Flight 1000 Associate / writer JJ Bola shares his experience of publishing his first novel, No Place to Call Home.
You’ve been working on this for some time. How long is irrelevant; what drove you to write and the intensity of the experience of writing is what actually matters. It starts off quite uncertain, being pushed, blindfolded, into an unfamiliar room, stumbling like a toddler learning to walk, going to the country of the language you’ve been learning and actually having to make conversation. You fall in love with the process. Everything you do brings you back to it, everything is a reminder that you should be writing. And so, like a taboo addiction, like a forbidden love, you make time for it; late nights, early mornings, in secret, hidden, in every free moment, often isolating yourself from your friends and loved ones (they just don’t understand); cancelling plans and social engagements just so you can write.
Then one day, one mysterious day, unbeknownst to you, as if by magic, deriving from an unknown force, you finish. You’re free. Hopefully, at this exact moment, there’ll be someone you know around to celebrate with you. There isn’t. Most likely, you’ll be at a public library or café, waving your arms in the air and fist-pumping in celebration, whilst on-lookers stare at you oblivious to the fact that you have just conquered the world.
You have an agent (don’t worry, you can still get published without one), who you send your work to. The five seconds after clicking the send button that sweet relief is like a baptism. After this, a gut-wrenching anxiety follows. Your agent loves it. They do. But they are critical; you need them to be – it’s their job. Then, you go through the editing period. This is the most difficult part, the part no one warned you about. It is not fun. It is painstaking, arduous and laborious. It is about as much fun as clipping a stranger’s toe nails on a packed Northern Line tube to Morden via Charing Cross, and you got on at Edgware. You finish and send it back to your agent (the draft, not the toenails). They love it. They send it to all the editors/publishers in the world. They say to you, choose the one who is most passionate about your story. If you’re lucky, there’ll be a furious bid for it, which will result in you signing a deal worth lots of money, and it will change your life; you buy your mum a house, you quit your job, and retire at the tender age of whatever age you are now that you don’t like to mention. But this is rare. Most likely, you are offered some money, hopefully some decent money, from somewhere, which you use for some things, maybe even to live on for a bit, clear up some debt and buy stuff.
The day comes when you finally get to hold your book for the first time. You see and feel the physical embodiment of a figment of your imagination. Something that came from nothing, from air, less than air. It is incredible. It moves you in a way you were not ready for, like falling in love unexpectedly, like the view of the horizon from a mountain peak; it is breath-taking, awe-inspiring. It evokes all the memories in you of the intensity of writing it, the pain and the heartache, the joy and the sadness. You might cry. You do. You have every right to.
Then, after a short while it is published. You have a book launch. It is glorious; all book launches are. Your book is now available in print for the world to purchase, to read, to consume. Hopefully they do, all of them, everyone in the world. They won’t but that’s okay. A lot of people will read it. Not your friends, or closest people to you, at least not right away, though they’ll buy the book to support you, and you’ll make your peace with that. Mostly it is people who you did not expect, people from the furthest places. They send you emails and messages about how your work has impacted them, and connected with them on profoundly emotionally level. They give you reflections about the characters and themes that no one else has. They express their shock at a plot twist or two, and get mad at you for the ending, insisting they want more. This is okay. It’s because they care. They were that invested in the lives of the characters. You reply expressing your gratitude and thanks, maybe you have a back and forth about various things, especially if they’re also an aspiring writer asking for advice, to which you’ll reply with the only advice you can give: write!
You do readings at festivals, at book shops and other events. People will ask you questions. You get flown to somewhere you’ve always wanted to go, and whilst on the plane, you strike up conversation with someone, most likely a Flight Attendant, who asks you what you do and you tell them you’re a writer going for a book festival, and they reply ‘oh?’ in a surprised tone. You get this reaction a lot. It’s okay. Writing is the one profession that is universally respected, even though you don’t really make much money from it – at least not until later. You meet new people and have new experiences so far contrasting from the moments you spent alone writing. You don’t want to leave, but you have to. On the flight back, you don’t talk much. You sit next to someone who tries to take a peek at what you’re reading mid-flight. You put on your favourite song, the one that takes you to that faraway place in the corner of your mind. You land safely. You appreciate landing safely more than you ever did before. You return to the place where you wrote this book. And there you find yourself, sitting, waiting, writing, as if you never left.
JJ’s debut novel ‘No Place To Call Home’ is available to buy from OWN IT! London and all good bookstores near you!