Like many people, I’m trying to find things to be positive about right now, even in these anxious days. So it was nice to be reminded that it’s my book birthday this week – that it’s a whole 8 years since the first Dark Dates book ventured into the world. At the time, I already had two books published (Doll and No Love is This, which were with a small press publisher, though I have since rereleased them), and publishing Dark Dates myself through Amazon was as much an experiment as it was anything else – I liked the story and wanted to get it out into the world, but I also wanted to try out indie publishing, and explore the freedom that it offered, which appealed to me as a self-employed freelancer.
Putting a book out into the world yourself – and, even harder, trying to market said book – is a tough process, and one hell of a learning curve. But although it hasn’t always been easy, it’s also brought more joys than I ever could have expected.
For a start, it spawned a series that has brought me genuine delight. I’ve fallen in love with these characters (and I’m thrilled that other people have too). They have taken on a life of their own, sometimes refusing to behave how I want them to (for instance, when I first wrote Vampire in Edinburgh, Laclos wasn’t even supposed to be in it: he turned up, unannounced, midway through, and I just had to let him stay). These books have seen me through some tough times. When I was coming off my summer of homelessness, mourning my mum and my friend, writing these stories gave me solace and kept me going, and putting out a digital short (the aforementioned Vamp in Edinburgh) felt like a proper achievement when the rest of my life felt like it was going to hell.
The books were better received than I could have imagined. I’m eternally grateful to all the readers who were kind enough to review the books or give me nice feedback, and to all the wonderful bloggers who took a chance on an unknown indie author and read and reviewed my books, or hosted guest posts and Q&As on their blogs for me. What had started as a one-off idea spun into a series that went from London to New York via Edinburgh and Brighton and the Lake District, facing foes that veered from werewolves to homicidal sheep (yes, really), and I’ve never had as much fun in my life as I have crafting these stories.
They’ve built friendships, these books: there are a whole bunch of wonderful people I am closer to because of them, who worked with me to get them out in the world and supported them on their journey, from my publishing consultant Caroline Goldsmith – who was just starting her own indie journey at the time – to all my amazing beta readers, and the people I met through book-related sites like Bookcrossing and groups like Byte the Book.
They’ve made lots of people happy: I still get messages from people telling me they read Dark Dates (or my romcom, Bridesmaid Blues, which I released a little while after) when they were going through tough times, and these silly little stories with their Supernatural jokes and Buffy references cheered them up when they needed distraction or when the world seemed a unhappy place. As a writer who places connection above all else, such messages made my heart sing.
And I’ve been thinking about that, lately. It’s no secret that I have fallen behind in the series, the follow up to Angel Falls‘ cliffhanger delayed and almost derailed by the demands of my job, of moving cities, and – if I am honest – a slump in my motivation. I’ve been struggling with working on my books because in a world that’s going to hell, it seems a pointless indulgence when I have more immediate demands on my time, my earning capacity, even my creative energies. Shouldn’t I be focusing on something… well, a little more serious?
But this ‘bookiversary’ coming when it does feels somehow poignant. I’m not coping with a pandemic by reading great literature or educating myself with classics or works of history; I am revisiting old series with characters I love. I am realising the worth of distraction and escapism, and in doing so learning to value my own work more. And with all this time on my hands, I’m easing back into my writing (yes, I promise – there will be a new book!). It’s not exactly speedy, true. I’m as anxious and shattered by this crisis as anyone else, and my concentration is pretty knackered, so I’d be lying if I said I was making great progress, but I am making some, and in these strange days that feels like an achievement to be proud of.
And more than that, I am being reminded of all the tiny joys these books have brought me, which have added up to something much bigger. From the frisson of a compliment from a reader or a good review on Bookreads to the satisfaction of wrangling a plot point or creating a killer opening line. It all has made me happy, and I’m grateful for it all.
So thank you, Dark Dates and all my Dark Daters – you’ve given me more than you ever could know.
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Rom-com with a dash of Northern charm: The Bridesmaid Blues
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If you want to read something a bit darker, I just re-released by earlier novel Doll and my short stories No Love is This.
I think you’ve just inspired me to re-read to the whole lot – complete with the homicidal sheep! (who have the Lake District all to themselves at the moment, a bit like the goats in Llandudno!).
Ha, I know – imagine the carnage they’ll be causing!