Today I spent four hours in Waterstone’s in Nottingham sitting behind–and occasionally meandering around–a table piled with copies of both of my published books, Truths and Ghosts of Winter. My first solo book signing. Or my first solo sitting-on-my-own-in-a-bookstore-hoping-I-at-least-sell-one-copy.
I set my target low. One copy. And I beat that target, several times over. No, I didn’t sell lots of books, and many of those I did were to people I already know. But I certainly sold more than would have ever been picked up from the shelves of Waterstone’s on an average Saturday. I also got to hang out with some great people, who came to keep me company, who I most likely wouldn’t know if I wasn’t a writer, including my fellow Bold Strokes author Lisa Girolami. And I got to sit and look at my books. MY books. All published and shiny in their beautiful covers, with my name on the front.
To begin with, it was intimidating. To be all on my own, with my books, in a store full of wonderful books of all kinds, and lots of literature-hungry customers. I couldn’t quite get past the idea that I was a fraud and that anyone who bought my books would be disappointed and wish they’d bought one of the thousands of other books in the store. I’ve always been in awe of Waterstone’s, of the brilliant volumes on the shelves and their myriad of compelling covers. So it was hard to make myself “part” of it. I felt like an intruder.
But then something happened. I wandered around and picked up some of those books. I revisited favourites, let titles catch my eye, examined the covers. I read the blurbs. So many intriguing stories. And my overall impression was one of a world without limits. Fiction really can go wherever it wants to. Within five minutes I’d found a book about the second coming of Christ in modern day New York, a depiction of a medieval queen, a Regency romance, and a book of vampire erotica. And that was such a small sample of what surrounded me.
Of course, I’m hardly saying anything new. Part of the point of fiction is that it is unlimited. The writer sets the rules of their own world and everything takes second place to the story. Those rules bend however a writer wants them to. However, writers can be limited. I was. My first novel, provisionally titled Butterfly will never be published. It’s not badly written and I very much like some of my characters. But I wrote it with limits. I considered that my friends and family would read it. I considered that I didn’t really understand people that well and thus in dealing with the psychological mind-set of my characters, and didn’t want to present unrealistic thought patterns or motivations. I indulged in characterisation and description, but I never let my mind soar free. The result is something rather mundane and constrained.
The limits have relaxed a little. Becoming aware of my sexuality and finally grasping hold of my individuality led to Truths, written very quickly, in a time when I no longer worried what my relatives would think. Ghosts of Winter is unusual in some ways, but I was still frightened what people would think, so I made sure to stay “safe” with my second novel. There are really no controversial characters or ideas, nothing complicated to understand. Emotionally, it was a challenge to write, but it also fit nicely into the limits of what I thought I could achieve. There is nothing outspoken. Maybe nothing outstanding. That’s not a derogatory comment, but an acknowledgement of the fact that my novels are unlikely to provoke much comment or thought. I even worried a lot about the idea of including a short romance between gay men in a novel with a lesbian target market.
If I’m honest, I was scared to go further. Talk about religion, for better or worse? Include a character who does not have their wicked side in check, but is still appealing? Challenge expectations–of both the heterosexist world and the lesbian community? Many brilliant novels do none of these things. But the reason mine don’t, I realise, is that I didn’t feel capable. Who am I to delve into the mind of a villain? Who am I to present a confident, experienced, witty protagonist? Who am I to use psychological, philsophical or theological ideas as part of my plot?
Today I realised that I can do all of those things, and more, because I’m a writer. I DO have a talent for it. I can create worlds with my words. And in those worlds, I make the rules. I am the powerful one. The only limits are the ones I choose to impose. Any bookstore is a repository of worlds created by other writers. I’m as good as them. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. But I’m a writer just like any other. When I pick up one of their books and admire their bravery, at tackling a difficult or in-depth topic as part of their plot, or for taking on a twisty, complicated structure, I don’t need to be intimidated. I need to remember I’m a writer too, and I have no more limits than any of them. I can be intelligent, witty, wicked and fun…thoughtful, controversial, romantic, far-reaching. I can soar on the wings of imagination.
So, on with the writing. But I’m going to indulge that teenage rebellion I never allowed myself before. I’m going to open all the doors of my mind and see what’s lurking. I’m going to embrace my curiosity and the paths my intellect leads me down. I’ll even look in the dark places, the questioning places, and the fun places.
And I will trust my readers to come with me into that world. I’ll seduce and charm them with words until my rules are the ones that form the boundaries.
I finally believe that I can do it. I was perfectly legitimately placed in that bookstore today. Writing is the gift I was given and I am a writer. That means I’m unlimited.
And, maybe, life will imitate art. 😀