My daily go-round has a menacing stereotypy: I walk the dog with such regularity it’s hard to know which of us is on the lead. I’d like to be able to say that the business of publicising a new book – with readings, interviews and so on – is something of a departure, but it ain’t so. I’ve been trundling to Bristol, Bath, Brighton and Birmingham year in year out for almost two decades now, so that these journeys have the quality of an annual progress by some cut-rate monarch viewing his papery pop-up dominions.
Not that I wish to be dismissive of the audiences who turn out for my readings, or the journalists who trouble to interview me – I value them all. I cleave to Cocteau’s view of the artist, that we are all hermaphrodites engaged in feats of parthenogenesis: we inseminate ourselves, gestate our mind-children then deliver them on to A4 beds. We raise them, and eventually – when they’re hulking and hirsute – we load up their belongings, drive them to another town, buy them an electric kettle, open a bank account for them and cut them loose. It’s not our fault if they subsequently end up as crack whores – or, worse, provincial solicitors.
So, the audiences and the journalists in Bristol, Bath, Brighton and Birmingham are effectively foster parents, or beadles, or possibly “moral tutors” (which is what the member of the academic staff charged with student welfare was called in my day); because it is unto them that the fully-grown mind-child is delivered. And just as it’s no longer the writer’s responsibility as to what becomes of his books, so these transitional figures may fold, spindle and mutilate them as they will.