Thursday, 13 November 2008

What's it about?

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'.


Jane Smith said...

One of my least favourite comments that writers get about their books is, "you must give me a copy when it's published!"

Yes. Because that's what we write for, isn't it? To allow us to buy books for everyone else.

I now smile brightly and suggest a trade that involves what ever it is they do for a living. It could be difficult if a scuba-instructor ever asks for one of my books, but I'll deal with that when it happens.

chelsea said...

Best of luck with your book, please do tell when it's available. Curious to know how someone could be misdiagnosed with schizophrenia. Wow.

Jean said...

It's nice to have visitors. Thank you for your comments.

Jane - I know what you mean. Some people seem to think we get stacks of free books to give away.

Chelsea - Thanks for wishing me luck with my book.

Karen said...

I always dread the question 'what's it about?' because it's so hard to distill into a few words and still make it sound interesting!! I tend to say, well if it was a film it would be a rom-com, and that's usually enough (to make people run a mile...)

Yours DOES sound interesting though, and I'll definitely be looking out for it :o))

Karen said...

...great blog by the way, I'll add you to my list :o)

Jean said...

Thank you Karen.