My first novel has just gone out of print. I didn't know books went out of print any more, what with print on demand publishing, and I it's left me feeling rather stumped.
The Drink and Dream Teahouse, because that is her name, was my first literary love affair: an intense and passionate love affair. I threw everything I had into her. When I was away from the computer, I couldn't stop thinking about the story and the characters, and what they were going to do next. I became tense and cranky. I wanted to get home and touch her again, I recited her opening paragraphs to myself and laughed out loud, and if she could have spoken I would have called her late at night on the phone. When I was writing her she made my life a mix of extremes.
When I had sat and written something that I knew was great, I could run a marathon; drink a case of wine; go find a woman. Sometimes I combined all three. And when she was finished, I plunged into depression and despair, and missed the excitement of creating. When she went out into the world alone, I probably sang 'Wild World' and thought of her and cried.
But now she's out of print. It's a personal thing for me. It makes me feel sad, like autumn, the scent of jasmine and walking along the playing fields I used to play in as a child.
Make no mistake: The Drink and Dream Teahouse was a great novel. The Washington Post picked her as one of the Top Reads of 2001. She won a Betty Trask Award, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize; was translated into 13 languages, and she was so profound that the Mainland Chinese government even banned her! But she was charming too, and was good at attracting attention for me at parties: and it was because of her that I sat and shared a cup of tea with Valerie Eliot, TS Eliot's widow.
But also a lot of things happened which weren't great, like they do to all doomed relationships. My editor and I both left the publishing house before the paperback launched, so I guess she was launched somewhat half-heatedly. In the US she launched a month after September 11th, and disappeared, like so many people, into that great pile of rubble.
When I got the email last night, my first reaction was to go onto Amazon and search for new copies of her I could buy. I need new copies for my children, and their children, if life blesses me with those. But I also felt relief: despite the great memories. I left her behind a long time ago, went onto other novels and other stories, and now I feel that she has finally left me alone. The door is closed. She is that nagging ex-girlfriend who has finally got a life of her own, and has moved away from town.
She lives on of course, on living room bookshelves and in second hand bookshops, and when a reader opens that first page she blooms effortlessly into full flower, without regret or hesitation or remorse. Unlike real girlfriends, who age or sag or loose too much weight or hang around with dorks, or harbour bitter memories, she is still as beautiful as the day she left me. As the day we left each other, I should say.
You know, if I were you I'd go and find yourself a copy. Get a hardback and protect the dust jacket in a slip-case. Get a good bookcase to sit her on, and surround her with great books.
Cherish her - don't leave her there to dust and fade in the sun! Bring her down occasionally, open her wide on your lap, pick a page at random, or a favourite scene, and she will sing arias, as she sang to me that summer I created her.