So today I had an experience not unlike giving birth. My book was born. I have done it three times, and this came close. Ripping open brown paper-wrapped boxes to find clean, fresh books inside with my words, MY words inside them. I picked a book up. If it were a baby, it would have cried, shocked to be in the open air. I held it close to my body, I cradled it in my hands, feeling the smooth, soft cover with my fingertips. I made this, I thought. Happiness warmed me in yellow light. I could hardly believe it was real, only it was, I held a tangible, solid block of printed paper in my hands. It was heavy and smelled of the library, a dry, saw-dusty smell I adore. If only I could bottle the smell of a new book and wear it behind my ears or add it to my fabric conditioner, I thought.
Then I opened the first page. Legalese, a blurb of copyright and British library storage, my name and the name of my publisher. A list of acknowledgments, names in chronological order, a memory-keeper of the time I spent writing, rewriting, editing, writing again and editing again, each reader offering me constructive comments, or helping me with research. Four years interspersed with moving houses, painting pictures and bringing up children alone with the Man away.
My dedication: To the Women of Tajikistan and to another unsung heroine, my Mother. She cried for the longest time when she read it, she told me later. She has been ill, fighting cancer in her typical, stubborn, spirited way, rising from her bedchamber to play tennis not five weeks after her last major operation. She worked for many years with vulnerable children in care and gave them her protection to the best of her ability. They still call her as adults, checking in. They still love her, they still trust her. She really is a true, unsung heroine.
My children stood in a huddle around the boxes with wide eyes, staring at the pages in my hands with a look of wonder. My eldest, a plucky, lovable rogue (his teacher’s words) came forward to hug me violently, holding my waist with wiry arms. Then he tried to read the first chapter. He struggled, stammering his way through several sentences.
‘Perhaps I will wait until I am a bit older to read this Mum.’
‘Yes, I think so,’ I said, thinking of the raw content of my novel, a tale that charts a woman’s escape from an abusive man who would rape her in broad daylight if he could, just to settle old scores. A book that does not flinch from describing the backward trajectory into dogma and tradition that encapsulates ‘modern-day’ Tajikistan for a poor woman of low reputation. ‘It’s definitely a book for grown-ups,’ I said and I ruffled his hair. ‘Wait until you are eighteen, or perhaps sixteen. Probably better that way.’