I'm dangling in another sense at the moment: copies of my new novel are currently going out to friends, family, and reviewers. It's a nerve-wracking time. Now and then — every day or two — an email, or a text, or a call will pop up from someone saying how much they've enjoyed it and well done. And that's great — no matter how many books you sell, or how great your reviews are, you still need to hear it. Ideally from people whose taste you trust. Ideally all the time.
Then there are the ones who respond with a frosty silence. Days become weeks become months and you forget that so-and-so would have been sent their copy. Then something reminds you and you're plunged into a torrent of icy panic: have they received it? Why haven't they gotten back to you? Christ — they must have hated it not to respond at all.
You definitely develop a thicker skin the longer you do this. Kinglsey Amis said that a bad review might spoil your breakfast but it should never spoil your lunch: putting the shelf life of the review's effect at around four or five hours.
Early on, when I first started writing, a very negative response to something would mean that I had to go and lie down for the afternoon. It might be days before I could go near the desk again. Nowadays, I shrug most things off pretty quickly, but, at times like this, with copies in the mail, winging their way to God knows what kind of reception, I sometimes fantasise about how nice it would be to do a Salinger: just write the bloody things and then throw them into a bank vault to lie unread forever. Because, really, it's the process that's the fun. The rest of it is just so much nonsense.
Anyway — an update on the shed. She's insulated, the electrical wiring's gone in, the plasterboard (or drywall, as you call it over there) is all in place, so today I had to have a bit of a meeting with the contractors: about internal doors, final positions of power sockets, light switches, and the like.
Now, I really am something to behold on these occasions, because I:
a) Am the world's least practical man.
b) Have absolutely no aesthetic sense in terms of buildings, clothes, furniture, etc. (A bit, I fondly imagine, like the aforementioned Mr. Amis, who, according to his ex-wife Elizabeth Jane Howard, had "absolutely no interest in his surroundings whatsoever."Once, responding to a criticism from my girlfriend that my shirt did not match my jacket, I said "All colours go with each other.")
c) Am mind-bendingly impatient.
So I stand there while they talk to me about timbers and building regulations and conduits, nodding but not understanding anything (see a above), not caring where they put anything or what colour they paint it (see b), and finally (see c) telling them I really have to go and to just use their best judgment before running out of there.
I'm probably going to wind up in a tartan office with one plug socket and light switches on the ceiling.
It really wouldn't bother me.
One final thing — and just to show I am conscious of a world going on outside my shed — congratulations on your new president. How funny the inauguration was: Bush looking numbly on as Obama stood there basically saying, "The world's a cesspit, the country's in the toilet, and it's all your fault!" But a sobering reflection on how interested many Brits are — no less than three people tried to call me today during the inauguration speech. Morons that they are.
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John Niven read English literature at Glasgow University and spent the next ten years working in the United Kingdom's music industry. His debut novella, The Band: Music From Big Pink, was published in 2006 as part of the 33 1/3 series. His second novel, Kill Your Friends, was published in 2008. He lives in Buckinghamshire.
Books mentioned in this post
John Niven is the author of Kill Your Friends (P.S.)