‘If you want to make God laugh, plan for the future.’ Woody Allen said something like that. He was, I think, quoting a Yiddish proverb: but the thought is everywhere in the Old Testament, from the comic fable of Jonah to the tragic insights of Job.
This is a very portentous opening to a blog post. But let me explain why it came to mind. Just before New Year, I was eagerly awaiting an event of scant importance to anyone else but of great significance to me. You may remember my May blog, ‘Frustrated’, about the travails of an author. Well, I thought that those travails (for the time being – they will return) were over, and here is what I had written about a fortnight before that:
‘And in the end…
‘Do you remember John Wain’s novel, Room at the Top? Probably not: it was very much of my 1950s youth, and in 1959 they made a film of it, with Simone Signoret and Laurence Harvey, which they advertised as a “SAVAGE STORY OF LUST AND AMBITION.” There is a moment when the character played by Heather Sears, who is the Boss’s daughter, has just been seduced by the Laurence Harvey character, and, leaning back, she says – a phrase that has always stuck in my mind, “Do I look any different?”
‘Well, no. Or perhaps. But losing – well, what? Innocence? – is rather like having the book you have worked on for years, from its infancy through its adolescence to its final coming out, drop, as a finished object, on the doormat. Surely everyone must be looking at Me, the Author, with new eyes now? Well, no, they aren’t; they weren’t when the anticlimax of my first book happened, 21 books ago, or ever since, and won’t be now that Hungry Heart Roaming: an Odyssey of Sorts, has finally appeared after so many delays and vicissitudes. But I think my brainchild is beautiful, and looks wonderful, with dear Rosanna’s moody, brooding photo of my shadow on the wet cobbles of a Berlin street as its dustjacket.
It has been a long haul, and I care about this book. It picks up and develops so many of the concerns that have become more insistent as I have grown older, which have been one the margin of other books of mine, like Latitude North, and are now demanding to be developed yet further in the next book that is trying to be born, Covering my Tracks: an Uncertain Pilgrimage. It is indeed about roaming – in time, space and thought: a boy on a western beach in the morning of his world; a shadow in a dark Berlin on those wet cobbles in a street untouched by the bombs of 1945; lovers on a summer shore in Crete; a man and a woman hand in hand where Iona’s cliffs outface the storms of the autumn Atlantic – and that same couple drawn, sunset after sunset, to awed witness of the murmurations of the winter starlings against the Fenland sunset. So many birds, each moving independently, yet together as one changing form, changing direction, mysteriously purposeful. The writing of the book could not escape that memory: an apparently independent journey through life, from one shore, one place of departure, to another shore – but all the time utterly entwined with the lives of others, close and distant, then and now; a journey shaped by ideas, beliefs, by politics, by customs, but overriding all these, by the great events in the past of our race, in our own lifetimes, and now, as we move towards an inevitably, increasingly, uncertain future. Powerless? Helped? Helpless? Where do we fit into the swirling patterns? So I had to write to seek, to look for my own place within those patterns, patterns often too big to see. I am a part of all that I have met.
But, like that poor girl in the film, the anticlimax is real enough. The postman left the parcel out in the rain. Some kind neighbour put it inside the porch, certainly not recognising that int tha wet cardboard were my dreams. There is still the rubbish to put out, those dreaded emails to answer, undergraduate essays to read, and the dull business of day to day to be done. No glory and trumpets…not yet… but the next book might be different?
Don’t be silly: you should know better by now.’
You see, I already had the copies to hold in my hot little hands, and the pre- publication orders were being sent out: and then… an email from the publishers, Eyewear, to their authors, earlier this week: ‘Due to the following two factors, we will be moving the release date for your 2021 books to March 1. A full lockdown for England means all bookshops closed; therefore we cannot deliver the orders to them. As a small press, we rely on bookshop sales to run properly – when they remain closed, we cannot run a normal service. Furthermore, our distributor is based in Scotland, now under full lockdown, and we have been seeing delays from them to Amazon, and via the post and FedEx, and via printers, of 3-4 weeks or more.
Releasing your wonderful book in January as planned would be tantamount to wasting all the time, energy and talent and money and hard-work we spent on it.’
It’s some small consolation to know that the MD says, ‘we are really trying to avoid this splendid, handsome book from sinking without a trace, which I fear it might if published at a dead time.’ I know he thinks a lot of it. But it is one hell of a disappointment.
What to do? Patience is a virtue, they say, and Job had things far worse. What really matters? In the end, it was the writing, the creating of something I (and others) could feel was beautiful, that did some small homage to the wonder of this puzzle of being human and sentient, and in a marvellous world. But I want to tell people about it… ‘Look! This is what it all means to me!’ So when it does come out, on March 1 or not, please let me share it with you, and please write what you think about it – good, bad, indifferent – in your own blogs, or to me, or (please!) put a review on Amazon or tweet about it.