A few months back, I was chatting at supper to my partner’s old friend Hugo, a painter of gorgeous romantic canvases much in demand among New York collectors. He was telling me that when one of his paintings is sold, he has to resign himself to never knowing its fate and never seeing it again, as he rarely knows who the buyer is or gets the chance to look at the picture hanging on its destined wall. I reflected that as a writer, although there is that sense of letting go and waiting anxiously as the vulnerable bundle of words you’ve been gestating for the last year or two is cast out to fend for itself, at least I don’t actually have to say goodbye to it. Every time I go into a bookshop, I can’t help sneaking a surreptitious peek at their Ancient History shelf to see if they have a copy of my first book, The First Ladies of Rome. Whenever I find it, I give a little yelp of triumph and it’s all I can do to stop myself taking it off the shelf, waving it at whichever unsuspecting customer is standing next to me and declaring, ‘LOOK! This is ME!’
Now, or at least in a few months time, I shall be able to extend the hunt to the fiction section of my local branch of Waterstones. Much to my ill-concealed delight, my first novel, Rivals of the Republic – a historical crime mystery starring Hortensia, daughter of ancient Rome’s most famous lawyer - is being published under the aegis of Duckworth in the UK and The Overlook Press in the United States, and I shall get to experience something like the same thrill I did on the publication date of First Ladies six years ago. Back then, accompanied by long-suffering friends, I darted into every bookshop in London like a hare on steroids until I finally saw the glowing red cover with its gold lettering in the window of Hatchards. Some months later, I was invited to the Hatchards Authors of the Year party, whereupon I ruined my memory of an otherwise enjoyable evening by managing to knock a glass of wine all over the Hatchards guest book, snuffing out the signatures of many of the famous writers who had just signed it and were now staring at me as I frantically tried and failed to stop their names leaking across the page.
But that’s another story. I’m just so glad and grateful that thanks to the support of Duckworth-Overlook’s legendary CEO Peter Mayer, the characters of Hortensia, Lucrio, Caepio, Fabia, Petro and the other protagonists of Rivals of the Republic who have so far had to be content with an e-book existence are going to be given a new lease of life in glorious, smoothly tactile hardback.* I hope others love them as much as I do, and are kind to them.
And if Hatchards want to invite me back, I promise I’ll stay away from the guest book.
*An earlier draft of Rivals of the Republic appeared in late 2014 as an Amazon e-book titled Blood in the Tiber.