Guest Post by J.M.Joseph
Teaching English kept me busy in the weeks leading up to the launch of Fire Boy, my debut novel. I was deep inside Camp Green Lake and Holes with one class; skirting past Act I of Romeo and Juliet in a second; and revising commas in the third (ugh). Though February is often a quiet month in schools, this year was different. News about a virus spreading was beginning to dominate the news.
Not that I noticed much at first. I had a new novel coming out.
It was a strange, exciting time.. A box with ten copies of Fire Boy arrived home. A profile of the book (and me) appeared in WRD magazine. Mentions and photos appeared on Twitter and early reviews were positive. My book was chosen to be part of the iconic comic, the Beano’s ‘Booktopia’ initiative.
My diary was filling too. I had over 40 school visits planned for April, May and June. It was this role – a debut author getting out to schools – that I was most looking forward to. After spending most of my working life in front of classes or assemblies, I was ready to wear the visitor’s lanyard. I had seen many author read or run workshops at schools in my time, so I had a spiel about Fire Boy, me and comic books prepared.
Organising the launch also kept me busy. By the first week of March, I had over 60 replies and expected well over a hundred people on the night. True, a fair number of were my wife’s friends (by far the more popular one in our relationship), but most were colleagues, old and new, many of whom would be attending their first book launch. It was to be held Clifton College’s Percival Library where Laura Walker and her team of librarians had everything planned, from the bunting to the prosecco. The fabulous Storysmith, an independent bookshop in Bristol, were coming to sell copies of Fire Boy. I had a pub booked for afterwards. A speech was (more or less) prepared.
And then events took over.
By the end of February, news from the continent was increasingly bleak. Italy was already under lockdown. In school, more and more children stopped attending. At home, my wife, a GP, fell ill with a temperature and a persistent cough. No official guidelines were in place yet, only advice, but I decided it was best to be pro-active. I cancelled the Fire Boy launch with five days to spare.
Looking back at it now, it’s hard to believe I even had a choice.
On the following Thursday, Fire Boy officially entered the world. It was published on the 19th of March, the same day that Waterstones announced it would be closing its bookshops on the weekend. Many other shops soon followed suit.
I carried on teaching. There was an odd, eerie quality to the last week before we broke up. Each day, fewer and fewer children showed up. Lockdown was all anyone talked about. How long it would last? Would there be a summer term? What would happen to the children who sat exams? Did anyone have loo paper?
April and May brought new challenges – teaching classes on Zoom (the jury is still out on that one) and a demand for digital content about Fire Boy. As someone who tolerates (barely) having his photograph taken and has never snapped a selfie of himself, watching myself stumble through take after take after was pretty torturous. It wasn’t easy, but I knew how important online content would be in lockdown and I was determined mine would be as good as I could make possibly make it.
The Summer Reading Challenge went digital too. Back in January I had been thrilled to learn that Fire Boy was a part of this year’s Silly Squad. I planned on spending a good part of my summer visiting as many libraries as I could to support it. But libraries, like everything else, shut. I made videos of myself reading from the book and sent them off to library authorities up and down the country, to encourage children to take part in the initiative.
And now a new school year is almost here. Hachette have lots of irons in the fire for Fire Boy, I’m itching to get out and about, visiting the schools I’d arranged to see before lockdown – and like teachers everywhere, I am waiting to see how the new term unfolds.
In an odd way, I consider myself lucky. I know how fortunate I am to have my health and family around me. I have the support of friends and writers here in Bristol. I have my agent, Becky, who is always there for me and I have the sequel to Fire Boy to finish. My ups and downs are minor setbacks – if that – compared to the travails and sufferings others have endured over the last few months. What I must do, I leaned, was to simply try and write the best book I can.
And, of course, expect the unexpected.
Fire Boy is published by Hachette and available to purchase from all good booksellers. Information on other stops in this blog tour can be found via the blog tour banner below.
Any opinions expressed may not truly reflect those of the FCBG.