This book of firsts is not my first book


September 6, 2012 by astraltravels

It was at a Christmas event last year that I started telling people that I was writing a new book (but I wasn’t letting on what it was about).

Most were very supportive and, as it was a publishing industry event, they knew that thinking about writing a book and actually doing it are galaxies away.

However, one person said, ‘Oh, well now you can just pretend like this new book is your first book, and Toasties didn’t happen!’

Um … what?
Did I really just hear one of my ‘friends’ diss my first book?

In 2009, Kiwi Toasties, was released within New Zealand. I had been working as an in-house editor at Bateman for three years when I came up with the idea of a book about one of the nation’s favourite snack foods. I’d managed to convince my colleagues at the commissioning meeting that there were books on pies and muffins and potatoes, so now it was time to pay tribute to the toastie. They agreed – so long as I was the author.

So I set about making it work. I commissioned my cousin to take photos, I researched every taste-combo I could conceive of for toasted sandwiches, I asked my sister to do a few illustrations, I photographed my brothers eating toasties I had made them. I was thrilled when my boss suggested we shape the book like a piece of toast. I scoured the recipe books for the ultimate Otago cheese roll recipe. I spent many an hour discussing with people how to best include an egg into a toastie and I read up on the health benefits or dangers of toasted cheese. I was involved in nearly every aspect of the book making process. I designed and organised fridge magnets as marketing tools and I approached Breville appliances to get ‘special’ sales for the book (they bought an entire print run!). Sure, it was only 42 pages and just a touch bigger than a CD, but it was a one-of-a-kind thing – and it was my first!

Now this acquaintance of mine was dissing my creation. To their mind, my first book was laughable and I shouldn’t have bothered until I got the chance to write a ‘real’ book.

The unthinking comment implied that I shouldn’t be proud of writing a book that sold thousands of copies, that brought pleasure and inspiration to hundreds of people? Should I sweep under the carpet the sense of pleasure I get whenever people either see my first book for the first time, or tell me about their favourite recipe? Should I be ashamed that I enjoyed the creative process, and getting many of my friends and loved ones involved? Did I really waste my own time and those of others by being on national TV or involving myself in media publicity?

Just because my first book wasn’t an academic book, or a book that received critical acclaim, this acquaintance was inferring that it wasn’t a valid book.

Well, on behalf of all writers, I’d like to draw your attention to this first book by prolific chick-lit author Penny Vincenzi, and this tasty one by Pulitzer-prize winner, and Brokeback Mountain author, Annie Proulx.

Writers write! That’s what we do. We write for many reasons, and it doesn’t really matter if we are doing it for the money or for the love; every effort counts and every effort is part of becoming better at what we do.

Anyway, I shouldn’t have to explain it, but it still rankles a bit. All I can really say now is that I am just as justifiably proud of my first book as I am of my second book, and I wouldn’t have got to my second book if I hadn’t written my first!

It was my writing style, as exemplified in Toasties, that caught the publisher at Allen & Unwin’s attention. And in such a project, I demonstrated the ability to think of different ways to present seemingly mundane information.

In reply to the acquaintance, I said at the time that I was proud of Kiwi Toasties, but what I didn’t say is that I re-evaluated my opinion of them, as I realised they were blinkered by their own inability to think beyond the mainstream — unlike many of the people who achieved the Great Kiwi Firsts in my second book!

I’m sure there are many other examples of great things coming from small(er) and humble beginnings.

Has this ever happened to you? How did you respond? 

5 thoughts on “This book of firsts is not my first book

  1. Bridget says:

    I would like to point out that you are my favourite author and that “Kiwi Toasties” is a classic which takes pride of place on our bookshelf. If your literary heckler takes a hermeunetical perspective on “toasties” he/she will understand the depth of social commentary the text skilfully provides.

  2. You, my dear and inspiring friend, are a treasure! Thank you for your love and support AND your big word! (I had to look it up to try to figure out how to pronounce it so I could read it aloud. I’m glad you are aware of the cultural niche Toasties celebrates and records, and it is an honour to be on your bookshelf. Love love x

  3. Nicki says:

    No-one ever got famous or noticed by being mainstream, and diversity and creativity is a great gift. No one would ever expect anything less from you Astral! I enjoyed your Kiwi Toastie book and I am just as intrigued about this new one, just in time for Christmas! Good on you I say, and keep doing what you do!!! PS: I had to look up hermeneutic from your friend Bridget too!! Well put 🙂

  4. kerkinesque says:

    I agree with Nicki! And would also like to say, in the words of the esteemed Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, “Well behaved women rarely make history”. You and your work are one in a million, Ash!

  5. kerkinesque says:

    Ps. Happy birthday… Bxxx

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