrence for me. You’re just one of many guys I do this with. It doesn’t mean anything. Ships in the night, strangers on a pill. Get it?’
The door handle was warm and slippery.
‘You really think you won’t remember this moment?’
I rolled my eyes in response, ‘Sorry, guess you’re just not that special.’
‘Your grandmother’s dead. You always remember where you are when there’s bad news.’
‘Well, maybe I don’t care. Or I don’t like my family. Maybe I have no family.’
Daniel took two lazy steps and was invading my space. I tried not to breathe in, because it was his air. Hold your breath, Elena. Get out, go home, deal with everything. Everything. Her. Deal with whatever that means.
‘You,’ he smiled, ‘are a terrible liar.’ He stepped back a little, and I got the full effect of that smile. A smile that dared me to argue, that wanted me angry instead of scared. Anything but numb.
‘I like you,’ he said, stepping back, that half-twitch grin in place again, ‘So, tea.’
He strode across the room, and tapped an ancient green kettle with his foot, so it lit up and hissed. His little kitchen area was so tidy, an ageing mug on the side with a knife and a spoon sitting in it, his one plate in the sink pathetic and lonely. I knew then that I’d stay.
I had the chance to walk out, slam the door, but what would I be heading towards, really? Parents who didn’t know what I’d been doing when my grandmother died. What was so important that I hadn’t come home, they would ask. Family who thought my nights out included a couple of glasses of wine, maybe a kiss. The night spent on Dexter’s floor, or in Lee’s spare room. Never class As and a one-night friendship, in bed with a boy in Clapham Junction. Never that I did it every week, every chance I could, because it made me feel so perfectly alive until the morning came.
So I dropped the bag. I sat on the bed and drank strong tea from a chipped blue mug. I watched rubbish re-runs on TV and smiled, even laughed. I forgot. And when he relit a joint from the night before, I let him rest his head next to mine, closing my eyes as he softly blew the smoke into my mouth. Sweet, herby, tinted by toothpaste. Sleepy green, taking the edge off of the morning.
When I finally did leave, that morning sun had faded into grey dullness. I felt flushed with and irritable as I walked to the tube, pushing the last moments with Daniel from my mind. He’d asked for my phone number, and I’d given it to him. I never gave them my phone number, I only wanted them when they were strangers. I only ever wanted one night with someone who had no idea who I was. But when he kissed my cheek, he smelled of sweat and aftershave, and everything I’d found fascinating the night before. I had let him hold me in his bed as I pretended to cry, pretended to feel anything. But all I felt was cold. And he was so warm. The warm boy with the cold hands.
I walked through Clapham Common to the tube station, and got on the Northern Line. It had been hours since Mum called. When I finally appeared Dad would rant about my irresponsible nature, my selfishness. Mum would be disappointed, and that’s always worse.
The train carriage was empty, and I sat in a corner seat with my headphones in. I was glad there were no people, I can’t bear to make eye contact on the tube. On those kinds of Saturday mornings, I start to get paranoid about the Underground. I take it personally when people choose the seat two down from me, or move when another space becomes available. Like they think I’ll infect them. I never move seats in case I hurt someone’s feelings.
I tugged on my hood again, and put my headphones in. Sometimes, I pretend to react to the music I’m not hearing, smile when I play a certain song on my internal jukebox, tap my feet in time to a rhythm that isn’t there. This time, I just closed my eyes, and tried not to think about how many people’s arses had sat on the seat I was sitting on.
The train droned on, rattled and jolted and it was easy to lose myself. I watched at every stop how the tourists boarded the opposite trains, heading into town for a weekend with the family, a day out with friends. That was the best thing about returning from central on a Saturday, everyone was going in the other direction.
I wobbled out of the tube station at High Barnet and walked to the bus stop. The sky promised rain. I told myself I would let five buses go passed, then I’d get on the sixth and go home. Give me five buses, thirty minutes. Breathing space.
Dead. She was dead, and I had been smiling with a stranger. Had she died whilst I was dancing? I shivered, it felt like I was drowning in mundanity, greyness. Traffic, and jobs and so many people just living their little lives. Overdose. She never seemed that old to me. I thought of her dark eyes, her white hair, her steady trundle across a room with her swollen ankles. Overdoses were ugly. Painful.
I suddenly wanted to be back in Daniel’s little white room with the green curtains, where time froze and I had no dead relatives. I didn’t have to be strong in that room. But I did now. I waited till the seventh bus came and went. Then I walked home.