It wasn't quite libel: my celebrity ex-husband hadn't exactly made stuff up about me, despite a fair amount of spicing and omission. What he had done was to pinpoint, out of thousands of possible moments from the twelve years of our romance, a certain choice set that didn't necessarily paint me in the best light, slanted these up and then blabbed them for cash in his much-puffed memoir without doing me the courtesy of any sort of advance warning, let alone veto.
What a fool.
An abuse of platform quite as snotty as anything doled out by the hoitiest literary agent. And this was no stranger plucked from the internet for business aims. This was someone I'd once shared my life with, grown up with. A playground bully: him the big TV personality, me some rejected writer sitting in Costa experiencing my Amazon debut in not-quite-the-way I'd planned it. The knave behind the nice-guy mask.
I sat there reading about myself, or a version of myself, feeling flummoxed, as he must have planned: Won't mention anything to her, she'll be curious, take a peek, what a nasty surprise! There was a fair amount available in the Amazon preview, quite enough to get the measure of his spite. But not the whole book. What other distortions and troll-barbs lay in store? I'd have to wait for publication to find out, which was about a month away.
It was almost as if he had something against me, as if I'd been the one to end things between us back in the day with some cold, shady and craven off-brand behaviour. Whereas in fact – but let me have the sense and good taste to stop here. Who hasn't behaved stupidly in early adulthood, especially after hitting the big time?
And, besides, he did have something against me: that I hadn't always thought him absolutely fabulous. And for someone like him that is a capital offence.
Ah yes, I could almost hear him say: but I gave you a fake name, didn't I? And yes indeed, this had been the fig leaf for his scheme. He'd called me 'Sarah' in his book, while pointing out this wasn't my real name: an invitation to Google. And if you looked him up you saw my real name immediately, as one of his spouses. No disguise at all.
I pictured the legal debates that would have played out chez his agents and publishers: the fake-name discussion, whether or not to contact me, the additional stories possibly removed for fear of court action. This bit'll have to go. Seeing those dollar signs but covering their arses, his courtiers. Had they had a private snigger about him once the doors were closed, their vengeful celeb with his dodgy plans?
How odd to think of them discussing me in those very publishing towers whose gates I'd hoped to storm with my masterpiece. Had the sassy agent been involved? Maybe that's why they were all rejecting my book! Ah ha: a solid reason at last, nothing to do with its quality.
So that put me off my rewrite.
The little turd.
Who I'd chatted with so recently at that 50th birthday party after not seeing him for years. Didn't have the guts to mention it then, didya big boy? Or didn't want to wreck the big reveal?
I pounded the mean streets of London and thought of all my years of offers from newspapers to 'sell my story', the serious cash dangled to spill about my life with 'one of Britain's best-loved celebs'. "Don't you want people to know what he's really like?" had been one very tempting approach. Tempting, but I'd said no, to them all, of course. Because you don't sell your pals out like that, even if they aren't your pals any more. Right?
But that's what he'd done to me: sold his version of my intimate life.
"Course he has," my pals said. "That would have been part of his deal." And as his publication date grew close and his publicity machine cranked itself up I now saw that 'getting personal' had clearly been an important selling point. "Previously so guarded about his personal life..." "Addresses questions previously off-limits..." "Opening up for the first time..."
I wouldn't read the rest of it, when it came out, I resolved. What did I care: vindictive babble from someone I'd seen through yonks ago.
But on the day of publication I found myself irresistibly drawn to my local bookshop.
How often had I pictured a version of this scene! Me wandering past the shelves and stacks incognito, heading for a certain book prominently on display, loitering as others fondled it, innocents with no ken as to my connection...
And there it was.
I quickly skimmed through the bits unavailable in the online Amazon preview.
Then I left.
"You should be flattered," various friends said. And it was true that while I never thought about my celebrity ex it was clear that he'd spent quite a bit of recent time thinking about me. And to some degree I was flattered to be receiving any attention from anyone at all, what with my recent vast slew of rejections. At least, one way or another, I existed and someone cared.
"What did you expect him to do? Not mention you?" my brilliant friend said.
"Yes," I said. Like he'd once promised, back when we were young. "Or, you know, just in passing, telling the truth..." Mumble grumble. Treachery. Invasion of privacy. Lawyer friends told me I had a case.
My brilliant friend shrugged. "It's just business," she said.
And I guessed it was. This is what getting published is about, after all, I was very slowly starting to learn. Or a certain way of getting published, that involves a big machine and the confirming proven bets it wants, and the new bets it doesn't. A machine that doesn't always care about truth or roadkill, despite all the cat pics. A machine that wants you to think it's the only show in town.
It was what I'd written my book about in fact.
Should have stayed true to that.
I toyed with the idea of legal proceedings for invasion of privacy but who was I kidding? It felt wrong and I didn't want the hassle or exposure or to give him more attention. Perhaps that was what he'd been hoping for all along.
Suck it up.
It was just so unfair, so privileged, that he could flounce about saying any-old and writing crap because he was famous, while I was supposed to sit there and take it, due to not having a platform myself. If I'd been some well-known writer with an agent and a publisher, someone with a public profile who hadn't been rejected, then he'd have been much more careful. That's just a fact.
One day I did what I'd vowed not to: bought a digital copy of his book and searched through for all mentions of 'Sarah', frothing myself into a rage. Then I started again from the beginning and skim-read the whole book from start to finish in one long session, the whole dull unreal turgid tome.
And that made me feel much better.
I realised his spleen wasn't just directed at me. He had used his opportunity to be sour about various people. For all his success that's what his book was to him, I now saw: a chance to settle scores and rewrite inconvenient history.
Boring and exhausting and fake.
I didn't have to do anything to show him up. He'd done a pretty good job of that himself.
And this was where publishers threw their money and marketing.
Certain sorts of publishers.
I returned my purchased digital copy to Amazon and got my money back, which you are allowed to do with digital products within seven days, as long as you select a reason from their drop-down menu. I selected mine: Unsatisfactory Product. I was rejecting his book, I realised with a laugh. In fact I was rejecting lots of things. I was rejecting his attempt at my rejection, I was rejecting all my other rejections. I liked my book. It was much better than his. I just needed to polish it up and send it elsewhere.
Next: Part 9: Five Lessons That Helped Me Get Published
Previous: Part 7: The Skanks
Read my rejection odyssey from the start here.