So, did the dream of writing a bestseller actually happen? Am I in fact writing this from my private beach by the turquoise waters of Lake Geneva, with a Mojito to hand? That’s what people who write bestsellers do, isn’t it?
Today is the one year anniversary of my book launch – that for The Sudden Metropolis – and I’m still writing. It’s been one of those hard days and I’m looking for any distraction… ‘Aha, my blog needs updating’.
Some things aren’t the same: The Forum café, where we had the launch, is no more. I often walk past the bolted doors and darkened interior, and remember the special evening when my friends packed the place out. Now, on my writing days, I sit in a small study at home instead.
The sales haven’t exactly been in the thousands, more like the hundreds, but the real treat has been the feedback – people who have read the books have really enjoyed them (see the Amazon comments). At the end of a consultation this week, the following exchange occurred:
Patient: “Can I ask you a question?”
Me: “Sure…” (Our ten minutes is up…Now what?)
Patient: “The Indian stretcher bearer who carries Freddie from Spion Kop, is that Ghandi?”
Me: “Yes!” (Very surprised to hear him referring to a scene from The Sudden Metropolis)
Patient: “I thought so!”
For a few seconds, on seeing his deep interest, I felt as if I had written a bestseller, and that I was on my private beach by the turquoise waters of Lake Geneva, with a Mojito to hand.
Recently, while driving back from a French holiday, we stayed at Talbot House in Poperinge, Belgium (or “Toc H” as it was nicknamed by the soldiers during WW1, when it was used as a special kind of social club).
Four years had passed since I was last there, researching material for “The Long White Cloud”. Toc H hadn’t changed, except for one thing – my own perception of it. Now, with the book written, I was going around pointing at things excitedly, saying: “Here’s Rennie’s office”, and “This is where they meet Patton”, and “Out there on the lawn is where they do the haka.” To me, the fiction had merged with fact to produce a strange hybrid of a place, half a stage-set from my mind and half a real brick building.
With the centenary of the armistice approaching, I would recommend to anyone interested in that era to get across the channel and visit Toc H (https://www.talbothouse.be/en/bb/home). Stay if you can get a room – it is relatively cheap. English volunteer caretakers will give you a cup of tea and make you feel welcome. Just down the road, in the main square, are some great restaurants.
The most special room in Toc H is the chapel built into the attic, accessed by some very steep stairs. In my book, two of the characters sit in this room, talking about God and worrying about what is going to happen. This time, it occurred to me just how many soldiers had trodden those same steep stairs to say their prayers, or have a quiet moment before going off to battle. Thousands must have done it. It was hard to imagine quite how scared they must have felt. No-one but a soldier would know that feeling. What you can feel though, is their collective spirit. It’s still there.
Adventurer and dreamer Sean Poole, Western Australia, 1989
It’s early days with ‘The Long White Cloud’ being out, and without the fanfare of a launch party, things have felt a lot calmer. One friend did manage to get through it last week, posting a very kind review on Amazon, and I’m sure many others who enjoyed the first book are in the process of reading.