Writing a book is all sorts of things - amazing, bloody hard work and frightening for instance. One thing it isn't, surprisingly enough, is an ego trip. Yesterday a friend took some photographs because my American publisher wants one. I suspect they think I am hiding a congenital deformity because they keep telling me to send a snap and they do not seem to believe I do not have any. Once you are a mother, your husband loses all interest in taking photographs of you and just photographs the children while mumbling "He really does look like me doesn't he?"
Real up-to-date photographs were a bit of a shocker. Either I am suffering from acute body dysmorphia or I am looking really old. I have decided it is dysmorphia. Perhaps it was triggered by curling my hair - something I used to do years ago and look fabulous. Now it just looks as if I should know better. The problem with the photographs is they do not bear any relation to what I think I look like. My mother tells me I am lovely, my husband tells me I am lovely. Why then do these photographs tell me I am weird looking, slightly goofy and have one half of my face infinitely fatter than the other half? And when did my nose grow so long? Has it been growing for a while and I never noticed or did it have a spurt the night before the shoot? Even my two-year-old daughter is noticing. We were reading a story book and she said "He's got a big nose" pointing at the picture of a bear. "Yes darling he has," I agreed. "My nose is little," she told me, checking it with her finger. Her nose is exquisite. "Yes darling," agreed Mummy, "you have a very little, very cute nose." She looked at me: "You've got a big nose Mummy" she informed me. Thanks. At least it prepared me for the photographs.
Having a book published does not only undermine your faith in how you look though. It can also make you feel like a real under-achiever. I had to fill out an eight- page publicity questionnaire. Sections include: "Any special awards or honors, including academic awards and prizes for previously published works." (I think they mean this is where you mention the Nobel or the Pulitzer. I wondered about including runner-up in the North-East Young Journalist of the Year 1902. I still have the Parker Pen somewhere.) Then there is the section where you provide the "list of your previously published books" and "approximate sales figures in both hardcover and paperback."(When I was 13, I got a story about a cat published in a book by children - my mother still has a copy somewhere. Would that count?)Not to mention the section where you list the books which have been "serialized, adopted by book clubs or made into a film." I was also asked "for what college courses will your book have particular appeal", and to "list academic meetings or conventions where your book should be displayed", as well as whether I had any "upcoming lectures scheduled". Finally, I was reminded "corporate and institutional purchases can become a major factor in book sales. With that in mind, please list any organisations, academic institutions or companies you think would be interested in purchasing a large quantity of your book for a discount for giveaway or resale to their employees, members, students, or customers." (This form is for the same people who want the photograph.)