I don’t belong here. I’m not supposed to be here.
I’m at a private party on the upper level of a Foyles bookshop in Soho. Literary agents and editors from publishing companies as big as Jonathan Cape and HarperCollins mingle around me. I grip a large glass of wine and flash my colleague a perky smile. She’s the reason I got a ticket to this event. Not because I’ve won any awards or taught creative writing to university students, like most of the writers here.
I’m just a uni student myself, barely graduated – no seriously, I don’t graduate until next week. I self-published a young adult (YA) novel when I was 16. I have it in my bag but the writing needs some serious revamping. Whenever I take it out to show someone, it feels like I’m hiking up my skirt to show them a Betty Boop tattoo on my upper thigh (yes, I totally have that).
This is called a ‘Talent Salon’ where aspiring writers are thrown in a room with literary agents to network and build relationships that could ultimately get them published. Of course, I wasn’t going to turn this invitation down.
“Are you a writer?” a literary agent asks me.
I cannot tell lies. “Yes, I am.”
“Okay.” He steps back and waits for me to present myself.
“So, like, I have a book called Toni and it’s, like, about this girl who, like, wants to be a singer. So her parents – like, they don’t want her to be a singer – so they send her to live with her grandma in Croatia, like, you know, as you do, and this is YA, by the way, so yeah, in Croatia, she tries to become a singer…”
Oh, God, kill me now.
All the other writers are so good and so confident at pitching their stories. I can feel the competition sizzling in the air. Pitching my novel gets easier as the evening progresses but responses to it are impossible to predict. Some people say that it sounds interesting and that they would love to read a bit of it. Others avert their gaze and make an excuse about needing to get another glass of wine. After 3 hours of this, it takes all my willpower to not drink more.
But in retrospect, it was probably the best experience I could have asked for as an aspiring novelist. Now I know that nobody wants to waste time on a writer who has hardly any confidence in themselves and their work (guilty wave).
But honestly, all this putting-yourself-out-there stuff feels like a tall order for someone who’s been taught all her life to be humble and not focused on impressing people. Is this what being a writer is? Impressing people?
“I don’t know if I want to be a writer anymore,” I joke to my dad over the phone.
It’s a joke because of course I want to be a writer. It feels like I’ve wanted it since I was born. I didn’t choose the writer’s life, the writer’s life chose me!
But in all seriousness, if there’s one thing I took away from the Talent Salon, it’s that being a writer is not something you pursue half-heartedly. It’s all or nothing. And with graduation around the corner, I’ve been thinking about my next chapter in life (no pun intended).
I want a steady income, I want a place to live on my own, and I want my experience of working in literary organizations to be put to good use. But when I plot this out to my mom, she reminds me of the bigger picture.
“What happened to being a writer and publishing novels?”
Of course, that’s there too. But I’m trying to be practical. And then, at the same time, writing is the only thing I’ve ever gotten total satisfaction out of.
So this week, I’ve been praying, “God, if you want me to write, if it’s Your will for me to pursue this, then please give me the faith – and the tough skin – to do it.”
So what am I doing after I graduate?
I’m going back to America. Goodbye, Great Britain!
I’m going to live with my parents for a bit while I transition.
I will look for jobs, obvs.
But I’m also going to chase my dream. It’s about time I do.
Wish me luck, Savvy! God knows I’ll need it.