Yesterday I received another marriage proposal. That's just about double figures now, and fifteen years after my first visit to Bangladesh, it's great to know A Blonde Bengali Wife is still in such demand. The proposals aren't really to me, of course, they're to the 'character' of me I created in the book, and it's both interesting and disconcerting in equal measure...
This month I've been delighted to be featured on Jennifer S Alderson's author's blog, http://jennifersalderson.com/blog/ in company with a handful of excellent travel writers, and that's generated a flurry of (how did you/why did you?) correspondence about the book too. It's thanks to the travelogue that I started this blog, and, ultimately, this website so with that in mind, I've decided to reprint here an article that was originally posted on Women Writers, Women's Books http://booksbywomen.org/ that answers some of those questions. You should still feel free to email me though (marriage proposal not essential!)
A Second Life: The Journey of travelogue, A Blonde Bengali Wife, from print to re-publication.
When the intermittent electricity failed in a remote village in rural Bangladesh, I lit a candle stub to continue writing the daily instalment of my journal. I had no idea it would become a book. It was 2002, and my first visit to South East Asia. Back home, my head and heart remained full of this fascinating country best known in the West for extreme weather and extreme poverty. I decided my diary would form the basis of a travel memoir: honest, humorous, inspirational, factually true, well-written, accessible and fun. Oh, the innocence… It took me a couple of years to complete (with or without my list of aspirations), just in time to return to Bangladesh for the epilogue.
Along the way it found a literary agent, Dinah Wiener, who was brutally realistic about the possibility of commercial success. But in the same breath, she said reading A Blonde Bengali Wife got under her skin: she wanted to represent me and she wanted to go to Bangladesh.
She did both. On her return, we set up a UK-based charity, Bhola’s Children, to support a community of disabled children in rural Bangladesh; Dinah maintains that A Blonde Bengali Wife is its inspiration.
We received wonderful rejections from the best of UK publishers: the sublime (‘I love it, love it. It made me laugh and cry. But it’s about Bangladesh and there’s not a market for that,’) to the ridiculous (‘Good story. Needs more sex and violence. Can she do that?’ The answer being, no, it’s non-fiction…) Then, in one of those chance encounters that wouldn’t stand up in fiction, I mentioned A Blonde Bengali Wife at an academic conference. Afterwards, a publisher delegate asked for the manuscript. With the abundance of experience and self-control I didn’t have, I fell upon the subsequent contract with glee.
It wasn’t ever going to work.
The publishing deal was fine, professional, exciting, the culmination of years of work on something about which I was (and still am) passionate. But the timing was so wrong. I was in full-time work, doing a PhD, a little bit pregnant, a big bit sick, and single. Doing A Blonde Bengali Wife justice was, going to be as impossible as pushing custard up a hill with a rake. Yes, I should have called for time-out. Did I? I was a debut author with a publisher – need you ask?
We worked hard on the editing, but should have worked much harder. From my vantage point now, that hurts because I am, ironically, an editor. I didn’t check the final proofread, naively I didn’t know I should – and then I went into labour. I successfully launched a baby and a book within a few weeks, and both launches went swimmingly – the former is growing successfully but I’ve always felt the latter a bit stunted, it’s never – yet – reached its potential. Of course, A Blonde Bengali Wife did sell and I have a little collection of positive reviews and wonderful comments from readers all over the world. Still, the whole experience was more good-enough than good.
In summer, 2015, my book contract came to an end, coinciding with the relocation of the publisher to the USA. Cue a dilemma: A Blonde Bengali Wife was still selling a few copies, particularly in eBook format; I was still getting favourable feedback; and most importantly, the royalties continue to help support Bhola’s Children. Maybe I’d been hard on myself the first time round (can a first, or second or third… time, writer ever get it right?) and maybe now the timing was right to re-launch the older and wiser Bengali Wife?
A lot of writerly angst later, I decided to self-publish a reprint of A Blonde Bengali Wife, as an eBook. I’m still hyperventilating – me, self-publish? I’m all but allergic to technology and social media, as for self-promotion and marketing… So when I say ‘self-publish’ I mean with a lot of help from expert colleagues-turned-friends.
I began with an edit of the original; correcting the grammar, removing extraneous words and refining the formatting. This was going to be a reprint, not a second edition so the content remained more or less the same plus a new introduction. External proofreading came next because I defy anyone to proofread their own work! And Marie Campbell did a sterling job. Then it was a giant leap into the unknown; getting the manuscript e-ready and up on Amazon, promoting it, getting reviewers and bloggers on board… Claire Morley, having been through the process herself, joined all the dots magnificently and on 20th October, six weeks into the process, A Blonde Bengali Wife got its second life.
It’s only the beginning of another journey. Self-publishing is not the easier option (to the traditional route of agents and publishers) it’s hard work in a different way, but I’m in much better control this time round and the experience is invaluable. I worried it was self-indulgent to reprint; now I believe it’s been self-affirming – okay, I might crumble a little in the face of a poor review, but it’s the nature of writing that we put ourselves out there. As Hemingway once said, ‘Just because it happened to you doesn’t mean it’s important’. But it might be – and that’s why I hope my experience of being A Blonde Bengali Wife, and (re)producing it, then and now, might just be worth sharing.
A Blonde Bengali Wife was re-released on 3rd November 2015
With thanks to Marie Campbell (Twitter @MarieCampbell72) and Claire Morley www.myepublishbook.com