When I finally finished writing the book, I had such a sense of achievement but no clue that all I’d actually managed to do was the easy bit. I think if I’d known then what I know now I might have invested in a heavy-duty box of matches and set fire to the manuscript in its entirety. We live and we learn and then some.
You see, at that point, I actually thought I’d written a book but all I’d really done was the first draft. The re-writes, the edits, the tweaking and the pouring over pages word by word and even letter by letter to catch the typos took forever. In all it was about 10 weeks between finishing that first draft and sending the book off to the printers – 10 weeks of painstakingly boring, mind-numbing checking, double-checking and checking all over again. If I’m typical, you get to the point where you are sick to the back teeth of the book and you can almost recite it word for word in your sleep.
Great, I thought, huge achievement, I’ve sent it off to the printers, I can sit back and relax and wait til there are queues of people in every town centre lining up to buy my book.
Wrong again. If I thought the re-writes and edits were hard, I had no clue as to the banging-your-head-against-a-brick-wall sheer frustration of PR and all that that entails.
No one is ever going to want any particular book enough to be prepared to form a queue around the block to buy it unless your name is JK Rowling, and even then you have to be able to afford to have a huge publicity machine working overtime in the background. I had no budget, no experience and no real way of knowing if what I was doing was having any effect whatsoever.
The other thing about PR is that there is no real success criteria, no way of ever being able to say, right, I’m done, I can’t do anymore, time to move on. You can’t reach a point where you can write “The End” on a nice satisfyingly bright white page towards the back of the book. Sometimes sleep doesn’t even happen either. There have been several nights recently when I’ve forgotten to go to bed until I notice that it’s daylight outside and I’ve been up nearly all night long.
The word “exhausted” has taken on a whole new meaning. Now, I’m not for one moment complaining – it’s all actually been fascinating and mostly enjoyable and I’ve learnt stacks of stuff as I went along, but doing it all on your own is a bit too full-on and non-stop.
I’d always assumed I’d have a huge Launch Party if ever I wrote a book, but when push came to shove I couldn’t afford one, and I didn’t have any energy left to run a bath never mind a whole party.
Last Saturday, I discovered all over again that I must have the best bunch of friends in the entire universe. One of the best of this bunch, Sian, has been working undercover for weeks, and I didn’t know a thing about it until a few days beforehand. Sian knows me very well, and she knows that my heart and soul were made for partying. She took it upon herself to organise the very biggest and very best party in the whole wide world for me, and I was the very last person to even know about it. I love you, Sian.
There was one big condition though. This was a launch party with a difference. Normally, book launches are a commercial affair, with journalists, local dignitaries, maybe even a politician or two, and the author is on their best behaviour shaking hands, chatting politely and networking like crazy. Sian made it abundantly clear that this was going to be my night to let my hair down and have fun, go a little bit crazy if I wanted to, and only to invite people I didn’t feel I might need to impress.
It was fabulous. The venue was perfect – in the town centre with its own huge car-park, and two enormous rooms. The food was even better – I think Sian and our friend Jo, who was quickly recruited to help in any and every way possible, must have been cooking non-stop since about 1983. Everything you could wish for, plus more, all my favourite foods, even Strawberry Pavlova (thank you Mark who was seconded to stay up half the night before to make it) and Lemon Drizzle Cake. Someone must have been stalking me and my eating habits for years to know exactly what I love most.
They had thought of everything. Huge laminated photos of the children and quotes from the book around all the walls. Beautifully decorated tables. Cowboy hats in every colour. A quiet area designated for our special children who might not otherwise cope. Balloons everywhere. Best of all, I’ve never been in any room ever before in my life where there was so much warmth, goodwill and love that you could actually feel it and see it.
Some events in your life will stay with you forever, and Sian and Jo managed to create a very special, magic night that left me grinning like an over-eager Cheshire cat for days on end. Every single last moment of Saturday evening is forever basking in the warmth of all that love, somewhere deep in my heart and soul. I’m not the only person who took the evening home with them – all week everyone keeps telling me how they have never before felt such a great feeling of relaxed and total acceptance in one room.
There was one very special element of the evening – the children. The party was to celebrate my book, a book about children, particularly those with disabilities. So it was a family night, and since a lot of my friends are also special parents, a lot of the guests were disabled children and young adults.
I have always hated the word “inclusion”. It always seems over-politicised and gets bandied about by organisations who want to tick a “we welcome the disabled” box without actually doing very much at all to adapt their way of doing things to even attempt to properly welcome and include people with disabilities whatsoever. I never thought inclusion was a concept that could truly work. Until Saturday night.
We had around 10 young people and children with significant disabilities. Nobody batted an eyelid, nobody stared or disapproved at any of their alternative behaviours, everybody just pulled together to make sure they had every bit as much fun as anybody else. And did they? Oh yes!
Toby was there, of course, wheelchair-bound because he has a broken leg (long story, don’t ask!). I was worried that he’d be frustrated that he couldn’t wander around and exercise his curiosity, nor join in with some of his favourite dancing like The Hokey Cokey. Every time I looked, someone was charging around the hall pushing his wheelchair at a thousand miles an hour, or playing balloons with him, or positioning his wheelchair where he could see the smaller children run around… he must have had the best time of anybody there. He was at the very Epicentre of The Hokey Cokey – we had to do it three times because he was loving it so much.
The book writing was the easy part, the editing, re-writing and PR has almost done my head in, but Saturday night made it all melt away and renewed my determination to get going very soon on my next book. Weeks upon weeks of re-writing and PR will be worth every drop of blood, sweat and tears if it means we have another excuse for doing Saturday night all over again with Book Launch Party Mark II.