I just sent off the first chapter of my book to my agent. There are several ridiculous words in that sentence: ‘first chapter’, ‘book’, ‘agent’ – but most ridiculous of all is the word ‘my’.
I have spent most of my life wanting to write a book but never thought it would happen. Not clever enough, talented enough, yadda, yadda.
I read my favourite authors and I marvel at their turn of phrase, their humour, their ability to capture tiny details. The sheer audacity of even trying to join their ranks seems like an insult to them.
But despite all that, I would love to write a book. And now it looks like there’s a good chance that I will.
It’s exciting and terrifying in equal measure.
I had the idea for this blog last summer. It came to me fully formed at 3am. I couldn’t sleep and was reading a book called ‘How to stop worrying and start living’ by Dale Carnegie. It’s the source of great amusement to my sisters that I’ve read this book three, maybe four, times and regularly tell the world about how great it is – and yet I am a massive bundle of stress.
I’m about the worst advert that Carnegie could ask for.
Anyway, when reading this book, and looking over passages I’d underlined the last time I read it, I realised how ridiculous the whole thing was: me reading self-help because I want to change but then going back and doing the same old thing again and again.
Then it came: the idea.
‘I’ll live by the rules of a different self help book every month and write a book about it. It will be called Help Me!.’ I could picture the book cover – it was white with red letters and a little cartoon on it.
I’ve never had anything like that – a fully formed idea and a feeling of absolute certainty that it would happen. I always think that everything I do will mess up. I prepare for disaster around every corner, not triumph.
By the time I fell asleep, it was a done deal.
I told my best friend about it a few weeks later. She is not a self-help fan so I expected her to be supportive but a bit bemused. She wasn’t. ‘That’s brilliant,’ she said. ‘I know,’ I said, totally out of character. ‘I think this is going to be big,’ she said. Again, me: ‘I know.’
We had fantasy conversations about the book being a huge success and Hollywood buying up the rights to make a movie of it. We talked about drinking Margaritas around a pool…
Then I sobered up and for the following three months (Sept, Oct, Nov) I thought about it, talked about it – but did absolutely nothing.
I decided that tracking my progress on a blog would be the best way to make me actually follow through but I soon became distracted about what the blog should look like. I spent days looking at other blogs. I became obsessed by the colour of my logo.
It was all a diversion. I was scared. What if this was a silly idea and people would think I was crazy? What if I was a crap writer? What if I wrote a blog and two and a half people read it?
Finally, by December, I got so fed up with myself I had to do something. A friend of a friend did my logo and it was lovely. A chance meeting with a lovely tech savvy girl at a self-help event meant my blog was built in a couple of days.
Then another image flashed into my mind. It was me at a laptop smiling and replying to messages from people reading the blog. The phrase ‘My website is a huge success’ came into my head. And honestly, to anyone who doesn’t know me, let me assure you that this confidence and certainty could not be less like me.
But sure enough that happened. The blog went up and I got the most lovely emails from people. Emails from Tasmania and Holland, Idaho and Ireland. The response was more than I could have ever hoped.
In February, the Daily Mail ran a piece about my Feel the Fear month and documentary makers, radio shows and magazines got in touch. It was surreal and wonderful.
Then a couple of book agents emailed me. Their interest gave me confidence to approach others.
For those who aren’t familiar with publishing, an agent is somebody who sells your book idea to publishers. If a good agent takes you on publishers are likely to take you seriously.
I talked to colleagues who knew about agents and one name kept coming up. She was the ‘five star’ agent, a real ‘hot shot’. A friend gave me her email address but warned me not to be disappointed if she didn’t get back to me. ‘Everyone wants her’ she said.
Mrs Five Star Everybody Wants Her Hot Shot got back to me in half an hour.
I met with her the next day in a swanky members bar in London. She was lovely. We proceeded to have a conversation that was so ridiculous I thought I was having an outer body experience. She thought it had the makings of a great book and a film too. She knew exactly the woman she wanted to talk to about it in Hollywood and talked me through the ins and outs of International book deals.
I couldn’t believe I was having this discussion and that it was about me. It was one of the best moments in my life. I was so happy I could cry.
As it was, I didn’t cry, I got drunk.
I met my sister and we celebrated with two bottles of red, God knows how many margaritas, washed down with vodka and coke back at her flat. At three in the morning we were singing along to Prince and talking about who would play me in the film (Amy Adams). We mentally decorated the house I’d buy in the Hollywood Hills. I became obsessed with having expensive rugs.
Once again, I had a really clear image of my friends and I sitting by the pool, icy drinks in hand. Then I passed out, fully dressed.
The next day was spent puking. It was the happiest puking I’d ever experienced.
That was four weeks ago and since then I’ve been engaged in epic faffing.
To get a book deal you have to present a document outlining your plans for the book and what will be in each chapter, then you have to send a sample chapter.
As a journalist I write every day but this was different. It was potentially the makings of a book. A real life book! I got stage fright. I over thought every sentence. I wrote stuff then deleted it, wrote then deleted. I drove myself crazy. I drank a lot of wine. I took on journalistic commissions to distract from what I should be doing. I stopped doing this blog.
Finally by the end of last week I was so fed up with myself, I just did it. I’ve been writing for the last five days, pretty solidly, and about four hours ago I sent off my first chapter. The First Chapter of My Book. Possibly. Maybe. Hopefully.
Right now I’m sitting in a coffee shop (of course) trying not to panic.
I’m worried it’s rubbish and that my lovely Five Star Hot Shot will hate it and change her mind. I’m worried that I was getting ahead of myself, that all that confidence and certainty was actually delusion.
I haven’t shared any of this with you as it was happening because, I suppose, I didn’t want to tempt fate and at this stage it’s nothing but talk – but it all seems very apt with this month’s book being The Secret.
It’s only just occurred to me that, in a way, everything that’s happening to me now is The Secret in action. I wasn’t consciously following the book but for the last few months I’ve been doing what it says: I had a dream, I believed it and amazing things have happened.
The trick now is to keep believing, which is hard.
The truth is it’s very scary to have big dreams. All those thoughts about ‘Who do you think you are?’ come into your head.
Family may, unintentionally, confirm that feeling.
When I told dad about my big hopes he joked that I was like his mother who talked endlessly about what she’d do if she won the lottery. ‘Turns out she’d never even bought a ticket.’ Cheers, dad.
When I told mum that I was hoping for a massive record-breaking book deal (this was before I actually got down to writing the chapter), she said that when I get too big for my boots at least I’ll be able to afford new ones.
I’ve got to admit I deserved that one.
When I asked her if she’d come and visit me in LA. With total seriousness she said, ‘Do you think there’ll be typhoons or earthquakes?’ Ha! At least she’s not ruling it out as a possibility, weather allowing…
Anyway, I’ll keep you posted. Would you keep your fingers, toes and legs crossed for me? You’ll all be invited to the premiere…
In the meantime, a musical interlude: