I did and didn't want to go to the annual Text Publishing party in Melbourne last night. Mostly I did – I'd been looking forward to it since the invite landed, but it had been a long day, starting with a breakfast meeting 12 hours before the party was due to begin.
What I really wanted, even as I was walking there through heavy rain, was to sleep. I always want to sleep, and do so at least once a day. On the whole I'm busy, spread too thinly. And because I'm cerebral my brain doesn't stop talking even when I'm giddy with fatigue: it just talks more shit than usual, which is no mean feat given the amount of shit it usually talks. I try to ignore it but on and on it goes.
Go to sleep, I tell it.
I'm too tired, it says. Let's party.
It's no coincidence my publisher is Sleepers – there's a natural affinity; on the spine of every book they publish, in every official email, they reassert themselves as a group I'd like to belong to. Oh, you're Sleepers? Can I join, please?
The main thing distracting me from my tiredness on the way to the party was my sock. All it needed was a sustained downpour and big puddles to inform me there was a hole in my shoe. Single-footedly, I mopped up most of the surface water in the CBD. Nobody I passed looked in any way grateful; a few even attacked me with their umbrellas.
I squelched into the party having decided that I'd spend 30 minutes there, then quickly downgraded that estimate. I got my free wine (thanks Text!), lurched with my puddle-sock through the crowd, recognised well-known writers who didn't recognise me. I went to the bathroom, thought about my sock, decided I'd squelch back through the pub courtyard, looking at no-one, and leave.
I was a few metres from doing so when I bumped into my publisher. And then someone else bumped into my publisher. And then an old friend from Scotland who moved to Melbourne years ago bumped into me, my publisher and the new person. And then we all moved a bit, bumped into other people; other people bumped into us.
Three hours later I was standing in a corner, half obscured by some foliage that was hanging over me, onto me, watching a conversation between four crime writers. I've not watched many conversations between crime writers. I thought they'd talk about crime, maybe stab someone. It must have been their night off.
At no point did I say to anyone: "Hey, guess what, I've got a book coming out in three days." But that information was elicited – or revealed by my Scottish friend, and my publisher – several times across the evening.
I don't like telling people face to face I have a book coming out in case they ask what it's about. I never know what to say. It's about living on someone's living room floor. Oh, that sounds ... shit. It's about moving to Australia. Oh, like a travel guide? I'm the worst at telling anyone what my book's about. The question paralyses me – and not just figuratively.
I stood half hidden by foliage, my lips not moving, body rigid, when the question was asked.
It's a memoir, I said to one guy, eventually.
A memoir, he said. Christ. You're a bit young for that, aren't you? What are you, nearly 30 ...
Christ, he said. That's brave.
How come? I said.
How do you get a whole memoir out of being nearly 30?
I'm nearly 40, I said.
The book's mainly about one year.
In talking to other writers I sensed that answering the "about" question gets easier with practice and being drunk.
Hi, my name's Linda, I do dystopian literature. My book's about ...
Hi, I'm Roger, but you can call me Cathy, I do a cross between speculative and chick-lit. My latest book's about ...
I also realised it's as easy to deflect writers' questions as it is with anyone else's when they're drunk.
In three simple steps, I went from being asked by someone what my book was about to not answering to being invited to play touch rugby this coming Sunday in Edinburgh Gardens.
I don't even know what touch rugby is, I said.
What? Call yourself an Irishman?
No, I said.
Oh you'll be fine, he said. We'll be there at 10am if you change your mind.