When I was living in Vientiane in the mid-1990s, I visited a Lao friend who’d recently had a baby. Although it was April, the hottest time of year, my friend wore a woollen cardigan and beanie, her skin crimson and blistering with heat. Her baby’s red face was barely visible between his own woollen beanie and blankets, his hands fastened in draw-string mittens. The windows were closed, the ceiling fans still, and a brazier of hot coals burned beneath the mother’s rattan bed.
This custom, known as ‘staying on fire’, is practiced widely throughout Southeast Asia, based on beliefs about the ‘humours’ (heat, cold, damp, dry, etc) that make up the body and the need to keep them balanced. Childbirth results in a loss of blood, thus depleting both mother and baby of heat, which must be restored with warm clothes, hot coals and a diet that, from memory, involves generous amounts of chicken. Staying on fire is believed to promote mother and baby’s health and well-being.
My novel, Mother of Pearl, which is about surrogacy, is divided into three sections that resonate with stages of the story: Preconception, Gestation and Afterbirth. But it strikes me that there is a fourth stage that follows the release of the book, which I’m starting to think of as ‘staying on fire’. This is the period when the novel receives reviews and the author makes appearances in the media and/or at events such as writers’ festivals, providing opportunities to keep promoting the work to potential readers.
Thanks largely to the work of my publisher Transit Lounge and Quikmark Media, Mother of Pearl has been reviewed in print and online (I file the reviews here) and I’ve had opportunities to talk about the novel on radio and at public events, most recently at my local bookstore, Brunswick Bound. I did readings from Mother of Pearl at the Melbourne Writers Festival, as well as regional festivals in Horsham and Apollo Bay. I’ve made dates to talk at libraries and to book clubs, and I’m continuing to pitch the work to writers’ festivals in 2020.
I’ve been fortunate to receive regular feedback from friends and peers about the novel. Just when I wonder if anyone’s reading, I’ll receive word to lift my spirits. I’m genuinely grateful to everyone who reads Mother of Pearl. Time is precious and books are plentiful, and so I don’t take the choice to read my novel for granted. And I’m doubly grateful when readers make the time to let me know when they’ve enjoyed the book. I’ve been so touched by the emails, cards, Tweets, Facebook posts, Goodreads reviews and conversations, and by the photos I’ve been sent of the book spotted in libraries and bookshops.
At the same time, I wonder if there’s more I should be doing for this book. Should I be pitching articles? Writing more posts on my own and other people’s blogs? Doing more promotion more on social media? Pitching harder for events and festivals? When other people around me are talking up their books, should I be less polite, more pushy? Should I bust a gut to get the book into the hands of influencers? A big part of my job at Writers Victoria is to promote and connect writers, to provide opportunities for them to promote their work and give it the best chance of success: am I like the physician who cannot heal themself?
Perhaps I can never do enough, but I’m following author Mark Smith’s advice and saying yes to everything in order to keep Mother of Pearl staying on fire for as long as I possibly can.
Heartfelt thanks to everyone who has sent some warmth my way so far.