Sunday, 25 August 2013

We are go

Well, this has been . . . the most wonderful, insane, overwhelming week of my life. I'm quite daunted by the task of writing it all down. I'm so sorry for not posting earlier – my schedule's been a bit crazy – but I hope you all caught my video from 19 August. 

As you all know, The Bone Season was finally released on 20 August 2013. That same night it was #5 on Amazon. It also received a wonderful review from the Wall Street Journal (beware spoilers), was chosen as TODAY's inaugural Book Club pick, and was covered by news outlets all over the world. Four days later, I'm still in shock. I never expected the novel to be picked up on by so many people and publications. It's just been incredible. Thank you.   


The night before publication, I was staying in a B&B in Gower Street, as I had an early start the next day. There was a charming little mouse in the room, which I encountered after getting out of the shower, so I had to move to a different room in the middle of the night. The manager even asked me to stand on a chair while he looked for it, which was faintly hilarious. In the morning I did a short interview with BBC Woman's Hour, in which I discussed – as usual, because it's a Subject I Discuss now – Benedict Cumberbatch, among other things. (The presenter actually said 'Cumberbitches' live on air. Score.) I then spent the day rushing around getting ready for the book launch Bloomsbury held for me at their London office.

I was lucky enough to be joined by six of my best friends – Ilana, Vickie, Richard, Claire, Jenny and Roxie – and my mum, my stepdad and my little brother, Alfie, as well as pretty much everyone from Bloomsbury and DGA, for the launch party. It was wonderful to be able to meet even more of the staff at Bloomsbury. Even though a lot of them are working on the book, I hadn't met them in person before. Will and Chloe from Imaginarium were both there, and even Nigel Newton, founder and CEO of Bloomsbury, whose daughter Alice 'saved' Harry Potter when she pestered him to publish it, turned up to say hello. Alexandra got up and made a fantastically eloquent speech, then presented me with some lovely publication presents, including a framed, glitter-dusted 3D cover of The Bone Season from designer David Mann (read my interview with him about the cover here) and a cake shaped like the book. 

But the absolute best present, without doubt, which got this reaction, 
followed by copious hysterical laughter and tears


was this


My Holy Grail. Yes, it's Warden's gramophone! I still can't believe it. It plays everything: records, CDs, iPod music, radio. And even though it's modern – Alexandra said that, like The Bone Season, it "brings past and present together" – it still has that gritty 1920s crackle. Bloomsbury couldn't possibly have given me a better publication present. So I got a bit weepy and made a slightly less eloquent speech than Alexandra's and then we all had cake and I signed books for my friends, which was a very surreal experience. Afterwards we all went out for a meal, then Vickie, Ilana and I went back to the B&B, as we all had early starts the next day. We were all too wired to sleep for hours, so I only hit the pillow at about 3AM. Which wasn't a great idea, as I had to get up three hours later. 

I was woken in the morning by the lovely Amanda Shipp from Bloomsbury, who sent me a text that was really far too cheerful for 6AM. It actually included exclamation marks. At six. I clawed myself out of bed and was in the car to King's Cross St. Pancras by 7AM, and then we were on our way to our first stop in what we decided to christen The North Tour. First stop was Derby, cradle of the Industrial Revolution. We were driven around the Midlands by Max Bridgewater, Bloomsbury's sales rep for the area. I did stock signings in Derby, Doncaster, Nottingham and Chesterfield, then finished off in Sheffield, where I did an event at the Orchard Square branch of Waterstones. I had a bigger audience than I'd expected – one man came all the way from Stratford-upon-Avon just to see me! I spoke about my publishing experience and got some great questions from the audience. It was my first time speaking in public as a published author and Sheffield was a very welcoming city to speak in. Thank you! 

After the event, Amanda and I were straight on the train to Manchester. The train went through the Pennines at sunset. We arrived in the city in the evening and I fell in love with it straight away – I can picture it very clearly as a Scion citadel, and indeed, in the world of The Bone Season it is one: SciMan. It hasn't been mentioned in the series yet, but keep an eye out.


The next day I was up early again to go on BBC Breakfast, which is filmed in MediaCityUK, Salford, Manchester, where BBC North is based. It's a huge building. Amanda and I were led upstairs by a helpful guide, and I had my makeup and hair done at top speed before I was taken to the studio. Both the hosts had read The Bone Season, and they asked some really interesting questions – cameras aside, it ended up feeling like a chat, so I wasn't too nervous. You can watch the whole interview here. Afterwards we met Terry Lee, who kindly drove Amanda and I to Waterstones Deansgate so I could sign another stack of books. Then it was train time again – this time to the misty land of Scotland, where the Edinburgh International Book Festival 2013 was waiting. 

The festival is held in a series of tents in Charlotte Square, Edinburgh. I had time to freshen up quickly in the hotel before I was off to the Author's Yurt, which is really a big tent with a fancy name. (Ugh, yurt. Terrible word.) My first event was a panel called 'Where Have All the Brave Girls Gone? Heroines in Literature'. It was chaired by Kate Mosse, author of Labyrinth, a novel I absolutely loved. I was joined on the panel by Julia Donaldson, former Children's Laureate and author of a plethora of children's books (including The Gruffalo), and Australian author James Marsden. We had an hour-long conversation about the role of female protagonists in both adult and children's fiction. The panel was prompted by Kate's concern that in adult novels, the female 'hero' disappears – her quest become orientated around marriage or settlement of some kind. Brave, adventurous heroines become invisible once we move past. Kate says a 'hero' is an active protagonist, no matter what their sex – they must act, rather than be acted upon – and she strives to write about women who fit that role. James said he rarely thinks about what sex a character is when he begins writing; they tend to just come to him. Julia, on the other hand, says there is a new sense of political correctness she faces when writing both male and female characters, especially in educational books – she can't, for example, write about a little girl helping Mother in the kitchen anymore. I talked about my thoughts on female characters being labelled 'strong' and 'kickass', to the point where books are shelved as 'books with strong female characters'. After the panel I had dinner with Alexandra, Amanda, Alexandra's husband Rick, Lucy Ellmann (author of Mimi) and her husband Todd, then went back to the hotel and slept for a long, long time. 

The next day I did an interview before going to the Edinburgh Bookshop to do some stock signing. One of the booksellers, Cat Anderson, is a big supporter of The Bone Season – it was lovely to finally meet her in person. After that we rushed back to the festival for my second panel. This one was called 'Dystopian Dramas for a New Age', part of a series events for the First Book Award, which celebrates new writing at EIBF. I was speaking with James Smythe, author of a fantastic, claustrophobic dystopia called The Machine, among others (he's written four novels, technically, but he doesn't count the 'terrible first one'). The panel was chaired by Scottish crime writer Russel Mclean. We both read from our books before having a great discussion about dystopian fiction, memory, our mums, and much more. (Russel was so impressed with our readings he physically fell backwards off his chair. Honestly.) Karen Howlett at Cornflower Books has done a great recap of the panel here. James and I did a signing straight after the panel.      

And then came the best part of the day. Dinner. 

So just before the festival, I'd double-checked my itinerary and noticed the following scheduled event: 'Informal drinks with Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman'. I'd assumed this was a mistake, and they'd meant to put this on someone else's schedule, but next thing I knew I was in a bar, at a table, with Neil Gaiman on my left and Margaret Atwood on my right. Apparently it really had been scheduled. And I was actually in a room with my hero. 

Note: This is where my blog post will deteriorate into gushing about two of my favourite authors. Apologies in advance. 

I've met Neil Gaiman before, at a Bloomsbury event, but that didn't make it any less amazing to hang out with him again. Dressed in his characteristic black, with his characteristic mad hair, he was just as cool as ever. At this stage I was far too terrified to talk to Margaret Atwood, though I did shake her hand and mumble something about being a huge fan – understatement of the century. I don't know why, but I expected her to be much taller than she is, possibly because she's a literary legend, and I imagined her towering above me in a haze of intelligence and greatness. In reality, she's very petite and dignified, with unruly curls and a slightly coy smile. I could feel my insides curling up as I thought of how utterly incoherent and stupid-sounding I was about to become, so I just didn't say anything. Great. Nice work, Samantha. Fortunately, Neil remembered who I was and was kind enough to introduce me to everyone properly, which helped untwist my frazzled nerves. Incredibly, he'd been on tour since the last time we'd met, and he estimated that he'd signed his name on various objects about 50K times. That's . . . quite a lot of signatures. I was thrilled to tell him how much my nine year-old brother had enjoyed his new children's book – Fortunately, the Milk – and how much I'd loved The Ocean at the End of the Lane. He seemed relieved that my brother had enjoyed it – he said it was the first feedback he'd heard about his target audience's response to the book. He was also happy that Alfie had completely understood the time travel and loopholes in the book; apparently there had been some concern that it might be too complicated for kids. But Alfie totally got that if the milk touched the milk the world would end.  

We got into two separate taxis to go to a restaurant. I was with Neil and Madeline Feeny from Bloomsbury, who had been keeping Margaret company for her tour. So I actually got to spend twenty minutes in a taxi with Neil Gaiman. Which was surreal. We talked about reviews, The Comments ('never read them') and how he came to be friends with Margaret Atwood ('She's fantastic,' he assured me, seeing my slightly awestruck, petrified expression). When we got to the restaurant, I was seated between Frank Dik├Âtter, Dutch-born author of the Samuel Johnson Prize-winning book Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe (2010), and Ellie Wixon, who works for Blackwell's Edinburgh. Neil had to leave about halfway through the meal, as he was judging a Deathmatch at EIBF. Shortly after that, once the main course was over, we all moved places. And I ended up next to Margaret Atwood. And it was one of those dinner situations where everyone else around you is talking to someone else, so I had to talk to her, or risk a yawning, awkward silence. 

Oh, God, the fear. My mind just went blank. What would I say to her? She gave me an encouraging smile, saying nothing. I could feel myself mouthing like a stunned goldfish. 'Um,' I said, 'it really is such an honour to meet you.' She gave a modest little wave of her hand and asked me about my book. I stammered something about it being a dystopia but really I just wanted to say how much The Handmaid's Tale had changed my WHOLE LIFE, and although it's the only book of yours I've read Margaret it's just wonderful and although I am halfway through Oryx and Crake well that first book will always be the best one because it was just so real and it really inspired my own writing and it's just like, God, it REALLY COULD HAPPEN and it introduced me to feminism and speculative fiction and stuff and it's JAST SHO WANDERFAL. 

Yes, the brain-mouth filter. That went somewhere. 

Anyway, Margaret took this all in her stride. (She must get it a lot.) She picked up on my point about The Handmaid's Tale feeling very real, and said that when she wrote it in the 1980s, it hadn't seemed quite as likely to happen - but in the 21st century, with technology gathering all our data, Offred's story is far closer to becoming reality. I told her that the most haunting scene, for me, was the one in which June tries to withdraw money from her bank account and finds she can't, as she has been legally made her husband's property and is barred from controlling her own finances. Now, Margaret said, that could definitely happen. That got us onto the subject of feminism. I told her all about the #twittersilence in the UK, which she hadn't heard about. Margaret said she just blocks or ignores trolls. I noticed she has this wonderful way of speaking. When you pose Margaret Atwood a question, she really thinks about it – she'd often fall into long, contemplative silences. When she replied, it was always with something meaningful and wise. Unlike most people, who are naturally inclined to talk about whatever comes into their head between sentences, she has this incredible gravitas, and isn't compelled to fill the silence with babble. There's no um-ing and ah-ing. Crime author James Runcie joined in the conversation when the dessert came, and we all shared some of our embarrassing or weird author stories. Margaret told us a hilarious anecdote about when she did a book signing in a men's underwear store in Canada, and another when she was signing in a bookshop and only one person arrived. At least one of the stories is detailed in the anthology Mortification: Writers' Stories of Their Public Shame (2005) which I'm definitely ordering. 

At the end of the meal, Margaret signed my hardback of Oryx and Crake for me. I'll treasure it. I actually had a bit of a cry after she left. I always get nervous when I meet people I admire – I'm afraid they won't be what I expected, somehow, or that they'll be rude or snobbish or spiteful – but she just wasn't like that at all.

And now I'm back in London! What a week. Phew. Thank you to everyone who attended my talks; your support has given me so much confidence as a newly published author. I hope those of you who have bought The Bone Season are enjoying it. 

Next up, I'll be posting about how to get your book signed, and why you shouldn't pay £500 for a copy of The Bone Season on eBay. (Spoiler: don't. Seriously, don't.) 

24 comments:

  1. Best of luck with the book, Samantha. I bought my copy today :)

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  2. It sounds like you are living the dream. Good on you! Will be looking out for the book when I get to the book store; so excited!

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  3. That is some crazy cool adventure happy writing!

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  4. What? £500 for a book published last week? That is really huge amount. I know some rare books are very very expensive
    http://tinyurl.com/l4naqg4

    But, didn’t understand this. Is first edition/printing of TBS is in small quantity? It's just silly that some people are buying on regular price and selling them on these rates.

    Anyways, so glad your book is finally released! Such a lovely gift of gramophone by Bloomsbury.

    Now, please write book 2 fast!

    p.s. Just checked your social media profiles from the above links and noticed that you are missing something on facebook. Let me explain this, just see your facebook page url address:

    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Samantha-Shannon/415659415190477

    Its a long one with extra letters and hard to remember address. Now, what you have to do is that grab any available custom username. I think SamanthaShannon is already taken, so you have to decide for yourself what is best for you.

    For example, this will be final outcome,

    https://www.facebook.com/SamanthaShannonJones

    Just go here and do this: https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=457770375843

    And please do this BEFORE publishing this comment! Anyone can take any available name.

    I suggest to verify your facebook profile. Didn’t know much about twitter, but i also suggest to verify your twitter profile also to block all those stupid activities you are talking about in this post.


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    1. Hi Mohsin,

      Thanks, I've done that – it's SamanthaShannonAuthor.

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  5. Had gone into withdrawal for want of a good read and i came upon ur interview in t2 edition of The Telegraph(India)...got the book.It was so insanely fast-paced i wrapped it up in 7hrs..and it was the BEST 7hrs of my life for a long,long time...im so very thankful to u for writing such an awesome novel....eagerly waiting for the 6 more to come...in the meantime,ill make do with revisions*of the bone season*;P :D

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    1. So glad to hear you enjoyed it! I'll write the next six as fast as I can...

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  6. Hellooo :) Living the dream! You deserve it! Your book is going to be huge! Looking forward to the London book signing (hopefully there will be one in October *finger's crossed* as that is when I will officially be in London for my masters).

    p.s. I have told everyone who I know to read your book. It's getting to the point of ridiculous now...I told a woman I barely knew and who I worked with for the last four weeks about it. Let's just say it's been a long time I have read a book that I have not been able to put down in favour for sleep. Keep it up and most importantly keep dreaming! Dream big!

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  7. Hi Samantha,
    I saw your interview on BBC Breakfast and I have to say that it inspired me to put my thoughts to paper and I am half way through my second chapter of my own book. (Never attempted anything like this before!).

    Can I ask? Did you screw up many bits of paper until something sounded just right or did you just put pen to paper and not stop? I find I am going through quite alot of paper at the moment haha!

    Many thanks for the inspiration and I hope to pick up a copy of TBS soon. (Not for £500)

    Take Care
    Frank

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  8. I bought your book and Neil's on the same day, last week.
    Samantha, your book is not my usual genre, but I have nearly finished it and it so powerful it has inspired me and made me think. I am so glad I bought it. Now you have me trying to separate my mind from my body every time I lie down.
    It really got me going!
    Thanks!
    Sue x

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    1. Hi Sue – I'm so thrilled you enjoyed it! Thanks for commenting. x

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  9. Congratulations on the release and success of your book! I was curious if you were planning on coming to the states to tour for the book? If not for this one then hopefully for one of the subsequent books.

    Congratulations again. I can't wait for the rest of the series.

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    1. Hi Jeremy,

      Thank you! Usually debut authors don't go on organised tours until the paperback comes out, especially in big territories like the US, but I will be in NYC in September doing a reading.

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  10. It is honestly amazing to hear about what your pub day and post-pub day experiences were like! I'm glad The Bone Season had such a warm, wide reception, as it so well deserves. I'm definitely recommending it left and right and will consider it a personal success if more people pick it up! I'm sad that I'll be missing you in NY in September though! :(

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    1. It's okay, the event was cancelled anyway – I'm sure I'll be back in the US soon!

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  11. I'm glad you had such an amazing pub day! I'm so excited for you that you met Margaret Atwood. I think you did great! I'm pretty sure all she would have gotten out of me is a wide eyed stare and no blinking :P.

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    1. That's pretty much all she got out of me for a good half a minute...

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  12. Okay, now you've done it. You've got me, random reader in Los Angeles, totally hooked. Yes, I opened my kindle app to get in a paragraph while waiting in my daughter's school line, while my baby complained in the grocery parking lot, while I cooked dinner... so thanks for a wonderfully fun diversion with a real female hero with actual volition (sorry Hunger Games). And let me be perhaps the first Reader to KINDLY request that you write fast. Seven books is a serious commitment. I'm sure I speak for a growing legion of fans who long to complete your delicious series before retirement. So please, don't pull an RR. And thanks for a fun ride.

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    1. I'm so glad to hear you loved it. I will try my utmost not to pull an RR. Although I totally understand why he takes so long... ASOIAF reaches a level of epic that I could never reach. *wistful look*

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  13. .....And I wonder when the book will get into Nigeria.I got to know of TBS even before it was published because I read nytimes,guardian etc online...You are same age with me and that makes me more interested.My grief remains that I don't know when I would find TBS in bookstores here.

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    1. I wonder, too! I'm not actually sure about how distribution works in African territories. We haven't sold it in the Nigerian language but I've seen it available in English in some places to which we haven't yet sold translation rights. I'll try and find out for you.

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