When I phoned my mother with the news that the United States were going to publish The Miniaturist, including the sum which had been paid at auction, she relayed it to my father, who was standing behind her. All I heard were four words: ‘Oh, for God’s sake.’ Not for Dad the lotto-winning reaction one feels obliged to enact – he’d rather celebrate with a quiet Kit-Kat and some Mahler on Radio 3. Mum was so casual about the news, that later in the week she waited till the very end of Book Club, dropping it in as she was heading for the door. When I’m dead, JESS – SHE DID THE BEST SHE COULD DO, is the epitaph most likely to be writ upon my stone.
And this is not, I hasten to add, because my parents are so comfortably off that they can nonchalantly afford to discard the excitement of global bidding wars. Nor is it because they are not pleased this has happened. They are staggered and delighted. It’s more that this kind of thing just doesn’t happen, ever, to people like us. My father still has the same watch he bought in the 1960s. He buys shoes in single form. Yes, I do mean the right and left shoe in separate purchases.* He writes to people on letterhead paper with an 01 London dialling code. Our car is tied together with string, the toilet seat with gaffer-tape.
We know nothing about publishing. A good example of this is that Dad is now referring to me as the ‘new Jane Austen’. I think he has taken the only other writer he remembers of my gender and assigned her new incarnation to his daughter. Perhaps I must leave my manuscripts unloved in drawers, be shunted between family members and subjected to twee bonnet adaptations? Well, it sure beats temping. DAD, I WILL TAKE IT. Mum spent last year wondering why editors and agents didn’t just write books themselves, ‘seeing as they’ve got all these opinions how to make yours better.’ She began to get annoying – month after month, ‘are you still writing that bloody book? Have you finished it yet?’ To her sister, in my earshot: ‘To be honest, Gail, I read the first page and didn’t have a clue what was going on.’ Needless to say, Mum was given no further excerpts of my work in progress. I’m an artist, goddammit. Did Hemingway have to put up with this?
Anyway, the USA bought it, hot on the heels of Picador here at home. As the territories racked up, it became rather terrifying, so we got all British about it and I didn’t sleep for a week.
My insomniac thoughts basically consisted of the following:
And so on. Yet, with regards to no.8 (the egomania, not the defecation), even now – with Picador and Harper Ecco, Gallimard, Luitingh-Sijthoff, Bompiani, Salamandra and 24 other publishers around the world putting in their lots with me (Brazil, Japan! Hungary and Russia! Excuse me while I take a minute to be sick!) – even now, my mother is still asking ‘Have you finished that bloody book yet?’** And her first reaction, when I told her about my ideas for book 2, was equally stimulating: ‘Well, I don’t know if that’s gonna work.’ I WILL NEVER LEARN. Again; see Hemingway.
Caution is my main inheritance. Never mind the hoo-ha, the proof is in the publish. What I’ve been slightly suffering from is a strange sensation that all of this is not really happening to me. It’s a situation I had a fair part in creating, but which exists outside of me. It spirals out of my control whilst simultaneously drawing its source from my entire being.
In April, the whole fact that I was going to be published in the first place was revved away on a monumental carnival-exhaust pipe of an escalating auction, leaving me barely able to hold on to the bumper. Sweeter, easier delights came later – meeting publishers, my wondrous editor, Francesca Main, debriefing with the incomparable Juliet Mushens, who is in charge of this crazy vehicle. Lovely cards from friends and family (Gail, ignore your sister – the first page has been refined), expressing excitement and mostly sheer delight that bloody-mindedness had finally won through. It’s a story people seem to like. Three dogged years, the same as a degree.
But that’s the story again, not me. I am in the corner, flaking quietly onto your margherita. I apologise – although you know with the voucher, it’s practically free.
* Admittedly this only happened once. But once is more than enough.
** I am being unfair, of course. Yet she is a ripe, ripe orchard for this kind of thing. She did make me a ‘Congratulations!’ cake with miniature figures on it. I promptly burst into floods of tears, a torrent which I strongly suspect had been building up a fortnight.