Envy & the Bookstore Visit
It's a memory now, but it used to be dreadful. I'd step inside the doors, see the towers of new books on tables, my heart would shrivel and my breath go tight. I'd pick them up because there's always the chance of finding some new book I like and read the reviews on the back covers. I'd open some pages at random, for most writers reveal themselves in just a few sentences and I know the sort of clean prose that refreshes me. And time after time my reaction would be "How can anyone pile such praise on such crap?"
Deeper than that, more passionate, more abiding, was "Why them and not me?" It was worse when my novel ON BENDED KNEES came out to stellar reviews, got shortlisted for the Whitbread, and Picador (Peter Straus, you're a hard guy to forgive even now!) pulled the plug on the paperback release. The hardback sold out, and my public career evaporated. Salman Rushdie later spouted on about needing the paperback of SATANIC VERSES to come out so it would have posterity and go on all the university courses ... well pardon me for finding such bleating less than affecting! Grrr. Where were you when my own book needed such support? Where was anybody?
I am better now though. Honest. I'm on the side of writers and ready to cheer any who make it out there, especially those with a tad of difference to them, for it's so bloody hard to make it out in the world. It's probably eased by finding I WAS CARLOS CASTANEDA in most of the stores I visited in the US through the summer. Sometimes there was not even a need to rearrange the books to make mine more prominent, they were already well sited.
I'm off to London today, where my books are not to be found. Watkins, the bookseller on Cecil Court just off St Martin's Lane, used to be relied on to have a stack, even importing from the US. On my last visit they did manage to drum up a second-hand copy of IN SEARCH OF THE DIVINE MOTHER, though their whole Mother Meera selection (it's an esoteric shop!) had disappeared. And somehow that's fine. I'm new to London, ready to make my mark on the city again, know my writing's become damn good and will muscle into its rightful slot on those bookshelves soon. It's good to find out what's been going on in my absence. Attacks of envy don't cripple me any more.
I suppose in some ways Peter Straus (the man's name doesn't even make sense in its spelling!) casting me off into the wilderness allowed me to head off into the wilds of New Mexico and the Pyrenees, enjoy years of genuine wilderness that have only enriched me. And that bitch who soured my string of fine reviews by her venemous one full of spite and vitriol in the Sunday Times, a new novelist herself, remains nameless to me and I trust merrily unknown to the world. I find books of hers on the shelves today that spring her name to mind, I'll run them off and hide them behind some manuals on the computing shelves!