Recently, someone asked me what it felt like to participate in the FT Oxford Literary Festival, and someone else what it felt like to have Off-Island on the cover of the Bookseller, a British trade magazine reporting on the publishing industry. Cringeworthy came to mind. Cambridge Dictionary defines cringeworthy as “making you feel very embarrassed.” Why, I asked myself, does just the thought of being self-published, of paying to appear on the front cover of the Bookseller, make me feel uncomfortable? On the other hand, appearing at the FT Oxford Literary Festival didn’t make me feel the same perhaps because I didn’t orchestrate it, just accepted an invitation.
Back to that word cringeworthy. I suppose I still harbor a fantasy that my work should just have been found at random, like the stunning young woman standing on a street corner who is picked out to become a super-model: “Yes, YOU. You!” God forbid I should put myself forward, drive the boat, make it happen. Saying that, when I created what originated as the Adult Children of Alcoholics Television Project and went on to become the acclaimed TV drama Under the Influence, I was no shrinking violet. No cold call was too scary, no late-night train to Washington, DC too perilous, no presentation too off-putting, for me. I even earnt myself the less than flattering moniker “shit for jam.” Yes, I could sell—as long as it wasn’t myself.
The FT Oxford Literary Festival was easy, a real buzz, an honor. From start to finish it proved to be very well organized; the writers were treated with respect and in a businesslike fashion. And, yes, paid to participate. I was invited to invoice, which I did in due course, but in fairness I found it (yes!) awkward to ask for payment, draft the invoice, submit it, and totally lacked the chutzpah to chase it.
The Green Room for the Festival at the Macdonald Randolph Hotel presented an amazing oasis stocked with food and drink. There I met my co-panelist, Alex Reeve, who in my mind’s eye is the Real Thing—AKA not self-published—having authored the most extraordinary work, The House on Half Moon Street, with a lead character who is a transgender detective. What’s not to talk about? The moderator, FT journalist and reviewer Suzi Feay, took the helm like a seasoned professional right from the start.
An old schoolfriend was also speaking at the Festival, and despite the event being sold out, for a mere £13.50 I was admitted late. In front of a heaving crowd asking pointed questions about, according to her, her least successful book, she seemed unfazed. Another question, another fan, another literary festival. Clearly, this was just a job to her, not particularly glamorous, when really she’d like nothing more than to be back in her leafy suburb, at her desk having a think—cobbling words, blowing ripples over a mug of hot tea, reasoning.
Money, a writer declared in his best-selling collection of essays, is why I write: to make gobs of it. He clearly meant it and, hoping to learn from him, I duly checked his doorstopper of a tome out of the local library—something I’ve taken to doing since detoxing from the instantaneous high of hitting the buy-it-now button on Amazon. I had almost forgotten about libraries when I am blessed with our local Summertown Library, saved from the dustbin of history by local residents.
Participation in the FT Oxford Literary Festival was fun; the gab with Suzi and Alex rewarding beyond expectation, but most satisfying was the exchange with (there is that cringeworthy feeling, again) my readers, even if one was a plant and the audience mostly probably there for genius Alex Reeve. I did find the event, from start to finish, a delight. Being paid for it was the least important aspect of the experience but a part of it, for sure. As for the May 4th cover of the Bookseller: it is a beauty and a joy to behold. Like the book Off-Island itself—it’s here and gone (still on the market though, of course) —but the memory, drive and impetus of producing it remain—the flat-out fun to be found in teamwork, putting it all together—the creative mystery of successful collaboration. Kudos to everyone who took part and of course the two Emmas at the Bookseller. The business of books? Awkwardly, I’m getting there.
Love to all,
On sale, paperback released 28th September