Inside the Happily Ever After: Guest Post by Tara Guha

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Today I am delighted to welcome Tara Guha, author of ‘Untouchable Things’ (which I reviewed here) to my blog. In considering this guest post, which is a part of the blog tour for her book, I asked Tara if she could write about the past year. I was interested in her experience of taking her novel from submission to publication, and if this and the post publication process have been what she expected. I am thrilled by the insights offered in her response, and hope that you will enjoy reading it too.

 

It’s the fairy tale moment. Posh frock, London location, and my name called out as the winner of the Luke Bitmead Bursary. Eyes on me, bewilderment, a stuttered thank you speech, the start of my life as a published writer. Champagne and tentative jubilation. Lights dim, curtain drops… and then what?

What lies beyond the happily ever after? For me, as for many would-be novelists, publication was my elusive Holy Grail. I’d spent so many years chasing it that when it finally came looking for me I was flummoxed. I’d almost given up the quest anyway; I was reconciled to the fact that my novel might never be published and I’d made peace with that, made other plans. These included a great new job at a mental health charity, which I was loving. And then suddenly before me, shimmering like a mirage, was a publication contract and with it a whole other life as a writer.

Well, I was hardly going to say no, was I? This was my dream come true, my chance to see one of my many creative endeavours turned into something real and tangible and “proper”. Everyone around me was incredibly excited. There’s a general understanding of how hard it is to get a book published, and I was very touched at the response from family, friends and colleagues, although I did have to manage a few expectations (I lost count of the number of times people said “JK Rowling” to me!). I was excited too. I was also downright terrified. It’s all very well to claim you want your book published as you guard it jealously in your little writer’s room, but quite a different matter when someone says “OK, let’s do it.” What if people hate it? What if they think I can’t write? What if they’re so shocked by the sexual content they can never make eye contact again?

I didn’t have much time to dwell on all of this. Suddenly, along with my job and my children there were marketing questionnaires to fill in, contracts to sign and editing to start. The novel’s title, which I’d lived with for eight years, needed to be changed and we had a few days to decide on a new one. Book jacket visuals started to arrive. Did I like them? I didn’t know! My working life as a writer started at about 9pm each night after I’d got the kids to bed, and strong cups of tea laced with adrenaline (amongst other things) became the order of the evening.

As it turned out, that was the easy part. After Christmas the editing started in earnest. Luckily there were no big structural edits (which I’d expected), but believe me the itty-bitty stuff can keep you busy. It didn’t help that I’d experimented with different narrative voices which needed different fonts and formatting – I think my poor editor might have had a minor coronary at the pantomime scene, but to my surprise she liked the more experimental sections and, barring a few tweaks, it all stayed.

And before long, I had a proof copy in my hand. The kids shrieked and danced. I shrieked, danced, and started proof reading. The end was in sight.

All those ends, which are really beginnings. Winning the Bursary. Getting a publishing contract. Getting the finished copy in my hand. It was amazing, stupefying (I adored the look and feel of it), and straightaway it led somewhere else: sending it out to opinion formers, getting it up on Amazon, and finally seeing it racked out in my local book shop. My launch event in my home town of Hebden Bridge was a joyous and memorable night; after so many hours and days and years hunched over a computer in a dark little study, emerging into that room of light and love – forgive me a moment of sentimentality – was overwhelming. Novelists are lucky in that respect; people seem to want to celebrate with us when we finally get one out, so to speak. We get our brief moment in the sun, before scuttling back to our keyboard for another few years.

And even the launch wasn’t the end. I see now that promoting the book – and myself as a writer – is an ongoing process to which, if I want to continue to write, there is no end. The biggest change that publication has brought to my life is that after years of being a social media refusenik, I’ve had to grit my teeth and take the plunge. All that I feared has more or less come to pass. Hours of my life disappearing: check. Being more distracted: check. Getting sucked into trivia: check. But promoting and selling my book? Check check check. Like it or loathe it, there’s no doubt that social media can play a vital role in the early stages of a writer’s career – and, if truth be told, I’ve had a fair bit of fun with it along the way.

I’ve also, despite every intention to the contrary, got hooked into the next phase of sales figures and the book’s “presence” in the market. I’ve had wonderful days of good reviews and good sales (climbing the Amazon Kindle chart recently to number 22 was a particular high), and other days where it seems as if everyone’s forgotten about Untouchable Things. It’s hard not to care. I write for the love of writing but a nicely honed paragraph doesn’t contribute to the family finances. If I want to continue writing novels – and I do – I need to be making at least some income from them. Which brings me to the next development. “The book”, once a single entity, has now bifurcated into “promoting the first book” and “writing the second book.”  Once again I find myself with a huge opportunity, lots of excitement and no time.

And once again, I’ll find the time.

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Untouchable Things is published by Legend Press and is available to buy now.

Other stops on this blog tour are as detailed below.

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Book Review: Untouchable Things

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Untouchable Things, by Tara Guha, is one of the most chillingly perfect works of fiction I have read. The prose is impassioned. The characters brim with a raw honesty that is almost painful to explore. The plot grabs the reader with the intensity of a drug: alluring, dangerous and addictive.

The protagonist, Seth, is a Machiavellian character: wealthy, handsome and enigmatic. He tries to make sense of what he sees as the senselessness of life by filling it with sensation, sensuous pleasure, the power of a successfully orchestrated seduction. He feeds off other people.

To this end, Seth seeks out

“waifs and strays, artists lost in a world of commerce”

Before meeting him, his followers

“walked briskly, London style, towards the empty weekend ahead”

He invites his chosen ones to join him at soirées, gatherings that add glitter and excitement to lives that had previously been grey. Certain members of the group recognise the danger but all are enticed by Seth’s charisma. The reader is left to wonder if they were chosen for the damage they have suffered, or for their potential to be damaged further still.

The book is written in scenes, divided up into acts as in a play. It opens at a performance of Hamlet. Rebecca is playing Ophelia and Seth is watching, drinking in her performance, a connoisseur.

Interspersed with the prose is the text of police interviews. The reader knows early on that something is amiss, but what exactly this is requires a slow reveal.

Rebecca is invited to join Seth’s Friday Folly, an existing set of disparate individuals who, at some point in their lives, harboured dreams of artistic accomplishment. They meet fortnightly in Seth’s opulent home. Each gathering is assigned a theme and the players are required to perform. Seth exercises control, pushing beyond comfort zones and forcing each to reveal aspects of their history or character along the way.

The group become friends but how well do they really know each other? Seth is a master manipulator. He takes the natural, human desire to be accepted and admired and uses it, sometimes cruelly. He teases and flirts, encouraging and then rejecting. The friends struggle with their growing need for this damaging stimulation.

“they torture and depend on each other in equal measure”

As the tension in the group mounts towards the chilling denouement the destruction Seth is wreaking becomes tangible.

“She knew she needed to let him go […] as if he were a butterfly between her hands, as if she had caught him rather than the other way round. A more accurate term for what she needed was exorcism.”

Seth offers extremes of pleasure and then pain. As the group try to work out what he is, and why he acts as he does, they uncover terrible truths. Some struggle to comprehend that their valued bond with this man could be an illusion.

The story is a stunning display of artistry. There are layers of potential meaning alongside each allusion. It is clever and intoxicating, dangerous and gratifying with an ending that leaves the reader shaken and sated. I cannot recommend it enough.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Legend Press.