Today, at around three o'clock, the telephone rang. There was no one in the house. Outside, the rain was racing across the lawn. The sky was the colour of old bath water. My publisher said: 'The book has gone into the Sunday Times bestseller list at number nine.'
I said: 'Are you making this up?' (I may have shouted.)
She said: 'No.'
Still, I shall not believe it until I see the actual newspaper in my hand on Sunday. It has such a whiff of strangeness about it that I can't understand in any rational frame that it might be true.
It is so strange that I am frowning as I write this. There are so many conflicting thoughts in my head that I can't make sense of them; they are all jockeying for position, like crazed shoppers on the first day of the Harrods sale.
The ones I can get any kind of grip on go something like this -
First of all, this is almost certainly a mistake. Second of all, Billy Connolly has a book out this week, which means all bets are off, because he is the most loved man in Britain. Third of all, one of the central tenets of Backwards in High Heels is how really professional success is all very well but it is not the answer to everything and actually the love of your female friends and the joy of having dogs and learning to make really good chicken soup are all much more important, and now I am obsessing about professional success. Fourth of all, I really must learn to be a bit more cool about this; I bet Julian Barnes doesn't go wiggy when his publisher rings him up and tells him he is on the Sunday Times bestseller list. I expect he just says, 'Well, that is nice,' and gets on with his day. I should not imagine that he shouts down the telephone.
Fifth of all, I have never used the expression 'go wiggy' in my life until today, when I used it four times, including just now in actual print. I cannot explain this in any way.
My co-writer rings up. She says: 'This is very strange.'
I say: 'Yes. I can't really explain it.'
I say: 'It can't all be my mother.' (My mother bought twenty copies on Amazon and has given them to all her friends. She signs them herself. My stepfather says that soon copies not signed by the author's mother will be vanishingly rare.)
My co-writer says: 'It's very strange.'
We ponder the strangeness of it for a while. There is a crunching noise.
She says: 'I am eating a crisp.'
I rally. I say: 'There really are complete strangers out there who are not related to us or anything who are buying our book.'
She says: 'We are no one. No one knows who we are.'
I say: 'Sometimes even members of our own family don't know who we are.'
She says: 'I can't explain it.'
We are both struck by the utter oddness that strange people who do not know who we are are going out there and buying our book in big enough numbers to make it be number nine on the Sunday Times bestseller list. We are both professional writers. We worked hard on this thing, for a long time. The agent, who does not get excited, got quite excited. It should not be so operatically strange. And yet, to us, it is. We are not Julian Barnes. There is no way we are going to begin to be cool about it.