Once people get an inkling that I've written a book and it's going to be published, some naturally ask, 'What's it about?' Shouldn't this be the question I'm hoping for? I mean, even if they're only asking to be polite and don't really give a damn, it's an opportunity to grab their attention. If I can tell them what it's about in a way that captures their curiosity, maybe they'll buy it. Why then do I dread that question? How am I going to promote my book, for heaven's sake, if I don't stop curling up in embarrassment when asked about it?
Oh, it would be so much easier for me if my 'first book' was something topical and reasonably non-controversial, humorous perhaps, a novel, a children's book, or just about, well, anything else. And then I wouldn't have to explain, 'It's about me. A memoir.' I try to sound confident as I say this, try to put aside a lifetime of conditioning that tells me only people with egos as big as the pyramids write memoirs. And then, of course, they might be thinking, 'Oh no, not another misery memoir.' I want to explain that, erm, no, it's not like that. But of course they'd have to read it to judge for themselves.
A short pause, and then the next question. 'Oh, a memoir? Which part of your life is it about?'
'My teenage years mainly. Teens and early-twenties.'
'Anything in particular about your teenage years?'
'Well, it's about other things besides, but, erm, well... ' Here it comes, the conversation stopper. 'I was diagnosed with schizophrenia.'
If the questioner isn't looking embarrassed and changing the subject, maybe they want to know more. 'It's about the treatment I received and... and things.'
Now they might be staring at me as if I've got two heads, and perhaps thinking, 'Schizophrenia. That's a split personality, isn't it?' (I've been asked that twice recently and no, no, no, it's not. Where did that idea come from? Films like 'Psycho'?). Worst of all, they might be thinking, 'Eeeek! Would I be safe alone in a room with you?' At this point I'd like to stand up for people who have schizophrenia, help dispel the myths and raise awareness about this distressing condition. But I don't know how it feels to have schizophrenia. I only know how it feels to be perceived and treated as such.
'It was a misdiagnosis.'
A nervous smile. Yeah, well they all say that, don't they?
'A misdiagnosis of schizophrenia? But how... ?' I got this one at the quiz night, and of course it's a reasonable question. 'How did that happen?'
'It's a long story.' I don't know what else to say. Ten people are waiting to get on with the quiz.
'You'll have to read the book,' someone says.
'Let's start the quiz,' I say, smiling and trying to look 'normal'.