A week in books

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The Independent Culture
Publishing hype has led to the mistaken belief that having your novel hit the shelves is, inevitably, a glitzy experience. Acquaintances angle for invites to the launch party, secure in the conviction that fish- eggs, fizz and gathered media are as automatic for novels by unknowns as they are for comedians, politicians and supermodels. Reviews are, ditto, considered an inevitable consequence. Imagination paints a dinner-jacketed, black-frocked rush to the news-stands; life thereafter, a corpulent round of interviews. It's a Broadway Melody scenario that has little resemblance to reality.

Back in reality, publication day is a crossing-the-Equator sort of event which, in the absence of all evidence, must be taken on trust. When hardback precedes paperback, gratified friends inform you that, though they've looked for the novel everywhere, they haven't seen a single copy in the bookshops. At such times, novelists frequently experience atavistic desires for a visible token of their state. An "I've Had A Novel Published" badge, perhaps, like the one that once said "I Am Five."

Only the chosen few get to pontificate to Melvyn Bragg. More likely is a spot on Radio Burgess Hill - "late nite music and chat to take us into Monday morning" - as the DJ asks questions inspired by a press-release. Or maybe, several weeks after the event, a "Carshalton Girl Is On The Cover" article appears in the local paper, playing up the parochial aspect at the expense of all other angles. There is a signing session, perhaps, at a small bookshop in a nearby town - two hours, with a coffee and Rich Tea at a table unwisely placed in the way of the Romance shelf. Passing customers occasionally remark that they have a wonderful idea for a novel themselves, which they'd put on paper if only they had the time. Your father drops in and buys a copy. So does your sister. You sign them.

A review still eludes. Those same friends who couldn't find the novel in the shops learn that the slating they so profoundly hoped you wouldn't get would still have been very much better than nothing at all. Eventually, a photocopied inch from the Oldham Evening Chronicle arrives from the press office, along with reassurances that the Chronicle has a sizeable circulation and is well thought of by those in the know. And the contents? Rapture and devastation are both equally inappropriate. In the manner of a horoscope, the review could apply to almost any novel written in the later 20th century. Except for one, terrible adjective. Which rankles.

An aunt phones to say that your book is going down a bomb at the library on the Isle of Skye.

Catherine Feeny's novel 'Musical Chairs' is published in paperback by Sceptre next week

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