When I was a teenager I used to walk to school past a bakery that sold hot toast, dripping with golden butter, and it was butter too, none of your silly supposed substitutes.
I grew up in a tourist resort and at least a third of my schoolfellows were the children of restaurateurs, hoteliers and guest-house owners so we couldn’t be fobbed off with imitation saturated fat: it had to be the real thing, from its lacy white borders to the salty tang of the puddle in the middle of the slice (and we never let anybody cut our toast in half, because the butter runs off the cut edge).
I too was the child of hoteliers, and left behind me a kitchen full of breakfast chefs, short-order cooks and even waiters and waitresses who would have made me some toast, if I’d asked. Perhaps they wouldn’t have done it willingly, but you don’t turn down requests from the boss’s daughter, that’s for sure. I could have had French toast, or toast and honey, or even toast with a little pot of jam like the guests got with their continental breakfast. But that wasn’t what I wanted.
I wanted to BUY my toast. I wanted the ownership to be mine, the choice of French bread, white bread or brown to be mine and the responsibility of eating it walking along the road (and dripping butter on my school tie) to be mine. I wanted to ball up the paper bag it came in and throw it in a bin. I wanted to be a grown up.
And so it is with books. I was happy to have anthology publications, don’t get me wrong, I loved, and still love, anthologies – I’ve met some great people through appearing in print alongside them, and been to some incredible readings with fellow anthologists. But a book all to yourself is a far more grown-up thing. You get to make choices: will you contact this luminary person to try and get a quote from them, or will you leave it to your publisher? Who will write the blurb for the back cover? How much do you want to reveal of yourself in the author’s note? Which photograph shall you supply for jacket purposes and how will you feel when you see yourself postage-stamp-sized, beaming like a horsy lunatic, clutching an appropriate prop and looking as if you are about to commit a peculiarly gruesome murder in Midsomer (or is that just my response to my jacket photograph?) Is your current clever marketing idea clever or just daft and should you run it by somebody at the publishers or just go ahead anyway? (Jury still out on both aspects of this one)
So I am growing up – sometimes happily, like eating toast in the street, and sometimes kicking and screaming like a two-year-old having a supermarket tantrum, but either way, it’s definitely a fascinating experience.
PS – guess which one is me?
PPS – yes I do know I seem to be channeling Nigel Slater – there are worse things to channel, believe me!