I have a friend who says being an author is basically being paid to be disappointed once a year. There have been years when, I have to admit, I have almost agreed with him.
This is not one of those years.
Perhaps it should have been. I began my ninth novel – Six Month Contract – out of contract. It is fair to say that even when starting it I knew the book would not be an “easy sell”. Books about quadriplegics tend not to be, especially when you throw in the words ‘carer’ and ‘Dignitas’. When I tried to describe the plot, people gave me the same look you give the woman who sings songs on the bus and tries to show you her socks.
Even when I finished it and Penguin – that iconic publisher – bought it, I still felt anxious. There were brow-furrowed discussions about how best to pitch it. “This may be the book that kills my career!” I would joke to friends. And a little muscle would tick in my jaw and my voice would go a little bit too high.
Today, eighteen months after I finished it, I sat on a sofa under studio lights discussing it with Richard and Judy. Yup, the Richard and Judy. Because Me Before You, as 6MC is now titled, has made it onto the R&J book list for Spring 2012 and I’m having one of those rare moments where you feel so nauseatingly delighted and grateful you could do an actual free-form Dance Of Joy*.
As any author will tell you, the R&J list is, even without the television show, the biggest possible boost to a novel. But more importantly – it’s RICHARD AND JUDY. I watched them when I was a student, when I worked nights, pinned to a sofa as a nursing mother. These days I follow Richard on Twitter (he tested me on Binky’s epic scaling of unopened letters) and I tried very hard not to make a complete gushing arse of myself.
Because this is the thing about Richard and Judy: if you are of a certain age, you think you know them. You’ve read about Judy’s womanly ops, and you’ve winced at Richard’s cheesy jokes and you’ve scorched your eyeballs with his Ali G impression and it’s like meeting members of your family. Iconic members of your family. Members of your family that make you sweat with nerves. (‘Why are you so nervous?’ My husband had asked that morning. ‘You’ve met far more famous people.’ Me (incredulous face): ‘It’s RICHARD AND JUDY’)
I told myself this was stupid. I asked myself: What would Sebastian Faulks do? (answer: not say the word ‘arse’ within thirty seconds and get mildly hysterical when the microphone dropped down his top).
But, like the absolute professionals they were, they warmed me up with five minutes of friendly chat and then, on camera, talked knowledgeably and with enthusiasm about the book. They used the word ‘quadriplegic’ without fear. Judy (who has enviable hair, btw) said it made her both laugh and cry. They wrote nice things in my copy and joked about finishing their own books (they are both writing novels). They were, frankly, exactly as you would expect from their screen personas. I came out beaming, and without once involuntarily blurting out OHGODILOVEYOUBOTH.
I can’t really say anything else about today that won’t make me sound like even more of an idiot than I already do. My gushing adoration of Jilly Cooper during an interview last year showed me that when faced with one of my idols I will never be a ‘cool’ person (and I have to face the fact that this will now be evident on film).
But discussing the book that should have killed my career with Richard and Judy (RICHARD AND JUDY!) showed me that yes, publishing can often mean being paid to be quietly disappointed. And that every now and then, if you’re lucky, you have a moment that makes you feel like anything is possible.
The book is out now. I hope you enjoy it.
*I may have done such a dance. So shoot me.