Although I've been counting down the days to publication since I was 12, and the date seared into my brain was September 1, 2015, my book has already broken ranks and found itself in a couple of book shops.
As a journalist, breaking embargo to go early with a story is a no-no. You don't do it, or you do it knowing you'll incur the wrath of whoever set the embargo.
As a debut author, I thought the protocol might be the same. It isn't. The last few days have been a mixture of anticipation that a party's about to start and the realisation that, woah, the party's already started. I'm not even dressed for it, it's caught me by surprise, my pants half on, my hair askew, but, hey, that's OK.
The first confirmation came from my friend Stephen, who texted me the following picture last Thursday, after spotting my book at Readings, St Kilda:
My first thought? Look how dinky my book is. My second? Mark Webber only has half a head and I have a full head, albeit scribbled on. My third? Oh, check it out: I'm next to Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose book I'm currently reading. I thoroughly recommend buying his one after you buy mine for you and all your family and read it twice, maybe interspersing your reading with in-depth discussion on its themes and execution.
On Saturday morning, I was trying to find someone in Brunswick who would sell me a cartridge for a Parker pen. I'd given the pen to my mum for Christmas many years ago; she'd given it back to me the last time I saw her before she died; it has blue ink and I hate blue ink to the point of phobia. Bluephobia? If that exists, I think I have it.
I'd like to use that pen to sign any books people want me to sign. The closest I got to replacing the cartridge was being told by a hipster in an art supply shop that I needed to go to Elizabeth Street, miles away, to a place called Pen City. I wasn't going to do that.
Instead I went to Brunswick Bound, my local bookshop, on Sydney Road. They had fancy pens but no Parker cartridges because ... why would they? It's a book shop, not Pen Freaking City.
What they did have, on very prominent display, was this:
I spotted it as soon as I went in and tried to walk past it nonchalantly, heartbeat racing. My first thought? I'm in Brunswick Bound – I love Brunswick Bound! My second? They've broken the embargo too – woo-hoo. My third? I'm next to Ta-Nehisi Coates again. His book takes the form of a heartfelt letter from a father to his son. My book is in many ways a heartfelt letter to my two sons. People should buy both books – or just mine if they're short of cash.
I took photos of the book on my phone, feeling like a plum. Was I a rival book shop employee? Was I ... Was I ... Just who who was I, taking pictures of books in their shop?
I bought a birthday card, my heart still racing, not even knowing who's birthday was imminent, if anyone's, and said to the man who runs the store:
I bet you're wondering why I was taking a photo of your books.
No, he said. That's six bucks for the card.
There you go, I said, then: Cos I wrote it ... I wrote that book there.
Which one? he said.
That one, I said. And You May Find Yourself.
That's you? he said.
That's me, yeah.
That's good, he said.
Yeah, I said. I live locally, just round the corner. I love your shop.
Oh, he said. I'd no idea you lived locally. I could pop it in the window.
Awesome, I said. That would be awesome. Really awesome. Oh man. Oh yeah. If it's not too much bother. Awesome. Awesome, man. No, actually, that's awesome. Really awesome.
Here's your card, he said.
I went for a quick coffee, reflected on how awesome it all was, then went back to the shop window to take more photos:
In previous posts, and in my actual life, I've been trying to work out where I stand, philosophically, in relation to writers who receive blanket coverage, who are guaranteed shop-window placement at bookshops nationally and/ or internationally. Their work is a thing quite apart from the publicity of it; it's not a writer's fault if their book is well-promoted. It's just a shame, as a by-product, that lots of other works are ignored because no-one even knows about them.
At no point did I think window placement could be as easy – and life-affirming – as going into my local bookshop and saying I'm a local, then saying "awesome" 16 times when the owner says he'll stick it in the window.
Since then, I've been sorely tempted to go into every Melbourne bookshop to say: I wrote that book, the one over there, and I'm a local ... Any chance of some window promotion?
When I'm finished with Melbourne, I could hit the road, tour Victoria, then the rest of the country, particularly the small towns where, surely, they've got an interest in promoting their locals. It's a win-win for everyone.
But we've never seen you before, they might say.
Oh, yeah, I usually come here in disguise, sometimes as a woman. I have a few pen names – does Elena Ferrante ring any bells? I just value my anonymity. See, they've even scribbled across my face on the cover. I live just round the back of your shop, in an invisible house.
The less labour-intensive option is to do nothing of the kind and just hope my book finds an audience on its own merits. That could take years. Decades. It might never happen. It probably won't. It probably will. There's always hope.
My book, like all books, is a dandelion: I've grown it, my publisher's blown it, and its seeds are about to be out there, in the air. I hope one lands on you.
If nothing else, I have a new-found appreciation for the following ad, shown in 1983 in the UK. I remember it well, its sad music and its tear-jerkingly happy ending: