It’s hard to concentrate. I always get a little overexcited at Christmas anyway, but this year there’s the book to think about, too. ‘Hearts and Minds: the Untold Story of the Great Pilgrimage and How Women Won the Vote’ is out on 11 January. I’ve recently received the first finished copies from my publisher: I love the earthy, muted colours and the sense of dynamism on the cover. The book feels good to handle, and I’ve even got colour pictures. Never had those before!
I relish this part of the writing and publishing process. Sure, the research phase is exciting and the writing satisfyingly intense. But then comes the awful imposter-syndrome moment when the typescript goes off to be read by someone else for the first time (have I been deluding myself these past 2 years? Has my bluff finally been called?). The production phase is necessarily quite nit-picky and fiddly, and it’s nerve-wracking reading the proofs. All that’s behind me now. It’s done and I can hold that idea I had right at the beginning, turn the pages, feel its weight. A strange alchemy.
Now, just for a short week or two, everything is possible. None of the reviews has come out yet – except wonderful comments by people to whom we sent proof copies (Shirley Williams calls it ‘a brilliant, witty and moving account of this remarkable and rare bit of our history’). The events page on this blog is filling up with juicy engagements, from ‘Start the Week’ on BBC Radio 4 (8 January) to Literary Festivals all over the UK, public lectures at the LSE, Westminster, the National Archives and around the country; with deadlines for features in newspapers and magazines; all exciting, daunting, full of promise.
In three weeks reality will hit, and there will be nothing I can do to protect this lively offspring. That’s the worst bit of the process. I won’t worry, though (she says, determinedly) because I have complete confidence in the characters who people ‘Hearts and Minds’. My ‘pilgrims’ changed the world step by step; with courage, determination and an infectious sense of joy they marched together towards democracy – facing unimaginable opposition – in the name of peace, freedom and natural justice. All I have to remember during the next few weeks is that this book is not about me but about them.
It’s been a privilege to have travelled with these unsung heroines and heroes for the past couple of years. I hope you enjoy their company, too.