Sarah Dunant

Pre-Publication Anxiety and the Weather

My anxious mood could, of course, be the weather. With spring cancelled this year due to our double dip recession, it has been the bleakest March anyone can remember and if one was to translate that sense of hopelessness into politics, then the incessant rain would be made up of people’s tears. Though at least they might melt the ice with their hot fury.


So yes, it could be the weather. But it could also be work. Though writing can be hard and, with a book as long as Blood and Beauty, seem sometimes endless, even the worst bits when you are stranded without wind in your sails pass eventually and by then you are used to being alone on the ocean.  But once the writing and editing are over you are suddenly plunged into a more jagged set of rhythms. This Easter weekend I finished the final proofs, that will go to America  – the book doesn’t come out until July there.  It was the last shot at fixing those twelve sentences that still defied me however much I played with them, that and slipping in the odd change so clearly necessary – why had I not seen it before?  – which will mean that the two editions have a few subtle, indeed minuscule differences, that only I will be able to spot.  But now it is over: wrapped up in units fed ex package waiting for the delivery man tomorrow morning and out of my hands. No more tinkering. No more illusion that I am still writing,


I am not complaining you understand. Fate has already been kind to me with this book  (though writing about the Borgias has convinced me , rather as it convinced Cesare and Machiavelli that fate is a cold goddess who as interested in mischief as she is in any justice).  Pope Benedict XV1 ‘s resignation and the ensuing furor over the conclave have meant that people are interested all over again in papal power and the; politics of Rome , not to mention the way the tidal wave of sexual abuse that is currently enveloping the Catholic Church also speaks loudly of history and Catholicism systematic failure to address  the problems of celibacy. Suddenly the 15th century does not seem so far away. I have been part of  a number of debate, both on air and in print, and invited to talk at festival and universities abut history and fiction and what we can learn from it . At one level I love all this.  I understand not everybody enjoys speaking publically, but I do. I think it is because its not me I am talking about,  but ideas and so with audience that wants to take part ( and everybody these days) it is like having a real conversation.  What is not to like?

Except as my diary gets fuller I can feel this nameless sense if anxiety building up.


Why am I so nervous?  What is stopping me sleeping, what is tying my stomach in knots. I worked hard before, but is usually creates more energy not less.


It has taken those who me love most to enlighten me. The answer, Dear Sarah, is that you are only four weeks away from publication. That is what you are nervous about. It’s as simple as that”


Needless to say they are right. This is the part of the job that every writer hates, when everything can be done has been done   (those ten sentences will never be fixed)  and all you can is wait  Of course because you are a write that doesn’t stop you imagining.  I have of course composed a number of reviews already in my own head.  Roughly speaking they divide into “when they are god they are very very good. And when they are bad they are horrid”.  The idea is to make one oblivious to both (since both can tip off the cliff). Of course it doesn’t work. But least now I’ve done I can try and get on with other things.




Because of course there is  is nothing I can do.   For now it’s clear what I have to do.  Forget it and let time take its course . I who spend so much of my working life in history should be better than this.


Wishful thinking to believe one has any control over the future. Much of what is about to happen has been moving and growing beneath us its path decided long before we are conscious of it. Like the banking crisis and the weather we would needed to have made changes long ago to affect the outcome.


Those ten sentences haunt me. But are just the symbols of all that cannot be changed. The photo is of a Camilia bush in my garden. Those buds have been there a long time now, either the frost has done for them or at the first real signs of sun they will explode into blossom.  When it comes to Blood and Beauty I feel somewhat the same way.  We are both waiting for spring to find out.


Time for displacement activities. Next week the only holiday I will get this year. Anyone know what the weather is like in Sicily?

One response to “Pre-Publication Anxiety and the Weather”

  1. Sarah, thank you, thank you a million times for your exquisite writing. Discovered you three weeks ago and finally ended THE BIRTH OF VENUS two nights ago, having read SACRED HEARTS and IN THE COMPANY OF THE COURTESAN. Await BLOOD AND BORGIAS with excitement. With regard to your artistry, the words of the wonderful Irish writer John Mc Gahern when asked what he hoped for those who would read his work in a hundred years time, come to mind- “Pleasure and a certain amount of enlightenment”. Bravo to you.

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