The First Adventure of the First Book

When people talk about being a writer, the first words that come to mind are glamour and artistic parties like Charles Dickens used to mix cocktails for. Whether you’re starving in a garret or living in a castle like JK Rowling, I had this image of the author as a flawless, composed individual, serene in the knowledge they were creating art. Maybe with the occasional (very artistic, of course) fit of temperament. Then I became an author. The first word that sprang to mind was ‘terror.’ I got the idea for my book on a ghost tour through Exeter, when I was led down cellar steps by a fiend in the shape of a tour guide and presented unexpectedly with a skeleton made from the bones of a hundred different plague victims, my first impulse was to let out a sound like ‘AUGHAURGH’ and leap into the arms of the nearest person. (She was an old lady named Ethel, who was really very understanding about the whole thing.) The second thing I did was become inspired to write a tale of fiends and dark magic set in darkest Exeter. When my book was first sent out to publishers, my agent told me to buy a lot of ice-cream and wait. So I bought a gigantic amount of ice-cream, and huddled by the freezer eating it and shaking, hoping someone would like it. When my book sold, I was so thrilled and so dizzy from all the sugar that I called all my friends at an unholy hour: at the time I was only aware that it was Raspberry Swirl O’Clock. Then came the long wait for publication: it took two years from when The Demon’s Lexicon was accepted to when it came out in shops: and during that time I rocketed a lot between paralysing excitement and… you guessed it… paralysing fear. Would my editor tell me to change my hero into a girl, and add aliens? Would I like my cover? Would it turn out all to be a massive and very cruel practical joke? Two years gives you a lot of time to get nervous. I thought, as soon as the book is out, I will fear nothing! But of course, I was lying to myself, because as soon as the book was out, there was a whole new set of fears. What if nobody liked it? What if nobody bought it but my Great-Aunt Jemima? What if my Great-Aunt Jemima didn’t like it? But people seemed to like it. (Even my Great-Aunt Jemima…) So then I thought, perhaps now there is nothing left to fear… Which was when I was sent on tour, and I thought to myself: Oh heavens. Everyone would loathe me. I would say something awful, and be forcibly ejected from a school or bookshop. Did they allow people to have rotten fruit? How good would their aim be when they threw it? What if someone took my eye out with a plum stone – how would I look with an eyepatch? And then I went on tour, and talked to people about books, mine and other people’s, and movies, and what we’d do if we were storming an evil fortress, and took some very excellent questions. And I was forced to kiss a giant poster of my cover. (Well, hey, the boy on my cover is pretty foxy. Could’ve been worse.) I rashly promised to sign anything, and a boy ripped open his shirt and asked me to sign his chest. SARAH: Oh no… what should I do? MY LOVELY PUBLICIST: You got yourself into this mess, missy. SARAH: Well, all right. But only this pen is touching you, young man! That was alarming, if you like! But the thing is – I really loved being on tour. I love seeing my book on shelves, and getting letters from people who liked the book. I love telling stories, and having other people tell stories to me. I even enjoy sitting about thinking of all the things I’m afraid of. It makes it all seem more real. My not entirely original thoughts about writing a book, getting it published, and then going through publication? Feel the fear, eat the Raspberry Swirl ice-cream, and do it anyway! Because having a book out is, as well as one of the scariest things that will ever happen to you, some of the most fun you’ll ever have.*

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