Asking for support, even when offering something in return, teaches you much, not least about yourself. Having been fiercely independent ever since flying the nest, having been diligent in every job from waitressing to building my own PR business (from unfunded scratch), nothing came harder than to ask others to help finance a venture about which I was passionate.
Of course, I’m sure it would have felt more comfortable for all had it been for charity. There are a multitude of far worthier causes, after all, and I was fully aware of ‘funding fatigue.’ Indeed, how often had I battled my own busyness, or false perceptions of cash flow (because, after all, flow is what keeps generating flow) in order to keep being supportive?
Yet here I was, asking for personal backing. I had one hand thrust out and wide open, just for ‘me.’ The other was exchanging something, but still, I was asking people to invest in Stephanie the Author, and in what I loved doing the most. Nevertheless, I was blithely hopeful. Whether supporters were booklovers or not, the principal seemed fair: “Here’s a chance to participate in a creative journey and to have your name etched into your own first edition, and every other copy of the book.”
And wow, was so much of that hope rewarded, when a rush of my friends, surviving family and colleagues took the time and effort to back me! To my final breath I will thank them… from those with nothing to spare but heartfelt congratulations, to those who were generous way beyond the call of duty. (And, yes, to those with no interest at all – as to all my teachers.) Yet that word, the one just there if you back up a bit, that word ‘duty’ became the barb upon which my anticipation was snagged. I was suddenly confronted with taking a long hard look at reciprocity – what it meant to me – and what it may, or may not mean to others.
Had I really given so unconditionally and without expectation whenever I had supported, or invested, or sponsored, or taken care of the bill, or hired (when I didn’t really need to, or couldn’t really afford the asking price)? Was I really as ‘awake’ as I liked to think I was? Was I asking too much now of those who’d supported me at times of terrible loss in other life-saving ways?
One of the themes in my novel, Dear Mr Darwin, concerns how the human species survives by cooperation. That without the earliest form of trade (both goods and knowledge), without opening our arms and exchanging with others, early humanity could not have survived and we would not be here, now. Furthermore, to a well-trained westerner, the concept of quid pro quo, of “I invest here, either for instant gratification or for some unquantifiable reward down the line,” is fundamental to our social economics, despite whatever philosophical paths we may be treading.
Had I any right to hope that those to whom I had ‘given’ would ‘give back’ when and how it was asked for? Did I have any right to be impatient in that hope, when I know just how crazy and stressful life is? Why should my voice be heard above all the other noise out there?
The answers, of course, are: no, absolutely no, it shouldn’t, and none of the above. Giving, by its true nature, is entirely unconditional (as it remains amongst many ancient indigenous peoples, who provided important inspiration for one kickass female character.)
My voice, my passion, my project is no more important than anyone else’s, nor is my time, regardless of the years of love, sweat and tears poured into its creation. All of that, all of this fundraising now, is my choice alone… and I would choose it again. Ergo, all other choices must be respected, even if that’s to scroll past my communications, even if that’s not to ‘return the favour.’ (Oh, how language haunts us? How the commonality of that phrase alone had fed my programming!)
The crowdfunding experience led me to contemplate another conundrum. That some people might view the fact that I’ve always seemed so strong, so sorted, that I’ve never asked for help before, as testament to the fact that I can’t really need it, not now, not really. If I was in some kind of trouble, ok, but certainly not to finance an ambition? It makes me wonder, am I the only apparently ‘strong’ woman who has experienced this?
Or maybe it’s simply a matter of priorities, of tastes. While I feel this book has something to say, no doubt many others would disagree – either with my perception, or with what it does have to say. (Although, above all, this book asks questions.)
The experience of writing is so complex and such a double-edged sword of thrill and disappointment, joy and despair, fulfilment and self-doubt. Why should I be surprised, then, that the excitement of having my manuscript chosen by award-winning, crowdfunded publisher Unbound would be pursued mercilessly by the realisation that I must now put aside pride and go out there with my begging bowl – even if in exchange for a book?
And yet, I wouldn’t change a thing about the birthing pains of the process, or this thrilling adventure in first-time publishing. Presumption is always a stumbling block to growth, but the lessons in humility, deep thankfulness (and a tiny taste of awareness as to life for those who regularly have to ‘ask’) have been utterly priceless. Regardless of whether my book is funded – or successful.
About DEAR MR DARWIN
A story of love, wisdom and survival
A young woman walks alone through a barren landscape in a time before history, a time of cataclysmic natural change. She is cold, hungry and with child, but not without hope or resources. A skilful hunter, she draws on her intuitive understanding of how to stay alive… and knows that she must survive.
In the present day, geneticist Dr Eloise Kluft wrestles with an ancient conundrum as she unravels the secrets of an important archaeological find. She is working at the cutting edge of contemporary science, but is caught in the lonely time-lock of her own emotional past.
Dear Mr. Darwin is the story of two women separated by millennia but bound by the web of life. A timeless tale of the search for love and knowledge, it is a voyage through science and spirituality, nature and nurture, curiosity and courage.
Alternating between prehistory and the present day, the story unfolds through the adventures of ‘Sarah,’ and the hazards of her marathon journey of migration, and of Dr Eloise Kluft, a dedicated scientist living a comfortable yet troubled existence in modern day London.
The two are connected not only by a set of archaic remains in Dr Kluft’s laboratory, but also by a sense of destiny and a desire to understand the mysteries of life. Both are pioneers, women of passion, grit and imagination, although their day-to-day lives could not be more different.
Sarah’s story is that of sheer determination as she seeks a safe haven from the disaster that has destroyed the rest of her tribe, and fights to keep her infant daughter alive. She must draw on every ounce of willpower and ingenuity, and on the skills inherited from her shaman grandmother and hunter father to live by her wits, moment to moment. Eloise is on her own mission, to unravel the genetic secrets of Sarah and to enhance the well-being and wisdom of the human race. Each is isolated and facing her own particular dangers and decisions, but each is inspired by the power of the life force and driven by love.
As Sarah’s quest reaches its climax and Eloise begins to make exciting progress in the study of her remains, both women face life-threatening events and confrontations… and one of them begins to understand that she must make a terrible but vital sacrifice.
Although partly set 70,000 years ago, Dear Mr Darwin is very much a book for our times. The story poses some of the crucial questions facing us today from genetics, climate change and migration to the clash between faith and reason, while painting an intimate portrait of who we are as a species.
Dear Mr Darwin stands alone as a novel, but also marks the beginning of the intended ‘Children of Sarah’ saga.