Friday, 12 December 2014

Love Your Sister - The Book

A Look At the Past Months In Our Lives

On Tuesday 28th October Sam and I released our Book, “Love Your Sister”. Our late father published many fiction and non-fiction books in his lifetime, and Mum also published a few works of poetry in her short time on Earth. I think it is fair to say that books have been important to us since we were little’uns, and that when Sam finished his unicycle ride and we were offered publishing deals from 7 different publishing houses, this for us, was more than just the opportunity for us to tell our story.

With DEADLINE fast approaching and the ideas still streaming in thick and fast it was time for me to head to Sydney for a writing trip. I stayed next door to Hachette, our publisher, and started treating this whole writing thing like a real job. I got up in the mornings and went into the office, commandeered an unused desk and started typing.

I felt so good to be “working” again. I have really missed going to work every day, having that feeling that I must get up because I have important things to do. Words must be written, work must be done, and I am the one to do that. I am the right person for this job and only I can do it. Going into the Hachette office, being surrounded by busy people and meeting in the tea room for a cuppa every couple of hours was so normalising. I found myself loving the work, writing efficiently, and quietly wishing that I could go back to work. Oh how our self is defined by our work.

Before I knew it, the week was over, and the final draft was finished. All of a sudden the DEADLINE was here, I had submitted all I could, and there was no more opportunities to make any changes. This project that Sam and I had been working on was finished, and all of a sudden I felt empty, ‘what now?’.

No time to wallow, time to start promoting the book. We were very fortunate to have lots of media interest around the release of our book, we were to do over 30 media calls in three days. Print, radio and television, up early for makeup for photo shoots and one stop to another meetings, a never ending blur of people you recognise, quick chats and selfies in corridors before moving onto the next one. Sam and I have done a lot of media in our time with Love Your Sister and are every grateful for the support, but in the hazy tiredness of early mornings and car trips from one to the other, it all starts to blur a bit.

Then Tuesday night rolls around and we rock up to The Project on Network Ten. We sit in the green room eating camembert cheese and lavash crackers, while Sam paces the room thinking and rethinking the questions. I sit shaking on the couch in the greenroom, which by the way, does not have a stick of green furniture in it. It doesn’t matter how many times Sam does this, he still gets nervous, and this is my first time live on the desk so I am nervous too. Though tonight I will have two ‘brothers in arms’ so to speak on the desk with me. Rove and Carrie have both lost loved ones to cancer so I feel safe with them, despite never having met Rove before. Countdowns start and people start using clipboards to shuffle us down dark corridors towards rooms with bright lights and big cameras.

Our five minute slot seems over before it has even begun, but as they go to an ad break I share a moment of intimacy with Rove. He asks how I ‘really’ am, and I know that he knows first-hand there is how you are and how you are. Countdowns begin, and my time for a chat with Carrie and Rove is over, the show must go on, I have shared an intimate moment, a moment of understanding, where we all agree that Cancer is ‘A Bastard’ before the cued laughter starts and more jokes start rolling.

Dennis Walter on 3AW in Melbourne, (listen to it here), he is an icon on talkback radio, he has heard it all over the years and nothing shakes him. He is impenetrable. I am really nervous to be doing this interview, I don’t know what to expect. At the end of our interview, people started calling in and we got to talk to people live on air. We had no idea this was going to happen, so it really took us by surprise. The opportunity to ‘talk back’ to some of the listeners was a humbling experience. We talked to lots of people who had been affected by cancer first hand. They were crying and by the end of it, Sam was in tears, I was in tears and even Dennis Walter had a few tears in his eyes. He seemed quite shaken up. He collected himself quickly, took a quick pic with us, then moved on to his next show. 

Peter Wilmoth from The Weekly Review did an interview with me. Peter is a very experienced writer and journalist and I feel out of my depth. Today it’s just me, Sam wasn’t invited to this one, and what an experience that was. Peter had actually read the book and talked about moments in the book with tears welling up in his eyes. This was my first encounter with someone I didn’t know who had read the book. I was curious, did it make him cry? Did it make him laugh? How did he feel? So I asked him, and he answered honestly, yes, he did cry. Our book made Peter cry and it made me reflect on how the book might affect other readers, and made me wonder if it would actually make women check their breasts, and make men ask their girlfriends and wives if they are checking their boobs, or even getting ‘hands-on’ and offering to ‘save a life and grope their wife’. I really hope that at least some of the people who read it take home the importance of being proactive about your health, and not letting things slide if you notice any changes in your body. It is so much easier to deal with a disease in the early stages, than when it is too late to effectively treat.

As a co-owner of a secondhand bookstore, I love books. I love the smell of a bookshop, the feel of flicking through pages and just holding a book in my hands. I have not yet ventured into the digital world of books yet, personally. But as an author, I am keen to sell our book in any form. I couldn’t believe it when I saw our book was number 2 on the iBooks charts, and was also listed as the number one ‘buzz book’. Bookworld, the online website where you can buy real books online listed our book as ‘the book of the month’. Newslink listed it as a ‘Pick of the month’ and when I bought a copy of our book from Newslink, it came with a free bookmark, and 4 books were pictured as “Pick of the Month” books, Love Your Sister was one of them! We were up there with Marian Keyes and David and Baldacci! Fancy that!

One of the promotional events we did was to talk to a room full of book sales people. These people sell books to bookstores, and convince them of which books to put on prominent displays, how many to order and how to market books. This was a big opportunity for us to make an impression and get our books on the shelves. I was to wait at the front of the room while Sam unicycled in and came up to the stage where we would read excerpts from the book and talk about Love Your Sister. We had stayed up until the wee hours on the phone the night before preparing this talk. When our planes touched down from Melbourne and Canberra we managed a quick walkthrough before we were due in the room.

I was waiting side of stage and the room was in darkness. I heard and saw an incident at the side of the room, one of the signs was knocked over and people rushed to the side of the room in a dramatic, urgent way, but I didn’t know why. The unicycle was tossed aside and Sam ran up to the stage. We hugged and got started. Sam was white, I was standing to his right, so I could only see the right side of his face, but he was pale and sweating. His breathing was short and sharp and although he was reading well I could tell that something was wrong. By the time it was my turn to read I was quite worried, I read slowly and deliberately, constantly glancing at him to see if he was alright, then he turned to face me head on and there was blood running down his left temple. It seemed he had hurt himself on the way to the stage and he was in shock, that explained the shallow breathing, the sweating, the pale face. Oh shit, what should I do? I kept reading, looking up at the audience periodically. They were engaged, hanging on my every word. Just keep going. Pretend nothing is wrong, then it’s Sam’s turn again. I look at him, his breathing is normalising, he has a bit of colour back in his face and the sweating is subsiding, he is recovering from whatever it was, but he still has blood dripping down his temple. He keeps reading and you could hear a pin drop in that room, everyone is breathing quietly, listening attentively waiting for the next instalment. I follow Sam’s lead, if he is OK, we can keep going with this talk. At some point someone offers a tissue and Sam wipes the blood off his face and keeps reading after laughing and saying how embarrassed he is.

We finish the talk and everyone stands and claps. The clapping just keep going, the audience loved what they heard and I am thrilled. This is the best public speaking engagement we have ever done, it felt electric and I know we penetrated. Sam looks at me with a desperate look in his eye. ‘Get me out of here, I just want out, is there much blood, I am so mortified.’, ‘What happened, I didn’t see, how did you hurt yourself?’, ‘I crashed into a sign on the side of the room and fell off the uni, this is absurd, I ride around the whole country then fall off in here, all I had to do was ride 10 metres.’ I can see how mortified he is, and people coming and fussing over his sore and the blood on his temple on serves to amplify his embarrassment. It must have worked on some level, because our book is in all the bookstores and department stores and has been displayed prominently on the shelves.

Thanks to everyone who has bought the book. Thanks to you, we made it into the top ten non-fiction books in Australia for three weeks running. Sam and I are both thrilled and humbled at the same time. Thanks also for all of your lovely comments on Social Media. It is really touching to read your comments, and although we don’t have a chance to respond to you individually, we try to read them all, and it means a lot to us that the book has meant enough to you for you to make the effort of posting about it. We love hearing that you weren’t able to put it down, or that it made you happy, or sad, that you are recommending and buying it for people you love and that particular sections resonated with you.

We had a book signing at Dymocks in the Canberra Centre on Friday 21st November. Heaps of people came along and bought books and waited in line for ages to get them signed. It was such a privilege to meet so many readers who all have varying reasons for buying and reading the book. Some people are interested because they are close with their siblings, others because they have been through breast cancer or are going through it now, more still because they followed Sam’s unicycle ride and then more who have a friend or family member going through cancer. Quite a few people bought it as a Christmas present for a loved one who follows Love Your Sister. We met and chatted with a lot of people in 2 hours that night, but one of the ones that stands out in my memory was Ben. His wife had just been diagnosed and was about to start treatment. They had waited nine years to adopt a child and were finally granted their wish this year, then his wife was diagnosed with cancer within months of their new baby coming along. Cancer affects so many families, it does not discriminate, age, race, financial status, professional occupation, it just hits so many people and I wish that the cure was easier to withstand than the toxic, long term treatments currently available and I wish that everyone diagnosed had the opportunity to be cured. Thanks to Alison and Richard Kay at Dymocks for hosting us, and to everyone who came along and bought a copy (or 4) of our book at the signing. It was great to meet you all.
Photo of front window display and or photo from signing.

Writing this book has been a highlight of the whole Love Your Sister project for me. It has given me time to sit and chat and reflect with Sam on how it all came about and what it means to Sam and me, and what it might mean to my kids in the future. I didn’t think it was possible for Sam and I to get to know each other better, to become even better friends, but that is what has happened throughout the process of writing together. We have remembered things from our childhood that may have stayed buried in the deep recesses of our memories if we hadn’t tapped into it.

Not many people get the chance to publish a book in their lifetime, and again Love Your Sister has enabled us to tick another thing off my bucket list. Now is awesome.

Xx Connie

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