Before my first novel, Roboteer, came out, I sought out the excellent Mr. Ed Cox for advice on how to function as a new author. He was a little down the authorial road from me, my Gollancz peer one year removed, and clearly doing a terrific job at it. He gave me great input and enabled me to stop worrying. But he also made one remark that really stuck. Getting your first book published, he said, was the best feeling in the world, and I shouldn’t let anything get in the way of that.
At the time, I interpreted this as meaning that it would simply feel exciting, and that the moment would come with the sensation of a life milestone passed. In the wake of my own launch, I now know better.
The launch of my first book was far different an experience than I’d imagined. It took me completely by surprise. And the thing that made it so remarkable wasn’t the thrill of seeing my title on a shelf, or getting to sign something, or feeling like I’d made it. It was to do with the people.
I should explain.
I am no stranger to public appearances. I’ve taught improv for many years. I’ve run applied improv workshops at international training conferences for audiences of hundreds. I’ve spent more time on stage than is safe or normal. By comparison, the crowd at my launch event was tiny. Yet it stripped me of the ability to think straight or write coherent sentences. Which is a problem when you’re trying to sign books.
Why was this small crowd so affecting? Because it was full of people who’d come to support me—some whom I hadn’t seen for over twenty years. I was faced with an unexpected gathering of old friends who’d seen that my book was coming out and had taken the time and the effort to come and participate in that moment. This despite the fact that I’d buggered off to California many years before and had barely exchanged words with some of them. And their kind contribution left me speechless.
You see, over the last decade or so, my relationship with the UK has been thinning out. My mother’s health has been slowly waning. My wife and I have been under increasing pressure from work. And now we have a son, which makes travel complicated. This all means that a visit to the UK has increasingly been a visit to the tiny village where my parents live, where you can buy eggs, but not a lot else. Even a trip to the pub requires a yomp across a field to the next hamlet over. Old friends and old haunts have slid ever further down our priority stack as it has become clearer that the remaining time with my mum and dad is very finite. Britain, for me, has become an old stone house on a quiet corner under heavy West Country skies—a microscopic nation steeped in goodbyes.
Add to that the strangeness of launching a book in the UK from the US. For the large part, the experience has felt utterly unreal. Most of my interaction with the publishing world has happened through email. Meanwhile, my day to day existence has remained essentially unchanged. It has sometimes been hard to shake the suspicion that the whole thing is an internet scam.
To go from that to a room full of long lost friends knocked me completely sideways. As I sat at the signing table, I was presented with a continuum stream of faces from different episodes of my life, all out of order, all wanting to see me succeed. The only reason I managed to not tear up on the spot was that I was so persistently startled. Fortunately, I had phenomenal support from my Gollancz team. They offered gentle guidance where necessary, and ensured that I didn’t lose the plot completely.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, what I wrote in those books was hopelessly bland. I was concentrating on being able to sign my name correctly. Which, as it turns out, was tricky. So, to everyone who I signed for, my apologies. I’ll do better next time. And for all of you aspiring authors anticipating your first launch, I say this: get ready for brain-fry.
There is nothing that can prepare you for that moment. I’m sure different for everyone, of course, but I also suspect that it’s always profound in some way. For me, it was a little like getting married. There were so many people I wanted to talk to and catch up with, and so little time to do it in. When you get married, at least, you get to pick the guest list, and you have a spouse to back you up. When you’re launched, there’s none of that. You are adrift and there is no raft.
Now, several days later, I am left with a warm glow of gratitude and a renewed sense of connection to the country I grew up in. So, to everyone out there who came, or wanted to come, or even just looked at the pictures of me online, grinning like a dork—I salute you. Thank you all for giving me a day that will be burned into my memory—pleasantly—forever.