My craft, allegedly, is words, yet I find myself still unable to think of a satisfactory way of starting this post. I guess I'll just dive straight in:
THE MAN WHO DIDN'T CALL has been sold in the US, in a deal of dreams, to the legendary Pamela Dorman, and - at the time of writing - to twenty-one other countries around the world. (In the US it has a working title GHOSTED.)
It's a month since this all began to unfold, and I'm still mad as a box of frogs. Did I expect this? Any of it? Certainly not. I'd spent twelve months editing the damn thing and had lost any ability to make an objective value judgement on it (if, indeed, an author can ever make an objective value judgement on their work.) My UK editor loved it, but - with a writer's typical optimism - I had calibrated her enthusiasm down to 'it's mostly okay.' If I was super, super-lucky, I could get a deal in a couple of foreign languages. Certainly not in the States though: I'm just not the sort of writer who gets deals in the States.
Then, one afternoon, I came out of Pilates and found a string of increasingly excitable emails from my US agent. 'Everyone's fallen in love with your book overnight,' she said. 'They all want to speak to you straightaway. When can you start taking calls?'
Of course my phone ran out of battery at that moment. I ran blindly across Bristol to my home and my phone charger. Then I spent two days on the phone to editors in New York. I didn't stop shaking. I didn't manage to eat a thing. God knows what I said to any of them. I was in a lamentable state.
But oh, how happy I was that Pam ended up being the one who acquired the book! She has her own imprint at Viking / Penguin Random House US and she's been behind some of the biggest novels in recent decades. I loved what she said about the book. I loved what she said about publishing, and fiction, and writing, and basically everything. I can't believe I'm joining a list like hers. To a woman who spends day after day sitting in a silent room, juggling words and worries and pennies, it's nothing short of a miracle.
My partner, George, was in a tiny village on a tributary of the Congo when this was going on. He was making a documentary about an itinerant people and their relationship with the vast Congolese jungle. He was hot, bitten and happy. His life was simple. He slept in a hammock and was madly in love with a wild jungle dog called Bongo. He was, also, uncontactable. It took many days before I was able to speak to him, on a terrible satellite connection, and tell him that our lives had changed. (The photo on this post is of us, ten days later, after he flew back into Heathrow. We sat there on the motorway for two hours, swearing and giggling in utter disbelief.)
A writer's life is both privileged and strange. Many hours are spent alone and in silence; we receive feedback only once every few months and often haven't the faintest grasp of either the merits or the downfalls of our manuscript. Can I do this? we ask ourselves, frequently. Is there really any point? Will anyone care?
Well, yes. There is absolutely a point. What if you're sitting on a manuscript - an idea, even - that could capture the imagination of editors around the world? What if you've told yourself that the rejection you had last year - that one rejection from just one agent, who's a friend of someone's brother or something - means that the book is doomed? Keep going. Under no circumstances should you give up. Because one day it could be you sitting on the floor in your Pilates pants, on the phone to a legendary editor who's fallen in love with your book. It could be you with your heart hammering in your ears and your legs shaking and your voice talking for you because you've long since forgotten how to speak.
And for what it's worth, I really hope it is. Just try to remember to eat, and to pee.
And now a brief and, I hope, not too self-indulgent list of thank yous.
Thank you to Allison Hunter of Janklow & Nesbitt, my wonderful US agent, who has been with me from the very beginning. Without her brilliant timing and clever ideas, I'm not sure it would have worked out quite as it did.
And as for that Lizzy Kremer. I have often written about the wonders of my agent, but never before have I felt such a keen sense of gratitude for her wisdom and support. If it weren't for her grounding telephone calls over the last few weeks I might have just flown off the face of the earth, never to return.
Alice Howe, Emma Jamison, Emily Randle and Camilla Dubini at DHA (supported very ably by Margaux Vialleron) have been quite remarkable, getting my book to such a great number of foreign territories and fielding the offers that have come in. I love their emails and phonecalls - not just because they keep bringing such amazingly good news, but because they all seem to be working on this submission with such excitement and pleasure. They don't seem to mind at all that I go crazy every time another deal comes in.
I'm also very grateful to everyone who bid for my book, successfully or otherwise. I have printed out each and every pitch letter and will treasure them all forever. Several made me cry.
Finally, thanks to Sam Humphreys at Mantle in the UK, who bought this book before I'd even finished it. Thank you, Sam, for your painstaking work, your brilliant ideas and your very kind, human approach to the author/editor relationship. Working with you has been even more of a pleasure than I thought it would be. My book says thank you, too. It accepts that you made it a much better thing.
I really will stop now. I need another lie down.