My first book is now published. It’s a tragi-comedy about breast cancer. I’ve just got back from America, where I was carrying copies of it around in a beach-bag, trying to sell it to a New York publisher. In the Random House building, there were over twenty elevators, and a publisher on almost every floor. I ricocheted up and down, darting into offices without appointments, leaving my book like a cuckoo laying eggs. In one office a friendly black receptionist gave me a copy of Caroline Blackwood’s account of the Duchess of Windsor and her French lawyer, Maître Blum. The girl dismissed my interest in a history of the Harlem Renaissance, repeating how much she loved the book on the Duchess. I read it all night on the plane back, every now and then bursting out laughing.
After sleeping for a few hours I rang my editor. He told me not to be so manic, then said that an extract from the book was appearing in a Sunday newspaper in two days’ time. How can I not be manic?
The next day I met the poet Michael Horowitz in the local health-food shop. The last time I bumped into him, in the same place a few months before, I was about to deliver my completed manuscript. Today, I asked him to my launch party.
‘Maybe I could review your book,’ he said.
‘That would be wonderful. Thanks very much.’
‘I’m doing a benefit for poets,’ he said, ‘at the Albert Hall. Do you think you could contribute?’
‘I might, send me the details.’ He produces a squashed tin of animal food from behind his back.
‘Have you got a cat?’ he asks. Does he want my opinion on this particular brand of animal health food, or what?
‘No,’ I reply, ‘we’ve got a dog. He likes that food, though.’ He then hands me the tin as a present. What am I supposed to do now? Is he going to review my book or do I first have to contribute to his benefit? There should be a guide for new authors about this sort of thing.
I am to have Sunday lunch with two characters in my book, Paolo and Emily. I have terrible jet-lag and oversleep till 1.15. I’m woken by Paolo on a car-phone. He sounds excited.
‘We’ve just seen the extract in today’s Observer and the awful photograph of you! We’re arriving at your house in ten minutes to take you to lunch.’
I am still in a nightdress when they arrive a few minutes later. Emily, true to her fictional character, charges through the front door and orders me to open a bottle of wine. Luckily I have one in the fridge. ‘I didn’t know you found me so attractive!’ Paolo says proudly. He is referring to a sentence in the newspaper extract, where I describe how a character (loosely based on himself) visited me in hospital: ‘I find his hairy masculine body sitting on my bed comforting.’ Unfortunately they left the newspaper at home.
We ring up a local restaurant. The clocks went forward last night and it is now 2.30, not 1.30, as I had thought. While we’re waiting for our first course, Paolo kindly goes off to buy me a copy of the Observer.
In the photograph I look fat, unattractive and extremely ill. The subtitle of the piece, ‘When Death Was at My Breast’, makes me seem like the heroine of a Victorian novel who’s about to die of TB.
Both my editor and Jill in the publicity department are going on holiday, just before my book comes out. Why, I ask myself, do they both have to be away at the same time? Are they going to elope? I feel very insecure. Before I went to America, Jill spent all her time promoting Hanif Kureishi and that Black Album of his. My editor kept saying: ‘Don’t ring Jill, she’s busy.’ Eventually, I told him sourly that Hanif Kureishi didn’t need promoting; it’s we new authors who need it, who aren’t famous.