Sunday, 4 July 2010

A Peek Into My Private Hell

Ooh, look, here's me in the Irish edition of today's Sunday Times. And guess what? I'm shamelessly plugging the book. Don't let the picture fool you though, my head is actually bigger than that in real life, and my legs are even shorter.

Fortunately the misspelling of 'ukulele' in the subhead isn't mine and it's spelt correctly in the bits I wrote. Phew. For anyone lucky enough to miss it, here's the text:

The week begins with me hunched and whimpering over the page proofs of my new book. This is the final editorial stage of the process when the publisher sends me the manuscript formatted as it’ll appear on publication so I can make any last minute tweaks to the text and, hopefully, spot any glaring errors. Actually the glaring errors are fine, it’s the ones that just glance indifferently at you that are the problem.

The knowledge that this is the last I’ll see of the book before it appears in the shops also means the goblin of chronic self-doubt is at his most taunting. “For the love of Elvis,” he giggles in my head, “the whole thing reads like it was written by a twelve year old for whom English isn’t even a second language”.

It’s far too late to delete the lot and start again so I note down a list of minor alterations and e-mail them to my editor in London, hoping that books written in the style of a twelve year old for whom English isn’t even a second language will be the next big thing after Stieg Larsson.

People keep commiserating with me over England’s exit from the World Cup. I was born and lived in England until moving here a couple of years ago but I’ve never been a fan of the national team. I’m not really sure why: maybe my lifelong relationship with Charlton Athletic is a purely monogamous (if largely unrequited) one.

Hence I was able to enjoy a deliciously inventive German performance rather than having to be talked in from the window ledge like many of my compatriots. If there is a positive from England’s capitulation though, the thought of a distraught James Corden is a very pleasing one.

My editor Zoe e-mails me back. ‘Many thanks for your swift work,’ she says. The self-doubt goblin – let’s call him Trevor in an attempt to make him seem less sinister – immediately whispers, ‘swift work, eh? Not good, not excellent, her only comment is about how quickly you did it. She thinks it’s rubbish.’.

Zoe goes on to tell me that the proof-reader is a Dubliner who said she’d really enjoyed the book. As it’s about moving to Ireland and my developing relationship with the people, places and culture here I’m hugely relieved to hear this. Trevor has had me convinced I’m going to be run out of the country by an angry mob within hours of publication.
This Tuesday it will be exactly two years since I arrived in Ireland, in the rain and just in time for the recession to really hit its straps (I tell people I moved here for the climate and the strong economy). Things I have noticed in particular include how often people use the phrase ‘at this stage’, and the pleasingly high number of folk who thank the bus driver as they’re getting off. If you thank a bus driver in London there’s a good chance he’ll pepper-spray you.

I think I’m assimilating reasonably well, all told. I knew I was developing my inner culchie when I heard a financial report on the radio mention the Hang Seng and it didn’t sound right without ‘-idge’ on the end.

There are two ukuleles on my desk this week. This must mean I’ve been thinking. I love my ukuleles. All, erm, sixteen of them (they’re all different and all utterly essential. No, they are).

Unfortunately my enthusiasm outpaces anything approaching talent by a considerable distance, but seeing two here on my desk is I think a positive sign of productivity: my girlfriend once told me she can always tell when I’m thinking because I start playing the ukulele. She thought for a moment and added that I don’t play the ukulele much.

The week ends with an unexpected trickle of nice e-mails arriving from people who’ve enjoyed my books. Writing a book is an odd process. For months it’s just the two of you locked away together until you emerge back into society wearing a navel-length beard studded with animal bones and brandishing a manuscript.

Then it’s suddenly not yours any more, it belongs to publishers, editors, proof-readers, publicists, reviewers, bookshops and finally readers. When a reader takes the trouble to track you down and tell you how much they enjoyed it there’s no finer feeling in the world.

Trevor’s trying to disagree, but he’s finding it hard to make himself understood with a ukulele rammed down his throat.

‘Our Man In Hibernia: Ireland, The Irish And Me’ will be published in September by Little, Brown. Charlie Connelly is @charlieconnelly on Twitter.

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