I wonder how many books have never seen the light of day, because the potential author of that book kept thinking “What’s the point?” Whether you secretly think it (perhaps so secretly that you keep it from yourself) or whether you find yourself sighing out loud when you sit down to write, “What’s the point?” is a serious book-stopper.
Lots of writers — both aspiring and published — suffer from ‘What’s the point?” Anyone who has ever seriously thought about writing a book has considered the huge number of books out there. Books in bookshops. Books in charity shops. Manuscripts of books piled high on the desks of agents and editors. All the the books that aren’t published. All the books that are published. All the books that don’t get reviewed or win prizes. All the books that sink without trace.
Here we are at the end of another year. But not any old year. For me, 2011 was exceptional. In March, I landed the major book deal I had dreamt about since I was 9 year years old. In May, I was awarded the doctorate I had worked solidly towards for four years and wanted since my early twenties. Three weeks ago I was announced joint winner of the Calvin and Rose G Hoffmann Prize for a distinguished work on Christopher Marlowe. And to round the year off nicely, I received the bound proof of The Marlowe Papers just before Christmas. Full of typesetter’s errors it may be, but it is still utterly beautiful. 2012 looks very promising indeed.
Anyone who has known me (or of me) for a while will appreciate that something very different is happening. Up to this point I was the author of three collections of poetry, selling only a few hundred copies each; a University of Sussex tutor in creative writing for 12 years for the now (sadly defunct) CCE and, despite some prizes and readings now and again, very much a minor figure on the British literary scene. But in 2012 my verse novel is being launched by Sceptre (the literary arm of Hodder and Stoughton) in the UK and St Martin’s Press (part of Macmillan) in the US. On the back of Sceptre’s proof copy it says, ‘Discover the literary debut of the year’. So what happened?
During my PhD I read only books directly or indirectly related to it (mostly the numerous biographies of Marlowe and Shakespeare, and their complete works but also items like Bruce Lipton’s ‘The Biology of Belief’). I continued buying contemporary fiction, however, and built up a considerable stack of books I would read once it was all over. The very first of one of these to find it into my less-than-manicured paws just over a month ago was The Time Travellers Wife, and like a considerable portion of five million readers the world over, I was blown away.
Thus I couldn’t pass up a chance to see Ms Niffenegger when she recently visited my home town, courtesy of my excellent local bookstore City Books, to speak about her latest creation.
Here’s what I learned: