If, like me, you've taken a while to get your first book out, you spend a lot of time feeling a bit of a fraud. Failure to deliver makes you wonder if you ever will; mention the book in conversations with new acquaintances and the lack of a publication date can generate a glint of scepticism in their eyes. ('Ah yes, I'm not writing one either.')
Only in the last two months has that feeling gradually dissipated, as 'Breathe' inched closer to the point where it wasn't just mine any more - a real book, for real punters, ready to stand or fall on its merits. The first way-station was the proof - my book, bound and looking good enough to sell, and something I could wave in the faces of established authors I might hunt down at crime fiction festivals. Then came verdicts from writers whose books I love and whose skill I admire. (Check out: Andrew Taylor's 'Ashes of London' - the Great Fire meets the legacy of regicide; Tom Harper's 'Black River', a worldly re-casting of the adventure story, like Desmond Bagley filtered through Michael Crichton; and Rennie Airth's 'River of Darkness', and the brutal shadow the trenches cast over English domesticity.) No matter how satisfied one is with a book, the approval of masters of the craft makes one think 'This is real, and it works.'
A week later came the first, extraordinarily encouraging and utterly unexpected review, which made me jump for joy (and rush to get my website up). That was the point at which 'Breathe' left the writer-publisher inner circle and became an infinitesimal blip on the real world's radar. Hearing the audiobook recording was extraordinarily affecting; words I’d only ever heard with my voice now took on a different life with someone else’s. Friends began getting hold of copies of the book even before publication day, slightly diminishing the latter's significance - though it did acquire a surreal aspect when my first ever publicity interview (with BBC Oxford) ended up being conducted over the phone, in the traffic jam that kept us from the studio, while my wife behind the wheel stabbed her mobile and the car's noisy aircon into submission. Seeing 'Breathe' in bookshops was another high point, and one that should have marked the end of any sense that I wasn't yet a proper author.
But it didn't. For that I had to wait for the launch party. There's something about the placards with the cover art and reviews, the dedicated window, the line-up of bottles and glasses, that says It's official - finally, a kind of external hoop-la, to match the hoop-la in your head. Yet it was the presence of so many friends, many scarred by years of book-chat; the agent who'd sold 'Breathe' as a partial and the editor who'd brought it to publication; and my family - my mother who made me think writing was something one could do; my brother who convinced me it could pay; my children who think their father is A Famous Author; and my wife who held everything together, both when I was writing, and when I couldn't - that kicked into touch the last suspicion that actually, it was all never-never-land stuff. And then - icing on the cake - I got to provide the ultimate proof that I had indeed been published; I signed lots of copies.
Writing is mostly a solitary endeavour, but it’s other people who make you an author.