‘Send us a photograph’ they said. It came across as an order not a request. I am to be judged before a word of what I have written has been read. My photograph will tell a potential reader that I am pale skinned, female, old. So many preconceptions to clamber over before the book is even opened. I want to scream at them, ‘Read my words and judge them.’
I am as old as the hills although not as appealing. They offered a stylist, a makeover that I declined. I have lived so many lives already, I have no wish to change again. They do not understand.
I was asked if I had written about myself. Who else could I write about? Yet none of my characters are me, which is what they meant. The canvas of my life has been painted by all who touched it, most of whom will not have noticed that I was there.
I have no time for those who disregard the young for their lack of life experience, or the old as irrelevant in the modern world. There are fools of every age but even they may teach us if we are willing to learn from them.
I have lived at every age and I remember details, significant moments, the resulting change. All of it is what I am now, do not tell me that I cannot understand. Who made you the expert on what I am?
‘Did you know that she was so old when you signed her?’
‘I had no idea. All communication was by email. I didn’t even know she was a woman until the preliminary contract came back.’
‘Upstairs is questioning how worthwhile it is investing in publicity. You know, if sales are good and we want a follow up…’
‘You’re worried she’ll die? She says that she has been writing for years. She claims to have at least a dozen finished manuscripts on her computer.’
‘I’m surprised she can use a computer. How the hell do we market her though? I can see why she didn’t want to be photographed.’
Perhaps I should tell them that I wrote the book when I was nineteen years old and send them a photograph of how I looked then. Reviewers like to coo in amazement over new young authors and their fabulous first works, as if being young precludes them from producing anything worthwhile despite it happening again and again. John used to tell me that I was pretty, not that it did me any good. Youthful looks may be revered but the thoughts of the young are dismissed.
I could give them background for their publicity but they would turn it into some sob story. Sympathy is the last thing I need. I’ll send them the other manuscripts and leave them to sort it out. I don’t suppose they would listen to me anyway. Too old to talk sense in their eyes.
‘Have you had a chance to read through what she sent?’
‘Only some of it. It’s hard to believe that she produced it all. Are we going to take it?’
‘Upstairs says yes, but no work on them until the first one is out.’
‘Have you dug anything up on her? She’s being really cagey. We don’t want nasty surprises if this takes off.’
‘Nothing. She might as well not exist. We can decide how to make her.’
I wonder would they still publish if I refused to cooperate. I think I will send them those old photographs, one per book. Is this how it works, do reviewers need a face and a bio so that they can pigeon hole? Maybe I’ll give them a different bio for each book as well, that would confuse them. Lillian the war hero, Lillian the runaway, Lillian the wife, Lillian the abandoned, Lillian the survivor.
I wish they would just print the damned book and be done. There’s an angle I could offer them: author submits manuscripts and vanishes. They would probably find that easier to sell than this decrepit old lady. The way they talk to me you would think I’d lost my marbles. I’m still writing you know, and you seem to like what I am producing even if you do find it hard to believe that someone of my age can be creative.
‘I think we could go with that. Play the lost manuscripts angle and put out that first photo. Jude can field the journalists, it keeps it all under our control.’
‘I met her last week, she’s quite a dear old thing really. The way she looks at you though, it’s as if she can read your thoughts.’
‘Her eyesight is probably failing. Have we managed to find out how old she actually is?
Lillian had asked for just one copy to be sent to her. She did not intend to give any away. The well meaning locals who showed her kindness would struggle to see her as anything other than their elderly neighbour. She saw no need to change their perception of her.
She turned the book over in her hands several times before opening it to see her younger self staring back from the inside flap of the dust cover. ‘I was pretty’ she thought. ‘That is me.’