Hazel McHaffie

Alan Sugar

Super Thursday

Have you heard of Super Thursday? Nor me. A least I hadn’t until this week.

This year Super Thursday fell on September 29th. And on that day a raft of books were launched onto a unsuspecting public, books that the publishers (and authors) hope will become Christmas bestsellers. Titles by folk like Robert Harris, Joanna Lumley, Alan Sugar, Lee Child. Hmm. Three months early. But apparently these contenders need to build up a head of steam, and be seen in bookshops, on coffee tables, on trains and planes, etc. ‘Seep into the public consciousness.’ Seep, not zoom, because if they fly off the shelves too quickly the book’s in danger of dying prematurely. Riiight.

Anyway on Super Thursday this year, more than 225 books were published. And more big names are on the way in the next few weeks, to stagger the impact. Again a fair smattering of famous faces from the small screen rather than literary giants.  Jeremy Paxman, Rob Brydon alongside Claire Tomalin. You can find the whole list at the link above. What does that say about people and Christmas, eh? Hey ho.

No prizes for guessing that my new novel is not among them. But then McHaffie is not a household name – in case it had slipped your busy notice. I do not appear in quiz games or political rallies. I do not grace the front pages of the glossies or make a double page splurge in Saga magazine. Yet.

However, Saving Sebastian is scheduled for January, when I hope lots of people have Christmas-gift vouchers and money to splurge out on lesser known authors. Hey, come on! A girl can dream, can’t she?

But I’m not just dreaming. I’m actually being diligently proactive at the moment. What am I up to? I’m converting my back-list into ebooks. Yep, really, truly, I am. And having a lot of pleasure in the process. It feels good. At last I’m taking back some kind of control over my novels. But I’m anxious to get them right – I hate muddled formatting and missing capitals and all the other errors that creep in when conversion isn’t done efficiently. So there’s a lot of browsing through how-to texts and consulting experts and editing and generally pfaffing about going on. It’s almost as compulsive as writing the books in the first place.

I’ll keep you posted.


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A question of attitude

Whoops! This was set to be automatically posted on Thursday last week while I was away in Morocco. Looks like it decided to do its own thing, sorry. Anyway here it is a few days late.

Just in case you were idly wondering, I have not yet become a bestseller. Neither have I received an OBE for services to literature. Or reached the A-list celebrity ranks. But I am not despondent.

As I began to say last week, we can learn a lot from failure and disappointment, although it’s often only retrospectively that we can appreciate the lessons.

I started learning this hard fact in my teens so I’ve had plenty of practice. At the age of seventeen (many, many moons ago now) I was all set to go to Birmingham University to study medicine. But then … I failed one of my A-levels. So, not just a bad grade, a fail! How humiliating is that? (Come to think of it, I believe that’s the first time I’ve publicly owned up to this fact!) My parents generously said I could stay on to sit it again but I said, No; if I’d botched so spectacularly in an A-level what chance would I have at medical school? So I changed course and determined to be at the very least a good nurse – better than a mediocre doctor, as I thought then. Cue that rather hackneyed poem by our old friend Anonymous:

If you can’t be a pine on the top of the hill,
Be a shrub in the valley … but be
The best little shrub at the side of the hill;
Be a bush if you can’t be a tree.
We can’t all be captains,
We’ve got to be crew.
There’s something for all of us here;
There is big work to do, and there’s lesser to do
And the task we must do is the near.
If you can’t be a highway, then just be a trail,
If you can’t be the sun, be a star;
It isn’t the size that you win or you fail …
Be the best of whatever you are.

And ever since making that choice I’ve had fabulous opportunities and experiences that have both formed my character and given me skills that have influenced my whole life. Indeed, I have never had cause to regret that teenage decision.

The world of celebrity too is littered with previous failure and disappointment. Take Carol Vorderman – she only achieved a third class degree (although it was from Cambridge).

Or JK Rowling – she received stacks of rejection slips when she first submitted Harry Potter manuscripts to publishers (how sick must they be now?).

And Alan Sugar – he dropped out of school at 16 and resorted to selling car aerials and electrical goods from the back of a van using his savings of £100.

These people have got where they are, reversing their fortunes, not from life handing them success on a plate, but through gritting their teeth in times of hardship, through determination and persistence.

It’s a question of attitude. As many famous people have discovered:
Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely.’ (Henry Ford)
All my successes have been built on my failures.’ (Benjamin Disraeli)
If you have made mistakes, even serious ones, there is always another chance for you. What we call failure is not the falling down, but the staying down.’ (Mary Pickford)
Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.’ (Confucius)

Not that failure of itself is to be lauded, of course. You need only to look to the world of war, or drug addiction, or mental health, to see what harm losing the battle can do. No, it’s when people have the humility to recognise their own fallibility, coupled with the self-belief and the resolve to rise above misfortune, and the sheer determination to beat the odds, that real success can be achieved.

Onwards and upwards then!

(Curious to think that if I’d passed that exam decades ago I probably wouldn’t be writing a blog today.)

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