This is another extract from the talk I gave at the launch of Tying Down The Lion, this time about the moment I found out my book would be published and how we should trust in our own unique writer's voice.
I spent years living within the history of post-war socialism to the extent where one daughter announced I had essentially become a communist. I think she was referring to our empty fridge.
However, finishing was just the beginning. I had to look up from a desk cluttered with books, papers, sixties magazines and comics, pictures, cuttings and essential replica bars of Cold War chocolate - and find a publisher.
I found it so much harder than writing, this moment of actually approaching real people. This might be a good point, I realised, to change tack and become a potter or a rug-weaver instead.
The experts who write books on getting published rightly suggest sending sparkly letters of enquiry, buffing your synopsis to a gleaming mirror-finish and making yourself sound like an irresistible person to work with.
However, I am not able to do that - or be that. I submitted the manuscript to Lara Schonberger at Brick Lane Publishing with the rather hopeless, if honest, words, “I have written a novel I don’t know what to do with.”
Fortunately, Lara read it and did know what to do with it.
When she said yes, it felt like a hundredweight of birthday presents, the culmination of all the dawn starts, false starts and restarts. My five years of work had taken me from the original short story, via an overweight and unmanageable tome, to this complete novel—the rightful end to the year, over thirty-five years ago, when I lived in a Germany scored into slices, with people scarred by shame.
But did I celebrate?
Not immediately, no. I asked my husband if there could be two Joanna Campbells who had submitted novels to Brick Lane Publishing. He said there was thankfully only the one.
And every writer is unique. Each one owns their own inimitable, instinctive voice. If authors are loyal to themselves, they succeed.
My voice tells stories of ordinary people in extraordinary situations with a weave of wry humour, the sort that binds life together when it is at its most fragile, stitching its way through every dark twist and turn—a line of gold thread through fabric black with despair.
That is how I write. That is who I am.
Author of The Purple Hibiscus, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, said:
"Please do not twist yourself into shapes to please. Don’t do it. If someone likes that version of you, that version of you that is false and holds back, then they actually just like that twisted shape, and not you. And the world is such a gloriously multifaceted, diverse place that there are people in the world who will like you, the real you, as you are."
I like this church how it is.