In the years I spent writing, revising and submitting novels and short stories, I cultivated a rather specific image of what it would feel like when I signed my book deal. I would saunter into a coffee shop wearing an elegant and suitably bookish tweed jacket, with a flash of red lipstick and understated accessories. From my handbag, I would remove a special pen I had bought for the occasion and, over a celebratory cappuccino and slice of carrot cake, I would sign. That evening, Rhys and I would have a long-winded celebratory dinner at The Great Eastern Food Bar.
The reality, was somewhat different.
I received my final contract for my novel when Zach was a few weeks old. I was in my fluffy pink dressing gown, and he was asleep on me after what felt like five hours of non-stop breast feeding. I was in that stage after pregnancy when everything vaguely hurt and my body was unleashing a new betrayal on me each day. I was at my most raw, a painfully stripped down version of myself.
When it came to the physical signing and faxing of the contract, I strapped Zach to my chest and walked to the dodgy corner cafe where the clientele smoke hookahs, eat oily chips and while away the day watching the people go by. My initial on each page is shaky and inelegant from having to lean precariously over the head of my sleeping baby. Not that any of this was necessarily worse than my fantasy, in many ways it was better. Instead of Rhys and I going out to the restaurant I had always pictured, he lit a whole lot of candles in our garden and ordered an obscene amount of food from The Great Eastern Food Bar on UberEats. It was warm, quiet and lovely. I even changed out of my pink dressing gown for the occasion.
New motherhood has a way of exposing your emotional and physical limitations. There was the simple reality of editing Book 1 and working on Book 2 on limited sleep, skipped meals and frayed nerves. I had always prided myself in being a bit of a 'robot writer,' the kind of person who churns out books and stories at breakneck speed, but I had to admit that this was not so simple anymore. Having the energy to create now required some fierce protection of my energy and time.
In the first few months of a baby's life, it feels as if they are between worlds. Every movement is slow and magic. You can feel the dust of wherever they came from still on them. As a new mother, I was between worlds too: shedding the body and person of my pregnancy but not yet fully inhabiting the mother I was meant to be. It was a time of reassembling, of loose and moving parts. Obviously, I was going to feel skinless and raw. Obviously I was going to feel the weight of the world a little more heavily than before.
But obvious cannot be seen from the inside, and my shifting self became plagued with imposter syndrome. I ignored the good things said about my novel and focussed on the slightest criticism. I asked myself questions like, "If my character I have written is unlikeable, does that mean that I am innately unlikeable too?" No matter how rational as I had been about the publishing process before, I now couldn't separate myself from the content and destiny of my book.
I have now learned to tell others the stories I tell myself, because most of the time they aren't true. In my six months of parenting I have also come to admit that sometimes one is just tired, and that makes every situation just a little bit worse. Sometimes, all you need is a hot cup of tea.
Most of all, I have settled into the sense of power that all an author needs to thrive is to write. And the words are there. They are now typed quietly into the notes on my phone while rocking Zach to sleep or punched out during morning writing sessions in coffee shops. My next story is evolving and being written with the sense of urgency and efficiency that parenthood brings.
As for Shame on You, it is no longer mine to control. I've had wonderful messages from readers in South Africa, South Korea, the UK, Italy and Russia. My book travels the world now, in the care of the homes and imaginations of others. It's a wonderful metaphor that I cling to: I nurtured it, set it off on its journey and now I must let it go. One day in the future I will have to do the same with Zach. He will pack his own bag and walk out the door, leaving Rhys and I with the surreal, magical memories of this time and times to come. But for now, I'm going to be gentler with myself and love this new, uncertain place I am in. I am going to hold him a little longer than necessary before I put him down to sleep, and breathe him in. This mystical, enchanting present.