‘How exciting!’

by haywardhelen

Birchalls window

In the weeks leading up to the launch of my book, about food people in Tasmania, countless friends rounded on me and said, eyes shining, ‘You must be so excited!’

They were right. It has been exciting. I do feel proud of the book. I am pleased that of all the things that can go wrong in the production of a book the only thing I have to complain of is that not all the hard covers are uniformly squishy. I am thrilled to have received personal texts along with throw-away compliments from radio show hosts. The book is certainly not only my doing, which is probably why I don’t feel embarrassed by the praise.

The aim, to start a bigger conversation about food by taking to a wide range of people from school canteens to top chefs, seems to have worked. The negative review may still come, I am touching wood as I write, but so far the media has been kind. And if most readers do nothing more than flick through the book backwards, reading italicised coloured paragraph after italicised coloured paragraph, looking at the photos, that’s fine by me.

The launch itself was many things – nerve-wracking, logistically demanding, gratifying, fun. Expecting that no-one would come and arriving to see people through the window was both a pleasure and a relief. Standing on six rolled-up rugs to give a three-minute speech without stumbling to ninety people, a speech I’d rehearsed with my dog in a gale that morning, was also good.

The best bit was welcoming many of the people I’d interviewed, giving them a copy of the book, and knowing that in the general messiness of life I’d created something that showed them that it really was worth dedicating themselves to making the world a little bit better – whether by growing native plants, teaching canteen ladies to cook, exporting garlic to Asia, or running a farmers market.

Just when I was feeling cocky I went to Agfest, the biggest agricultural show in the state. A bookshop had asked me to sign copies at site 41 on CWA drive, a first right after the main gate. The bookshop marquee, as easy to find as to miss, was full of boxes of new and remaindered books. A white plastic table with my name, and that of two other authors, was stickytaped to the side of the plastic tent. Woodchips graced the floor.

No-one who wandered into marquee 41 in the next forty-five minutes wandered in there in search of me. Realising this immediately, yet feeling it would be rude to leave, I fell into reading Michelle Crawford’s A Table in the Orchard, an author who’d sat at the same plastic table as I had just an hour before. I read about her life in the Huon valley with a young family – keeping chickens, chopping wood, planting potatoes, making jam, being semi self-sufficient and generally finding beauty in the everyday. The flappy tent and woodchip floor faded from my mind, and I disappeared into the pages of her beautifully produced book.

That night my daughter was in tears at bedtime. What’s wrong?’ I asked, tired after the long drive and keen for some time to myself. ‘Nothing’, she said. ‘Please’, I pleaded. ‘You’ll think I’m being silly’. ‘Is it about sailing?’ I asked, hoping that it wasn’t. ‘No’, she replied, pulling away crossly. ‘You won’t understand’. Silence as I sat on the side of her bed. ‘Is it about Agfest?’ I asked, thinking that out of 1040 stalls something she and her friend had seen might have upset her. ‘Sort of’, she said. More silence.

‘I wish’, she blurted out, ‘that I lived on a farm’. ‘But that’s a good thing to wish for’, I replied, glad it was nothing worse. ‘But you don’t understand’, she pressed.’I wish that I’d lived on a farm as a child’. ‘Oh’, I said. ‘I’m so sorry. But you know, that’s still a good longing. A lot of people I spoke to for my book felt just that way when they were growing up, and now they’re doing just that’. ‘But’, she said, crying anew, ‘I want it now’.

‘Please don’t go’, she pleaded, unconsoled. ‘But I have to go and say goodnight to Alex. He’s got exams this week’. ‘I don’t care about Alex’, she returned. After another minute crouching on the side of her bed I left her crying, feeling that I could do no more. When I checked on her, half an hour later, she was asleep, sniffling. Happy mothers day!

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