Publish and Be Damned

For Guardian writer The Invisible Woman, a debut book launch teaches valuable lessons about persistence and self-confidence

I am walking through sunshiny London, arm in arm with the younger (and more extravagantly decorated) of my three tattooed daughters and feeling a bit rum because I am about to launch a book. I am remembering another time I was heading towards something that seemed rather important, when I also had the gut-crunching “what if no one turns up” thought. That was three years ago, when I was again heading up York Way towards the Guardian offices, but this time to join the proceedings at the Guardian Open Weekend, in which I’d played a small supporting role.

I needn’t have worried then or now, because if there’s one thing the G does very well indeed, it’s throwing open the doors – both literally and metaphorically – and making everyone feel welcome. If you don’t agree with something, you’re encouraged to say so. I’ve always liked that about working at the Guardian – having the freedom to challenge and ask disobliging questions. That ethos eventually led to me leaving my comfy berth in the editor-in-chief’s office and setting off into the unknown and a new career as a freelance writer. Not that I’d want you to think that was a straightforward thing to do, because it wasn’t. It would be true to say that I’ve had three years of hell, but finally, at the age of 59, my first book is about to be published.

What’s it like getting a book published? Well, it’s hard for me to say right now because I’m trying very hard not to get over-excited, but it does feel a bit like vindication after several years of mouthing off about my opinions to anyone who’d listen. It feels a little as though it’s happening to someone else, and I can’t quite believe it’s true. Ask me again in a few months’ time when I’ve got used to the awkward business of self-promotion (although learning to do that has also had its benefits).

It’s a strange thing, but for someone who used to be paralysed at the mere thought of doing anything on a stage, in public, I’ve grown awfully comfortable with it lately. It seems I no longer suffer from stage fright – one of the gifts that come with reaching late middle age. I am, however, afraid for my book, because it’s my baby and I’m about to let it in the pool to see whether it sinks or swims. I hope it swims, because it felt important – to me at least – to write it. Sod it. I hope it scores a technically perfect swallow dive followed by the fastest length of front crawl anyone’s ever witnessed. How’s that for self-promotion? It feels awkward to say that, though, because I was brought up to be above all things modest, feminine and self-effacing. It’s a generational thing. I can speak to a room full of 150 people about vaginal lifts and middle-aged pubic topiary, but I find it hard to say, “Look, I’ve done this thing and whether you like it or not I think it’s a bloody brilliant thing and I’m proud of it.”

Anyway, it seems to me that we had a rather fine launch party (courtesy of Guardian Soulmates, gawd bless ’em). There was thoughtful discussion with my two fellow panellists – Alison Moyet and Caryn Franklin (excellent, courageous and articulate women both) – and a good few laughs because above all, if we’ve made it this far in life we should have acquired a good few things to laugh about. Alan Rusbridger, my old boss, called in (which pleased me greatly), and I signed his copy of The Invisible Woman, which was the very first one. I signed many more later; in fact, the queue went around the room and out of the door. I hope this is a good indication of how successful this next stage of my life will be.

The point I want to make is that whatever age you are, there is always a next stage. It’s not always obvious what it might be or how you might get there, and no one will do the hard work for you, but it is there nonetheless. A large part of my book is about that, and about the fight I had on my hands to be acknowledged in a world that regards the middle-aged, and middle-aged women in particular, as more or less irrelevant. To quote myself, “if having youth is perpetual Christmas then middle age is that weird patch between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve when you don’t quite know how to occupy yourself.” I’d answer that by saying that just as you did when you were a child, decide what you want to be and make it happen. Don’t be put off, don’t be discouraged, just get out there and do it. You might surprise yourself. I did.

Purchase your copy now at http://bookshop.theguardian.com/catalog/product/view/id/297791/s/invisible-woman/. Follow The Invisible Woman on Twitter @TheVintageYear.

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