A few of you knew, via facebook, what I was up to today. I was invited to give a talk about my experiences as an author at the library in Victoria. Hesitatingly I accepted. I hesitated because when I speak in front of people, silly things happen to me, over which I have no control whatsoever – shaky hands/legs/voice… I don’t know why but I suspect some wicked fairie must have cast a spell over me, a long, long time ago!
Spell or not, I agreed to do it, and wiggling my way out of it was no option, seeing that chickenpox or measles didn’t materialize! Thankfully my hubby joined me, even though he’s not too keen on such events.
Hereunder you can read what I told the audience… at least it’s what I attempted to tell them because once in a while I was was hit by little waves of courage to try speaking freely – and I promptly lost my place on the page. Oh well…
This year is only 4 months old but it has already been filled with excitement and strange things happening to me. I missed a flight home from holidays, broke a wrist, met my favourite rock star in person and celebrated my 50th birthday. And now I can add “giving a speech” to my list of things I’ve done for the first time in my life.
You’ll notice I’m a miserable speaker – if you haven’t noticed that already! There are people who have the gift of mesmerising you with what they have to say. BUT: many of them – even presidents of the United States – need someone else to write the speech for them! I thought I’d be quite good at doing THAT – so that’s what I did (*waves her papers*) and I’ll read it to you, if you don’t mind.
I am supposed to tell you about my experiences as an author. I’m not sure I can fill the 12 minutes allotted to me… I’m not even sure that you actually want to know what I have to say! Because, you see, writing a book, being an author isn’t anything glamorous at all. Well, unless you’re someone like Danielle Steele or J K Rowling… but most authors are NOT like them at all!
I wrote Angelina’s Ghost when I literally had nothing better to do; it was a weekend in late October, I think. The weather was dreadful; you know, the kind that makes you want to stay on a sofa reading a good book… a bit like today, actually. Others might watch a DVD, listen to music… for me it has always been books. And on that weekend, I had run out of reading fodder, and as you know it isn’t so easy in Gozo to just go out at any time of the day or week and buy books. So I thought, I might as well start writing my own.
The idea of writing a book had been in the back of my head for ages. And I always imagined to write something on the lines of “Fawlty Towers” – that’s because I had worked in hotels for many years, and I can tell you, there ARE funny stories to be told! But then I started writing, and something weird happened… the story took on a life of its own and went into a completely different direction. Angelina introduced herself to me – please, don’t ask me where she came from; many people asked me that… but believe me, I REALLY don’t know!
In effect, the book became a description of Gozo, of LIFE in Gozo. Obviously I’ve drawn on my own experiences a lot – but still it isn’t my story at all! Angelina’s Ghost received one review, and it was a rather bad one. I was interviewed for the “largest English-speaking newspaper” in Malta, and apparently I frustrated the journalist because I refused to tell her what was fact and what was fiction! Today I can laugh about it, but at the time I was hugely disappointed. —
OK, to get back to the author experience… I continued writing every day, and finished it in a little less than 3 months. Then the actual work started, and frustration by the bucket-load. I sent a synopsis and the first 3 chapters of the manuscript (280 pages with about 65,000 words) – to several literary agents and publishers in UK. Several refusals later I just gave up on that avenue. Locally, it was just as bad. Actually worse, because nobody even wanted to know what it was about, leave alone read it. I knocked quite a few doors, tried to get a sponsorship… but failed miserably.
Two years later, I read the manuscript again, just to see if I’d still think it was good enough – and I decided to self-publish it. I started with a “printing-on-demand” company through the internet which worked a charm, but because of the high shipping cost from USA the price was way too high for a paperback to sell locally. In the end, I came to an agreement with a printer in Gozo, who agreed that he’d get paid after a certain grace period, in order to give me time to sell some books.
On a sunny morning I went to Victoria to take a photo for my book cover; I designed the cover, bought an ISBN, formatted the manuscript for printing. I’ll spare you the story of getting that book out of the printing press. It was – sorry to say that – a typical Gozitan story of countless instances of “phone me next week” . By the time I finally held Angelina’s Ghost in my hands, I started believing in miracles!
So now, I became a sales & marketing agent and a delivery person. I had some posters printed, for display in bookshops, stuffed my car boot with hundreds of books. The largest quantity I managed to get rid of in one go was 10 (on a sell or return basis, obviously), because space is always an issue – sadly there are no bookshops in Gozo that are just… bookshops!
Have I made you breathless with my story? Well, it made ME breathless at times! At the end of it all I sold just about enough books to be able to pay for the printing; about 400 are still sitting in a bedroom cupboard… But I AM aware that selling almost half of those thousand books wasn’t actually bad at all. And looking back at the WHOLE experience, I feel it’s a big achievement to have it done all by myself, and I’m quite happy with that.
So far my “experiences of an author”. I can’t tell you how surprised I was, when I received Irene’s phone call last month – that’s almost 3 years after publishing Angelina’s Ghost – inviting me to speak on World Book Day! My first reaction was to refuse. I mean, I’m REALLY not made for public speaking – and I’m not even a writer any more. Writing for a living is mission impossible in Gozo. I’m not bitter or anything, because in fact my “normal” daytime job involves a lot of creative writing, so in a roundabout way I’m still doing what I love doing, for a living.
In the end I agreed to come here because of my passion for books. I love reading just as much as I do writing, perhaps more so. And I thought I’d give you my two cents’ worth on reading… When I have the choice, I’ll read a book rather than watch a film. While reading, I watch my own film, so to speak. When I read, the house could come crashing down around me and I wouldn’t notice – just ask my husband (*points at George*), he’ll confirm that for you!
I know that reading plays an important role in the development of vocabulary; to widen our horizon; to learn about other cultures. I mean, I know that TODAY – when I was a child, I simply enjoyed reading. And thankfully nobody ever tried forcing books on me. – When I received books on birthdays or for Christmas it was because I had asked for them!
I’m not an expert in education, but I think when we talk to our kids about reading we’re putting too much emphasis on how important it is. And what is more, we give them books that WE think they should read. In effect, we are taking the fun out of the whole thing; reading becomes yet another chore that must fit in with all the other tasks they HAVE TO do in a day. Don’t get me wrong, of course literature is important. But reading just for fun is – especially for children – much more important, to instil a love for books in them in the first place!