The human hunger for recognition is hard to suppress. From our first breath we scream for nurturing, as children we glory in gold stars, and as teenagers we crave acceptance. Even in our blasé and seen-it-all adult lives, we seek love from our family and friends. No man or woman is an island. At work we care about our end-of-year reviews. At home we get warm fuzzy feelings when someone says something nice. In social situations we glow when friends say we have lost weight, or at least don’t say that we have put weight on.
Authors sometimes say they had a book inside them that they needed to get out, a seminal and cathartic process like surgically removing cancer, or at least doing a big fart when you’ve left a meeting. This was true of my book as well, which was the culmination of not just an extended period of writing – the journey that preceded it represented the fruition of a ridiculous notion from a generation before, and fulfilment of a bizarre mid-life crisis. I needed to get it out of me so that I could move on.
This sentiment expresses worth in the noble idea of art for art’s sake, as well as shielding the artist from any criticism or apathy from the outside world. No matter that the audience (if indeed, you are lucky enough to acquire an audience beyond your biased and comforting close circle) will view your work as naive daubs of paint, the clumsy brushstrokes of an incoherent arrangement onto an unremarkable canvas. The artist is proud to have finished the piece, even if it hangs only on his or her wall. It will remain their mark on the world, physical evidence that they were here, and did something nobody else did.
The trouble with this sentiment is that it is almost certainly complete bollocks. Yes, of course I am glad to have written a book, but the act of then publishing and selling it makes the process very public and, actually, not just a little vain. It encourages the romantic notion that it might be quite good, invites appreciation, and seeks praise. Look at my grown-up story! Can I have a gold star?
Our cynicism of the modern trend of ‘certificates for everyone’ cannot disguise that it is still rather nice to receive a certificate. Every author, whatever their protestations, secretly hopes that their book is liked, and sells millions of copies so that they can continue living the fantasy a while longer. The truth is we never lose it, that youthful hunger for recognition. It stays with us, like our need for food and our desire to be loved.
So this morning I have hope. I hope that my book is long-listed for the William Hill Sports Book Of The Year Award. I am up against it. There has been a record entry of over 140 titles, most of them (I would strongly suspect) penned by far more eminent and notable sports writers than myself. The odds of making the long-list are, well, long. And as always in such situations, an almost perverse feeling takes over – I can take the crushing defeat of knowing that Around The Races In Eighty Days is not on the list; it’s the hope I can’t deal with.
The legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly once said “Football is not a matter of life and death, it’s more important than that”. I don’t share those sentiments about whether my book may or may not be recognised with an award. No matter what happens, as the minutes tick down to midday and the refreshing of the twitter feed becomes ever more frantic, I shall be happy that I have written, published and sold a book. People have read it too, and liked it. But there is still that faint, nagging glimmer of hope; the longlist would be nice, an affirmation, recognition!
11:52 Nothing yet. Refresh.
11:59 No. Refresh.
12:01 “Here we go #whsboty fans, this year’s 17-strong @bookieprize longlist (alphabetically by author’s surname) is as follows:” Alphabetical by surname, eh? It seems I shall know my fate early on.
12:02 “Today We Die a Little: The Rise & Fall of Emil Zátopek, Olympic Legend by @richardaskwith #whsboty (1/17)” Appropriate title. Oh well, there’s always next year.
You still have the chance to make up your own mind. Copies of the possibly-close-to-longlist, not-quite-award-winning Around The Races In Eighty Days are available at www.atried.com/shop
Here are some things real people, not anonymous judges, have said about my book, and these shall be my awards!
“A must read not just for racing fans but for lovers of journeys, both physical and emotional. The author captures perfectly the small things of Britain and its people while talking honestly about the issues facing racing now and in the future.”
“Cracking read, can’t put it down, some very witty comments had me giggling away! A must for any racing fan.”