Sooooo. I have intended to put something up here about the craziness of the past few weeks for quite a while now. Immediately after the launch party on 1 July, I wanted to write something. I didn’t. Or couldn’t. Then the book was actually published, and Waterstones made it their July Book of the Month and then, Toto, well, THEN things went a little unusual and I haven’t updated diddly squat since.
The Miniaturist debuted at no.4 in the national charts amongst such stars as Robert 'JK' Galbraith, Stephen King and Caitlin Moran. According to Nielsen Book Scan, It has stayed in the top 5 (bar one TERRIBLE week of slipping to no.6), at one week even sitting pretty at no.2. - NUMBER TWO FOR PETER AND PAULINE’S SAKE. For the whole of last week it sat at no.3 after Philippa Gregory and Haruki Murakami. I completely mean it when I say this was not what I envisaged, because quite simply I had no vision beyond publication date.
The indie booksellers and sellers at Waterstones have been INCREDIBLE. Hand-selling, passion and skill have made all the difference. I am eternally grateful to each and every one of them. Leilah Skelton in Doncaster Waterstones (pictured above) made a rotating Peebo, gave away miniature copies of The Miniaturist with every purchase and made speech bubbles on cut-outs of the characters, reminding passersby that they could catch it on Book at Bedtime on Radio 4. David Cooper and Nicky Bristow in Lincoln Waterstones sold 300 copies of the book in one month alone. Everywhere around the country, dolls houses and miniature worlds sprang up in bookshop windows. I did talks around the country from south to north, and feasted on Marin’s candied walnuts and Amsterdam townhouse cakes. The response has been overwhelming and too much still to properly process. Every independent bookshop I visited (shout out to Bookseller Crow, Booka Bookshop, Urmston Books, Wallingford Books, Toppings, Lindum, Mainstreet Trading, Forum Books, Plackitt & Booth and more to come!) was a warm, welcoming place, hand-curated, lovingly looked after, each one a unique and heartening experience. I am so lucky, I know that.
Once sales had surpassed even positive expectations, the newspapers got interested, to the point where I found myself on BBC News 24. In one photo shoot I was actually photo-shopped into Petronella Oortman’s doll’s house, pretending to peer around it, exploring its nooks and crannies. It was a moment pretty much up there, in glorious metaphysical Technicolor. Some journalists asked about the money, others didn’t. My parents entered the fray, reluctant, curious, my mother laughing her head off. She came to see me do a book talk for the first time, and said quietly afterwards, ‘that was brilliant, Jess. Quite brilliant.’ It meant an awful lot, and she didn’t sound that biased.
The only way I could think of scrapbooking the last mad 8 weeks was by writing a list. There’s no particular order. It’s just how it came to mind. Obviously this is my own subjective experience. But to all of you who have read and loved The Miniaturist, and pressed it into the hands of others, I thank you. You have made all the difference.
33 THINGS I HAVE OBSERVED SO FAR:
1. Brightening eye drops are useful. They help avoid the just-smoked-five-joints-in-a-row look that touring gives you.
2a) Berocca also helps. Echinacea. Hot baths. Water. Sleep.
2b) And yet the urge to splurge at the end of 8 weeks of talking, can never be underestimated. Do it. You’ll never be in that hotel ever again.
3. A sense of self-doubt will be inevitable. That, or sociopathic egotism. It appears I chose the former, or it chose me – but it would be nice to find a happy medium. Talking about your work and your book, and your boon and your family and your feelings is, ironically, somewhat alienating. You have taken deviations from the person you thought you were. Words pour. Faces watch you. Who on earth are you? Suddenly you are playing many parts.
4. This can be very fun.
5. 99% of people are lovely.
6. Sometimes it is hard to gauge your own responsibility in the myriad operations going on behind the scenes. Things move so quickly. The best thing is not to worry too much.
7. It's a good idea to be thinking about or writing the next book. You know all the zen stuff about journeys being more important than destinations? Yeah, that.
8. A journalist reads your book (thank you), then repeatedly misnames a character throughout the entire interview. My favourite was 'Stella' for 'Nella'. It’s 6 weeks in to the book being out, and you’ve spoken to journalists in Australia, USA and UK, and you are still unsure about whether to correct her. You hesitate, then don’t say anything. Like most things that unsettle you, it soon becomes funny. What IS text, anyway?
9. When the criticism comes – and it will come, whoever you are – you realise how like any human bean, you really value praise. You are not a sieve; things do not drop through you. They stick. You wish you could be stronger.
10. Praise is hard to acknowledge without sounding like a twat.
11. Ultimately, you should avoid both praise and censure because it has nothing to do with the act of writing something.
12. That said, you will be blindsided – and I mean reduced to bridge-of-nose-tingling gratitude and joy – by the sheer generosity of readers and booksellers. These people are strangers, but they say things to you that you wish were recorded and piped every Sunday afternoon into your living room. Because then, for the rest of your time on earth, at any low moment, you would be able to remember that once upon a time, Grandma did something pretty cool. When they write to you, you keep hold of every single message.
13. Because in the whirlwind it's easy to forget.
14. An excellent publicist is golden.
15. Your book seems to change, even though the words inside it stay the same.
16. Don't do jazz hands, because that is the photo they will use.
17. Pride shouldn’t be a dirty word. You need to hone it, keep it quietly inside yourself, because you will need it.
18. Your book will put you back in contact with friends and colleagues you lost along the way. This will be a wonderful thing. Your old boss will be standing holding The Miniaturist at an airport bookshop, and he will bump into an actress you once understudied, and these two complete strangers will greet each other and express marvel and pleasure at the novel in his hands. A PA you worked with will send a photo of a tottering Miniaturist book order, piled high on your old desk. All of them will send their happiness and you will beam.
19. BBC newsreaders and their floor managers are some of the most skilled performers you will be lucky enough to meet.
20. Mariella Frostrup is your new spirit animal – a kind of foxy-autumnal-bright-eyed mischievous magnet of a woman. You will be relieved you held it together on Open Book, and you didn’t want it to end.
21. Your characters will be mauled, yet by others, they will be cherished. The same applies to your plot, your very choice of words. Never have you so keenly felt the subjectivity of art and the ultimate pointlessness of public opinion, including your own. You will be found wanting. You will be lauded. It really focuses you on what the hell actually matters.
22. What the hell actually matters is different for everyone and thus the cycle continues. The fact it's different for everyone meant your book got published in the first place, so it's no bad thing.
23. Never have you felt so grateful for unconditional love.
24. When a mezzo soprano and a lutenist play music to you that they have composed, based on the plot of your book, in the heart of Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum where this whole adventure started, your spirit will swell and your face will glow and you will want to jump up out of the audience and hug them both.
25. You have only written this book. It is very difficult therefore to talk about the process of writing in general.
26. People will ask about your ‘process’ nevertheless. You will remember cutting and pasting words into a Gmail and laugh to yourself, desperately. You will remember the walk through the woods. The brambles. The traps.
27. You will probably, at some point, end up contradicting yourself.
28. Nothing beats sighting the first stranger reading your book. Providing they are not looking deeply miserable.
29. It's funny how much you jump like a kid seeing your book on a Tube poster. Well, not really, because it's completely INSANE.
30. The photo of you looking like a maniac next to said photo will be the most popular photo you've ever taken.
31. 2 packets of Wotsits will aid all situations.
32. Your self in print is a seductive creature.
33. Beware her charms, but don’t feel you can’t give her a pat on the back. My hunch is she’ll probably be grateful.