Thursday, September 13, 2007

Goodbye to all that

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.


Wynn Bexton said...

Well isn't that a bummer? I didn't know books would go out of print in such a short time. I mean, she was not even 10 years old, just a baby book. Will you try to republish her?

Justin Hill said...

Hi Wynn!
I was quite surprised as well, but i think the reason is more to do with the fact I left that publishing company six or so years ago, and my editor left at a similar time. I think there's a clause in the contract that states if the book remains out of print for a certain amount of time, then i think their rights to it lapse, but I'll have to check on that.
It'd be good to get my current publishers to get the rights, and then I'm working with people who will be motivated to help promote the book.

kf29 said...

What sad news...I also can't believe a well-received book would go out of print so quickly...probably quite telling as to the current state of the publishing industry.
I remember many years ago I was working as a bookseller at Waterstone's Piccadilly and you came in with some friends, with them proudly presenting you and telling me about the publication of the book (I think you may have had a few celebratory drinks at the Anyway, we had a whole pile of them and you signed them for us. Sad to think the book is now out of print.

Justin Hill said...

Hi Kf49!

thanks for stopping by!

I remember the day well. It was actually the warm-up to my stag night, and we'd just watched England lose to someone at rugby. I was just sober enough to feel very humiliated, but you guys took a bunch of drunks very well - and you never even asked for id before I got my pen out and started signing!

Justin Hill said...

of course i meant to say 'Hi kf29!'! ;-)