After my weekend in a virtual California, I’m heading northward today to join lead buckaroo, Charli Mills on her fabulous Carrot Ranch in Idaho. She’d already set my place at the table with this lovely introduction on her blog. I’m heading back to the UK for the rest of the week, stopping off first with novelist and psychologist Voula Grand, who was the first to feature in my series Psychologists Write, to explore a shared interest in transgenerational trauma, both on and off the page. Then it’s a second guest post (the first, on Day One of the tour, being on debuting as an older author) with my publishers, Inspired Quill, to reveal my responses to the thoughtful questions put to me by one of the team, Hannah Drury. With all this travelling I wonder if I’ll have time to tidy up before Thursday, when I’ll be showing everyone around my Writers’ Room, courtesy of novelist, former prison governor and Costa Short Story Award winner, Avril Joy. Friday, I’ll be hot-footing it to London to join novelist, blogging addict and reader of an early version of Sugar and Snails, Geoff LePard, for a post on how walking facilitates my writing with, hopefully, a few photographs of the walk that features in my novel. (Yikes, did he realise that’s the day he launches his second novel, My Father and Other Liars, or is his attention to me an excuse to avoid a launch party?)
Of course there were compensations: catching up with Tracey; meeting a former work colleague; trying out the two-jars experiment that features in my novel; the beautiful setting in the (rare this year) summer sunshine. While I did have some pleasant conversations with readers, and a few took my card with the (I think genuine) intention to buy the e-book, it was exhausting trying to engage as pleasantly with others who not only weren’t interested in my book but didn’t seem interested in any book at all. Fortunately for the future of the festival, some other stallholders – especially the crime writers – were more successful, although we did encounter some better-known names who didn’t fare significantly better than I did.
Yet I did enjoy interacting with other writers as a fellow author, and the camaraderie among the troops was almost sufficient compensation. We reassured ourselves that you never know what impact your presence at an event might have in the future in terms of getting your name and book known. When Newark grows as big as Hay, we’ll be proud to have been there from the beginning. We reminded ourselves that a reader who is one of only two is just as important as the reader who’s one of forty-two, or two thousand. The professional writer doesn’t sulk.
So I had a day out, learnt a lot and made some valuable connections, and sold a couple of books. But I can’t pretend I wasn’t disappointed. Or perhaps I was just tired? It wasn’t so much that the sales I made weren’t sufficient to cover the cost of the car park (which was actually quite low for a full day), nor that in the time spent there I could have found another half-dozen potential reviewers for my novel, but that the emotional effort far outweighed what I’d achieved. For all that I might relish socialising with readers and writers, for an introvert, it’s extremely draining, and I resented the prospect of spending my Sunday in recovery with little to show for it. So I was pleasantly surprised when, reflecting on this as I harvested redcurrants for breakfast in the morning, an idea crept into my head regarding Charli’s latest flash fiction challenge.
It was news to me that stories in which someone runs over a deer and nurses it back to health are considered a cliché, a too easy metaphor for the person’s desire to fix themselves. Not being much of an animal person, I don’t have many animal stories (Shaggy Dog Story the only exception that comes to mind), but there is a cat in Sugar and Snails. A reader emailed me recently to ask whether Marmaduke would be mistreated as, if so, she wouldn’t want to read on. Again, this was something I hadn’t considered in the writing (perhaps I’ll have to write a post about the role of the cat), but, on the back of Charli’s prompt, it did lead me to wonder about a future society in which concern for animal welfare is taken to the extreme:
The deer doesn’t stir as Harry strokes her cheek. “We’re fucked!”
I want to reassure the boy, but fear wipes the smile from my face.
How right it felt initially. Save the animals and we save ourselves. Suddenly it was cool to be Green. Or Jain, strips of gauze across our mouths lest we inadvertently swallow a fly.
New laws brought the laggards into line. A life for a life and hang the hunters to save the planet. No leniency for plain bad luck.
Yet the doe’s still breathing. “Come on, son, we’re gonna nurse her back to health.”
Is this another cliché? Do let me know what you think. And if you can follow me on this week’s tour, don’t forget to give me and my hosts a wave.