How to give birth to a book

Women sometimes say that men can’t begin to understand the pain of childbirth. True. But the process of producing a book, I’d say, comes close.

By the time you read this I’ll have produced, after a small lake of blood, sweat and tears, my eighth book. If you’re a woman, tell me if this doesn’t follow the pattern of pregnancy and birth; if you’re a man, sit quietly and say nothing.

First you have the bright idea, and like conception, that can be very exciting. You go around with this thing buzzing in your head which you know about and nobody else does. Can it be possible? Wouldn’t it be great? Wouldn’t it be wunderbar? Or, oh no Virginia, don’t say it, it’s not a false alarm, is it? It couldn’t be.

Then, still a bit fearful, you tell the publisher what’s germinating in your skull. She (all publishers are women nowadays) sits on the idea for a week or so, and then tells you – if you’re lucky – that it’s a wonderful idea but of course we can’t expect to make money from it. Translated, this means you can’t expect to make money from it. It must be strictly ars gratia artis for you – art for its own sake. The publisher will do the money-making.

So you nod and get to work, even though you feel faintly sick, not just in the morning, but in the afternoon and evening too. Email after email, letter after letter I send, begging my potential interviewees, beseeching them to let me interview them about Brexit and the Border. They have a hundred other things to do and besides,  like you,  they are not going to make a red cent out of this.

The weeks go by, the list of interviewees builds, and the desire to be sick gives way to a mellow broodiness. You find yourself humming as email after email comes through and well-known but also kind and generous people say yes, of course they’ll do an interview, only too glad, when would suit you? You hum louder, sometimes jumping in the air and letting rip a yelp of joy.

Then you arrange to meet the person, make sure your list of questions is half-sensible, your iphone said Record all through the interview but  omigod is it possible I talked to that person for the last hour and in fact not a word of it got recorded?? You stare at the screen and then, weak with relief, there it is, the recording worked, there is a God.

The months pass and the day comes when you’ve finished interviewing twenty-six different people, and you sit back marveling  at it all. How could twenty-six different people address the same topics and yet  every interviewee comes at things from a unique angle and with a unique voice?

Then, in the equivalent of your third trimester, you settle to transcribing. Sometimes the way people have phrased things doesn’t make sense. Sometimes you can’t quite hear what they’re saying because a tractor went past the front door as they spoke or the café’s coffee machine gurgled and hissed over their words or the interviewee mumbled an answer so you have to play back and play it five times until at last bingo! You get what was said.

So it’s time to send your interview transcripts to the publisher. Will she think they’re as good as you do? Will she tell you to scrap half of them and go out and get people who can talk sense instead of this tosh? But she doesn’t. She asks you what this sentence means, and wonders if you don’t need to explain this acronym, or has this interviewee said the same thing three different ways and is there any point in printing all three?

At last, the end is in sight. She sends you the book’s  cover design, the final version of all the interviews, the little bit which explains who the person is at the start of each interview, the plans for publicising the book.

Relieved but exhausted you gird your loins, such as they are, and get ready to give one last shove and let the world know what you’ve produced.  Every mother thinks her little bundle is the sweetest, cutest, most flawless being ever to enrich the world. That’s exactly how I feel about my latest book, Laying It on the Line: the Border and Brexit.

Which is why I want you – yes, YOU – to come to Waterstones book shop in Fountain Street on Monday 2 December (yes, I know it’s in two days’ time, Virginia) at 6.00 pm. The Guest of Honour will be Tommie Gorman, RTE’s northern political editor. The wine will be free, the crack will be mighty and I’d LOOOOOVE to see you there. Honestly. And I’ll sign copies of the book until my wrist aches.

You’ll find everything about the book and more at . Remember that person you couldn’t think what to give as a Christmas pressie? Worry no more. It’s called Laying it on the Line: the Border and Brexit.  I’ll even sign it for you. No charge.

Don’t be late, now.

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