Wednesday, 23 January 2008

The Escalator

I can sympathise with writers who find out that being published is not the greatest thing in the universe. Nothing is the greatest thing in the universe. There's no experience which can make life worth living, even the ones you were aiming towards since you could think. Personally, I'm with Peter Cook. It's much better to set your sights far too high, and to move your goalposts every time you get near to your perceived achievement. Then you never realise your potential. You leave it glimmering on the horizon, and there's always a reason to face the east and smile every morning.

Anyhoo, I wanted to talk about what is great about being published. And my favourite thing at the moment is The Escalator. This is the conversation I have at parties when I tell strangers that I'm a writer. The Escalator is a series of steps they take towards the plateau which makes me unutterably cool in their eyes, at least for a few moments:

Them: So what do you do?

Me: I'm a writer.

Them: You mean a technical writer? Is the money good in that?

Me: No, I'm a writer writer. Novels. Short stories.

Them: Well done you! You keep going with that! I bet you'll even get published one of these days.

Me: I am published.

Them: Self published?

Me: No. Published published.

Them: Good for you! That's brilliant! I bet one of these days a really big proper publisher will publish one of your books! What's the name of your publisher?

Me: Macmillan.

Them: I've heard of them...

Me: Yes.

Them: Wow. Yes. That's really brilliant! Keep going and one of these days you'll even be on the shelves in Waterstones!

Me: I am on the shelves in Waterstones.

Them: Holy crap.

Then there's a silence, and then they ask me what my next book is about, and they promise to buy a copy, and usually I write my name down on a napkin, and off we go to the next topic, such as global warming or Eastenders. But I do love The Escalator. It's just like being six again and travelling to Exeter just to ride those magic stairs at Debenhams again and again. I don't think I'll ever get tired of it.


Janet said...

Oh that is hilarious. And wonderful. It rather parallels my experiences when I went back to work after producing five kids. The shock on the face of a former neighbour who had written me off as a mindless housewife with a weird religion when she discovered that I had a job that was at least the equal of hers in terms of educational requirements and social prestige was simply priceless.

It's nice to hear writers talking about the positive aspects sometimes. Things have been a little dreary in the blogosphere on that count lately.

Matt Curran said...

Great post Aliya

Sounds like I've met the very same person at a few dinner parties and gatherings recently...

The only thing that has been better than "the Escalator" is when you talk to someone - either in person or on the web - who's being snotty about Macmillan New Writing. After talking cold facts i.e. print runs, sales and rights sales, and of course being on the shelves in Waterstone’s, they suddenly go a bit quiet and try to change the subject.
Done that a couple of times (mentioning no names) and it's wonderful to shut them up. But then most of these negative reactions were fired up by a number of misguided critics a couple of years ago. Thankfully, such misconceptions have died out with the success of the imprint, accompanied by the distant munching of humble pies.

Being published is a massive achievement and worth shouting about. Even when the audience is only a few feet away or travelling alongside you, up those revolving metal steps.

Tim Stretton said...

Oh boy, have I got some fun coming up! Thanks, Aliya!

Faye L. said...

I've had that conversation a few times as well! I never know how to handle it without seeming like an egotistical maniac, which is silly, really. I adopt this almost apologetic tone when telling people that yes, I am published and yes, the book is available to buy.


Eliza said...

HAR! Aliya. I was nodding as I read.

Will A. was praising your second book when I met him for lunch. Can't wait.

Aliya Whiteley said...

Thanks all - Eliza, how lovely to be praised! Hope the book lives up to it...!

Anonymous said...

In India there is another step as you climb the Escalator. Published from UK? Your novel is displayed in bookshops in London? Oh, there is no greater feeling than being able to tell the world you are a published writer! I always remember what Mike told me when I first met him in Delhi and he handed me my pre-order copy of Across the Mystic Shore. "6 out of 3000 ms! The arithmetic should make you proud!" Its darn right easier to get hit by lightening!


David Isaak said...

Tha's wonderful, Aliya! And, of course, you're multi-published, which gives you even more brag room.

Alas, that's not it it works for me, but, then, I'm Over Here, where most people can't name a single publisher much less one from the UK.

I tend to avoid the topic, because if I admit to being a published novelist, the next questions are one of these:

1) I've got a great idea for a novel--how about you write it and we split the money?

2) Wow--can you put me in touch with your agent?

3) That's great--any interest from Hollywood yet?

4) Omigod, that's fantabulous!!! Who did you get to ghost it?

5) So, how much do you have to pay for something like that?

6) A novel! Awesome! Is it fiction or nonfiction?

Doesn't mean I'm not pleased with myself every time I see the book on the shelf next to my desk, though...

Alis said...

Crikey, I think the people I meet at parties must be far more ruthless than the nice (if patronising) people you meet. Mine go straight for the jugular with 'Oh, so anything published yet?' Though,like yours, they clearly expect me to have been published by something like 'Hole in the Wall Publishers' or 'Neverheardofit Inc'.!! I must admit, it is nice to be able to say 'Macmillan', isn't it?

Does this make us bad people?

Brian McGilloway said...

I'm just jealous that you all get to go to parties that don't involve bouncy castles and fights over who gets to blow out the candles!


David Isaak said...

I could do with a bouncy castle or two. So long as there weren't kids around to spoil it.

Neil said...

You and your bleedin' escalator, woman!

Len Tyler said...

I have another version of this conversation, which I’ve had quite few times over the past few months. It goes like this:

Me: I’m delighted to see you’re stocking my book. Would you like me to sign the copies you have in stock?

Bookshop person: (uncertainly – just in case I turn out to be Tolstoy or Doris Lessing) And you are ..

Me: L C Tyler

Bookshop person: (complete blank) And your book is ….?

Me: The Herring Seller’s Apprentice

Bookshop person: (still complete blank, but he is a kind man) Ah, yes, I think I’ve heard of that …. And it’s in which section ….?

Me: Crime. Do you want me to sign them?

Bookshop person: (face says: oh God, if you must) Yes, please. I take it you’ve got your own pen?

The bookshop person then sticks a nice big red “signed by author” sticker on the dust jacket and puts it back on the shelf, front cover facing outwards. Job done.

Strangely nobody ever asks me to prove who I am before I start scribbling in their books. Either bookshop managers are very trusting or impersonating a crime writer is not something people do that often.