Monday, March 23, 2015

Tell Me All About Your Book - No, Don't

The other day I came across this quote from British writer Hilary Bailey: 'There are only three statements you can make when writing without being a bore: "I'm writing a book,""I've finished my book," "I've sold my book – break out the champagne!" '

She's right, I thought. The book that so fascinates us that we are willing to spend a year of our lives totally absorbed in it may be of remarkably little interest to anyone else.

I had a spectacular demonstration of this just the other day, when I was away on a research trip. Ian, my husband went up to the hotel bar to order drinks and fell into conversation with a man who told him he was writing a book so Ian mentioned that I was an author.

The man immediately came over to join me and without preamble launched into the story of the book he was writing, the one he'd already self-published, and the one he would be planning to write next, as well outlining his life story which had been their source, in minute detail. When the waitress arrived to say his meal was waiting we greeted her like the US cavalry.

He left without knowing my name or what I wrote - not that I minded. I very seldom talk about a book even once it's published and certainly never, ever, about one that's in progress. Even Ian doesn't read the book until I give him the advance copy.

I often hear friends mention talking through a book with their agent, or reading parts out to friends or doing brain-storming when they're stuck and I feel rather envious – it sounds such a cosy thing to do. But once, very early on, I had what I thought was a brilliant plot and started telling Ian all about it. Next morning when I sat down to write, it had died. My lovely idea was a stone-cold corpse and nothing I could do would revive it.

I don't know why that should have been. The only rationale I can come up with is that for me writing is like telling myself a story and what drives me on is wanting to find out what happens. Once there are no more surprises, the life is gone.

So I am pathologically private about what I'm writing. I almost can't write if someone else is in the room. I loathe having to write synopses in case the worst happens, so I have to hope that my editor will take a lot on trust.

So you're in no danger if you sit down next to me; I promise I won't start boring you about my current book. My grandchildren, now...

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