The Tale of a Snail
I like snails. Perhaps that makes me odd. Well, odder.
We used to have a giant African land snail that my brother gave my daughter as a birthday present; when fully grown, she (yes, I know, they’re hermaphrodites) had a shell about as big as my fist and her body was a good twelve inches when fully extended. Once you got past the ‘otherness’ of such a being, she was quite beautiful and strangely responsive. She would turn her antennae towards you if you called her name, and she had her likes and dislikes. Everything was slowed down, though, so I wonder what she actually heard.
Even garden snails appeal to me. There is a beauty and a perfection about their design that pleases me.
So when I saw one trundling across a path a week or two back, I was concerned for it. I was out on my walk and the snail was out, sailing on a sea of concrete and slime. The likelihood was within the next few minutes, someone would step on it, whether by accident or on purpose. I bent down and picked it up. Usually, snails snap back into their shells as soon as they’re touched, but this one stayed out, antenna flapping around and her foot wriggling for all the world like she was trying to gain traction. If snails think, I can’t imagine what she was thinking.
No, that’s not true. I can imagine it. I can imagine it all too well:
“OMG. What is going on? I’m flying, I’m the world’s first flying snail. Wheeeeee!”
Then I popped it down in some grass on a bit of wasteland behind some houses and walked off.
It kept coming back to me, that snail. Not literally. At least, not as far as I’ve noticed anyway. What I’ve been thinking about is entirely anthropomorphic because, let’s be fair, snails don’t have complex brains. They do however have a strong homing instinct and will travel considerable distances to return to home territory. Taking bucket loads of them out of your garden and dumping them miles away shows this; marked shells show they will return to their original garden. It made me wonder where the snail was going and why. I suspect she had been lobbed across from one garden to another garden and was peacefully making her way back.
And then this giant hand comes down and moves her out of the path and ruins the journey.
Thanks Giant Human, thanks a lot, says the snail. Now I’ll have to cover all that ground again.
But, I say, you were in terrible danger.
What danger? I saw no danger, says the snail.
I sigh. There’s no way I can explain to the snail how I am so much bigger and how I can see the likely outcome of her day time voyage. I can’t explain that I care and want to help and that perhaps I might actually have a view of the bigger picture. I can’t ask that the snail just trusts me. The snail doesn’t know how.
I said it was anthropomorphic.
Anyway, the incident has stayed with me longer than a ten second diversion should and it set me thinking. Many years ago, and not so many years ago, I was very frustrated that despite getting to the desks of various editors, despite getting positive, even glowing feedback, no one said the YES I wanted so desperately to hear. One of them told me that it was a matter of time before I did write something they’d take on. It was head-bangingly maddening. Time and time again, the answer was no, but with such codas that I was encouraged to keep going. I had an agent. He turned out to be useless but I’d got that far. I’d got to chalk that one in a YES box. But the ultimate prize eluded me.
The other day, a friend of mine shared he’d got his royalty cheque for the last six months. He’s with a ‘proper’ publisher, one of the smaller mainstream ones but a respectable name. The book is an excellent one too. But the cheque was probably enough to cover a pizza and a bottle of plonk. The myth of writers rolling in it, dies hard but that’s the reality for all but the big blockbuster authors.
It comes hard to have to say it but I am glad those attempts to get signed up for a publishing deal failed. It’s not about the money side of things either. The industry is in a state of flux. Some might say a state of crisis or even free fall. I read today that an ebook is published every five minutes. There’s over three and a half million books on Amazon USA now. The world has changed since the gatekeepers presided over the slush pile and people’s dreams. Anyone can publish a book, and it seems some days that everyone has. I see this as a good thing, though many don’t. It certainly makes visibility a difficult task. I’ve seen my sales decline as the numbers of books on the market increase and I’ve had to take a step back and ask not just what is going on but why.
By why, I don’t mean issues of visibility or market saturation or anything else. Like the snail, wondering why they’ve been bumped off a path she thought she knew was the right one, I’m having to step back and learn to trust. With hindsight I can see that getting a traditional publishing contract would have been a disaster for me, certainly knowing my own methods of writing, my sensitivity and my attachment to my own books. Something that was right came along. I’d said I’d never self publish, but that was when self publishing was a) vanity presses and b) very expensive and almost always doomed. I’ve learned a huge amount through publishing myself and one of those things is that change is inevitable and adaptability is key to survival. I’ve also learned that I’m not very adaptable and I’m not comfortable with change at breakneck speed. I could start chasing marketing strategies and believe me, I know there are a lot of things I might do to try to increase visibility and find more readers. The trouble is, all of those take energy and time and determination and I’m running out of those commodities.
So I’m going to take a lesson from a snail and take it slow. I’m going to try and trust that there is a greater plan going on, that I’m too slow and close to things to be able to see. I’ve always felt that it was my path to be a writer, but there is not one but many paths to every destination and I’d rather travel one that has fewer risks of being trampled on or crushed in the rush. I do feel like that snail right now, suspended in mid air, foot wriggling to try and get a grip, antenna flailing to see and hear what’s going on. I’m going to try and trust that the big Hand that seems to have grabbed me, knows what it’s doing and that where I am going is better for me than where I am now.