A curious thing is happening to me. Every time I write a sentence, tiny weights seem to latch, slipping over words like lumpen clogs across the page, ungainly, worrisome. Nothing is good enough. It will never be good enough. It is completely terrifying. I’m a cyclops with a giant eye, watching myself, writing. It is hideous and so am I. I’m not just monosighted, if we’re with the Greeks. I am Icarus, envisioning wax words pooling round my feet as if I’ve soiled myself.
There has been so much grace, so much luck. But now I must try to adjust. At book events, I declare how I want to recreate my previous writing conditions and become the bloody-minded innocent I was for four years. I do it out of superstition and nostalgia, and ultimately such a declaration is foolish. I am no longer she. Plus, a lot of that experience was awful. I wrote The Miniaturist and I protect its characters like a mother bear her cubs. I can no more detach myself from them than pull off my own arm.
Is this a confession? It’s certainly not a diary entry, otherwise it wouldn't be here.
So what is the solution? Identify the problem first.
Writing to a standard I find acceptable is the problem. And even then, 'acceptable' won't cut it.
When The Miniaturist became a success, other publishers held meetings in their offices to understand what had happened. The book was a puzzle to solve, and once solved, it would be repeated. Many reasons were mooted for its success. The meat of the novel was one of them, but this reason ranked equally among the others. There was the superlative, open-handed approach of publicity and publisher, and rightly so, because the business end of things is a sharp place to be, my friends. There was my subsequent willingness to talk about the book. My yellow dress helped, according to the Wall Street Journal. The welcome from booksellers was a gift from God. Readers buoying the baby up with word of mouth. Then newspapers, radio, then TV. Kismet, luck and timing. A thing that happened this summer as the world descended into war.
But there was one reason that was never suggested, in those boardrooms across the city. And it is the one elusive thing that would stop this infernal cyclops eye swivelling over my second novel, waiting any moment for Odysseus to plunge the stake.
Love was never suggested.
I wrote The Miniaturist with a love that bordered hate. This book made me cry with frustration. I loved the people in it, and for some crazy reason I had declared myself to be in charge of them. The tussle for responsibility made me hate myself. I hated myself because what I wanted to achieve seemed impossible and so elusive, and yet the novel had my undying commitment.
But it was written out of love and sold out of love and ironically enough, when it comes to a creative endeavour, you can’t make that shit up.
I want to fall in love again. And yes, I'll take the hate as well. Sam, Odelle, Marjorie and Pamela, Olive and Isaac, Harold and Maria, Charlie Grimes and Hugh – you’re all there in me, misty. I’m looking for you.