I thought I’d talk about why I self-published ‘Mostly Cloudy, With Some Bright Spells‘. Plenty of so-called authors who self-publish do so because their books are, quite frankly, total rubbish. It’s true. Amazon’s self-publishing tool is a great platform for the deluded, and I can only pity the friends and family members of these wannabe authors who’ve been guilt-tripped into downloading these terrible books and, quite possibly, into leaving 5* reviews of said book on Amazon, too. There really are some dreadful books out there, and with the advent of the Kindle, and the whole ‘Do it! Upload away, even if it’s tripe!’ it’s possible for anyone without even a shred of talent to call themselves an author.
So where do I fit in? Well, I’ve already had a book published. It’s called ‘The Spotter’s Guide To The Male Species’, a modern-day take on the old bird-spotting books of the ’60s. It was marketed as a sort of gift book for women (yes, I am cringing) and it turned out to be pretty funny, but not very useful. It sold over 25,000 copies, which isn’t bad.
I began writing ‘Mostly Cloudy’ back in 2006. The first draft was raw, rough and full of codeine-induced typos. It wasn’t really a story, more a spew. At that stage, I hadn’t met my husband, hadn’t really been given a diagnosis and hadn’t had the benefit of hindsight, a wonderful thing when it comes to writing a memoir. I submitted the first draft to a publisher I’d met a few years earlier. He liked my turn of phrase, but wasn’t sure it had the makings of a book. ‘You need to put it away for a year,’ he told me, ‘and come back to it when you’ve had time to gain some retrospective on it.’ I wasn’t really sure what he meant at the time, but duly did as he advised, and shelved it for 18 months. When I started writing again in 2008, and editing what I’d already written, I got it. I understood why I’d behaved the way I did in certain situations (almost moving to Florida to live in a trailer park, for example), and I approached my writing from a calmer, more educated (about myself) perspective.
The result was a decent narrative rather than a babbling stream of consciousness. I kept adding to it, every few months or so, with another chapter, and in 2011, decided I’d finished. What happened next was a bit odd. I sent drafts of the first three chapters out to 10 prospective agents – ones who specialised in memoir or autobiography rather than those who published historical fiction, chick lit or photography manuals, and waited. Around three weeks later, the manuscripts came back (not all at once, that would be well weird). I’d be in bed when I’d hear the thump of 50-odd pages land on the doormat.
‘Another one’s back,’ I’d think, deflated not only because a returned manuscript means ‘No thanks,’ but because I’d wasted £2.50 on stamps to send it out and have it sent back. The rejection letters ranged from ‘You can clearly write, but we’re not looking for memoir at the moment,’ to ‘We are not currently taking on new clients, please try next year.’ Pfft.
Three of them had a similar theme, which was a strange one, to say the least. They didn’t understand the book. At all. One of them said, ‘I don’t feel the reader will understand what your celebrity lifestyle has to do with chronic illness’, as if it were me who had led a ‘celebrity lifestyle’, rather than me simply mixing, on occasion, with celebrities and getting drunk quite a lot. I was not a celebrity. They were confused, not me.
I was going to reply that it was illustrative of my career at the time that I became ill; the juxtaposition of the ‘Whoo, party with footballers/pop stars!’ to ‘Whoa! Blood seeping from back passage, hospital!’ That it showed how mental fun my life was, to how dreadful it became. Another agent said, ‘It needs a happy ending.’ That was the last straw. There is no happy ending with chronic, debilitating illness. That’s pretty much why I wrote the book in the first place. ‘Could you run the London Marathon, to show you’ve overcome your illness?’ wrote one. S.E.R.I.O.U.S.L.Y. ‘I haven’t overcome it,’ I explained, ‘that’s why it’s called a ‘chronic’ illness.’ Dear me!
So. I knew it was a decent book, because I know I can write, even if I do go off on massive tangents at times and type faster than I can think. I read a piece in a Sunday newspaper about e-books, and realised I had nothing to lose by giving it a go. I spent three months editing what I’d already written, and another two weeks writing the last two chapters. When I say months and weeks, I mean a few hours here and there, and some days, nothing. My pain allows me to sit at the computer for short periods of time rather than all day; even when I was on a roll, typing at a gazillion words a minute, I couldn’t sit at the desk for long without having to have a break. Sometimes I’d go back, sit down, and my spine would seize up immediately; I’d save whatever I had, turn the computer off and call it a day. Sometimes I had to call it a day before I even switched the screen on.
I asked Gautier, my long-suffering husband, to design the cover. We came up with ideas for it at 2.00am one Sunday morning, when I couldn’t sleep. He was asleep. Not for long, mind. A friend of ours then tidied Gautier’s draft design up quite a bit, and slapped his own take on it. The cover was done. I formatted the words according to the instructions on Amazon, decided how much to sell it for (99p – too cheap, £4.99 – too expensive, so settled on £2.25) and went through the uploading process. It was all quite mental exciting. I’d already been in touch with YOU magazine (the glossy women’s mag which comes with the Mail on Sunday) and asked if I could write a piece for them about invisible illness. I’d written that back in September, and it was due to be published in January. I asked if it could be timed to coincide with the launch of the book, and oddly enough, they were about to ask if they could schedule it for March anyway. On March 4th, the piece came out in the magazine, the book launched on Amazon, and that was that. I sold 230 copies within three days, and at one point was at number two in the memoir charts on Amazon ahead of a book about Ghandi. Sweet.
It’s a hard book to sell, in a way. It’s about so many things that it doesn’t really belong to any one category. It’s not about being ill, as such. That’s part of it. It’s not about cancer, or an illness most of us have heard of or can relate to. It’s not even about one illness, it’s about several. It’s about having a mad, brilliant career, and then not having it. It’s about making choices, and all too often, not having a choice. It’s not got a happy ending, there’s no miracle cure and I didn’t die, so it just kind of stops. I’ve been asked by a few people to write a sequel, but there’s nothing to tell now. My adventures are over.
All I do these days is swallow painkillers, see consultants, make dinner and fail miserably at finding a dog which doesn’t chase our cat. On a good day I get to go to the supermarket, post some ebay stuff (I’m in the midst of selling most of my shoes as I can’t wear high heels anymore) and do some housework. Good days still start bad; it takes half a packet of Co-Codomol, a very hot bath, a few yoga stretches and a lot of will and a good few hours before I can leave the house. Sometimes I don’t sleep all night, and end up sleeping all morning. By the time I’m actually able to stand up straight, it’s 2.00pm.
So. I self-published despite being an already published author because nobody understood what my book was about, or if they did, felt it wasn’t a story worthy of being told without me running a Marathon at the end of it. I tried to explain that the whole point of the book is that I CAN’T BEAT MY ILLNESSES. It’s a story about acceptance, hope and courage. Life doesn’t always have a happy ending. It’s not like the movies. I wish it were, for I’d be waking up next to Michael Fassbender and/or Ryan Gosling, living in New York or Los Angeles and I’d have fluffy white cotton towels the size of Ireland hanging up in my bathroom. Bah!