I have been a playwright for a long time, and I will never forget the visceral jolt of the first time you hear your words in an actor’s mouth. Sometimes it’s the sucker-punch of despair: the words are all wrong or there are too many of them, the rhythms don’t work, nothing makes sense, you’ll never be ready by opening night. Sometimes – the best of times – it’s an arc, a spark: the words become the character, suddenly made flesh in a circle of chairs. The actor makes the words more real than they ever were in your head. The actors together make a web of your words, spinning the story into a whole, light as air, a net that has room to hold the design and direction, all the ideas. The play itself is only this: words, light, bodies, sound.
I have had many a first night of a play, but I had never had a book launch. I had never felt my own words in my hand or seen them printed on anything other than my own paper, my own printer. My plays were all too small, in terms of “bums on seats”, for a publisher to consider. I never thought I would ever see my words as a thing – as an object. And suddenly, there was a stack of them at Goldsboro Books to be signed. They were there in the window of Daunt Books, lit like treasure. Amity & Sorrow was not a performance to be interpreted; it was its own thing. It was a book made of paper, old as print itself. The words weren’t made for an actor’s mouth; they were made for the eye and for solitude. It was overwhelming, thrilling, and also somehow distancing, disorienting. The thing of it was there and done. Finished. There would be no rehearsals, no recasts, no more rewrites.
Now, I sit in the cusp between the book being out in the UK, where I spotted a copy on a shelf at Waterstones Brighton, sitting a little closer to Jeffrey Archer than either of us liked, and the book being released in the US. I know that boxes of Amity & Sorrow are being shipped there, for I was emailed a photo of them by my mother, co-owner of our family bookshop, BOOK’em Mysteries, where I used to be the buyer. She has to keep them in the back until the release date, 16 April, or fear the publisher’s wrath. I know I will see my book in a number of bookshops, because booksellers have been generous enough to invite me for signings: I look forward to visiting shops throughout Los Angeles, the Bay Area and Portland, with my sharp pen and my big grin. I will be skulking through any bookshops I pass, ones that haven’t invited me to come, on the off chance I might see it there, telling myself I can’t assume it will be anywhere. It is unbelievable for this former struggling playwright, suddenly turned book stalker overnight.