I am not used to this process – of having written a book. With a show, the exchange happens all in one go. You perform it, the audience watch it, and are part of it. Writing and reading are both such private, intimate and yet prolonged forms of exchange. A book is a show designed for an absent audience of one. I feel a little lost in the long quiet of it all. And then there are these sporadic public moments – a book signing, a talk – mini-shows, that as a debut author are, apparently, a hard sell.
This morning my publisher emailed to say that ticket sales are still low for the event about my book at Hatchards with Erica Wagner, on Tuesday 23rd, and that if this hasn’t changed by Monday they will cancel it.
It’s a very strange thing to hear this – in all my years as a performer I never have. Not because I always had big crowds. I’ve done gigs with two people in the audience – and once the show began and that was who was in the room there was a kind of wonderful acceptance of this and we could all get on with enjoying the uniqueness of it. Like a clear embodiment of the Open Space principle ‘Whoever comes are the Right People’ – Yes, this is who is here, and we can celebrate it.
But to have the threat of ‘not enough people for it to go ahead’ hovering over me undermines that practice and, even though I know it’s not true, and it’s just the times, and it happens to many writers, I suddenly feel like billy-no-mates. And meanwhile, this week, I am in the collective grief at the sudden loss of Andy-all-mates Andy Smart who wasn’t really my friend but was friends with all my friends, and who always made me feel like someone, not just Phelim McDermott‘s girlfriend or wife, and who I quietly thought was the real Father Christmas. And, maybe because of this quality he had, it feels particularly hard to understand that he is gone. Father Christmas cannot die. And my novel is about this too – the ending of things we think can’t end.
I want to be able to perform, or share about the story I have written with one person, if that is all that shows up. It’s a book, after all – it’s designed for just such an intimate audience. Just me, Erica, and one other would be fine. Or even just me and Erica and no one else. Or just me. Having a conversation with myself, but still doing the show. I never thought of it this way before – ‘The Show Must Go On’ has often seemed like a rather macho statement, prioritising art over life, but right now, I understand it in a different way. Something about how art has to go on, in order for us to cope with the unbearableness of life, and the loss of it, the wonder and pain of it. So maybe I will pitch up at Hatchards anyway on Tuesday – whether they cancel the gig or not. To hold space for all that – which is what the novel is also about: How to love, and how let go of who or what we love with grace, and how hard this is.
Join me if you want. Become a crowd. Or just a couple of the right people. Or just one person. Or share this so the right people can find out about it. About holding space for what matters, which is nothing to do with ticket sale numbers. Tuesday 23rd, 6.30pm Hatchards. Talking about #NoSeasonButTheSummer with Erica. But more than anything, thank you for reading this.