So far, two bookclubs have used Dogs of India as their book of the month. Both times, i've been invited to come to dinner and talk to the clubbers about the book and the story behind the story, and, more importantly, to hear from the readers about their experience with the narrative and characters.
Writing is a pretty solo experience. Unlike developing a product or service where in startup mode you are testing out with users, refining the offering in the market, and witnessing the consumer experience - a world where (ideally) the customer is an active part of a two way conversation. In the world of story development, often your characters enter the market with only a few pairs of experienced eyes over them, and you don't often get to have intimate conversations with readers until the characters are formed and released to the world.
Sitting around a table with experienced, articulate readers who have been in their bookclubs for many years is something every writer should enjoy. I've been lucky - both of the bookclubs that read Dogs of India loved it, (and were very clear that if they hadn't I would have been the first to know) and importantly for me all felt transported and emotionally connected to the story and characters. As a writer, this rocked as my intent for the character arc and heroes journey was validated by the reader.
In my work as a consultant i've often seen products go into the market that were subsequently used by the customer for a slightly different purpose, the creators missed the actual market need in their fixed idea of what it should be. That is the beauty and terror of human consumers - they don't always do what you think they are going to. The same can happen with characters, the goodies can be too good, the baddies can be compelling, the point you were trying to make can be misconstrued totally. As a writer you think you've told one story, but in truth each reader is having their own story from their own life filter, which given it's unpredictability, is the leap of faith every writer takes when their manuscript leaves the safety of the computer or bottom drawer.
My favourite part of spending the evening with the Eurydice Cordelia Book Club was, (aside from the fabulous personalities of the women and obvious love of books and reading) when they went around the table and talked about their favourite character and favourite moment in the story. They completely personalised their own version of Dogs of India, and each one loved a different character, who came to life for me all over again with the retelling. A magic and humbling experience, which reinforced the power of storytelling - both the story and the teller, and the central role they have in our communities and shared experience.
The other insight I have into the world of book clubs, is how little they are actually about books. My first book club experience late last year was another all female club with over a decade of books under the bridge. They had come together largely as an evolution from being a new mothers club, which then became an escape from children and the home and a place to talk about anything and everything, and even books sometimes.
That night was a cascade of wildly divergent conversations over an Indian banquet, including an impromptu challenge to name the top 5 celebrities/personalities I wanted to have no negative consequence sex with and why. Much laughter later, it was lovely to be bathed in the outsiders cloak of old, loving relationships and friendships. Ones that had seen through the seasons of good and bad happenings with a monthly novel as a central stable motif.
I left both events feeling wildly optimistic about the state of reading, literary criticism, friendships and the particular way women hold space for each other and friendships. And more fodder for stories than any writer deserves.
Here is my top 5, incase you were wondering, in no particular order:
1. John McGee (the original and best husband and personal celebrity, who's allure never gets old)
2. Ira Glass (public radio broadcaster and neurotic genius storyteller)
3. Rick Stein (chef, writer, profuse sweater in tropical climates)
4. Dave Grohl and Josh Homme (Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stoneage rock gods, i'm keeping the challenge interesting with a threesome)
5. Anthony Bourdain (chef enfant terrible)
Dr Polly McGee is one part writer, and many parts assorted thinker, do-er, talker, eater, chef, explorer, yogi, kirtaneer and dog wrangler. She has worked in kitchens, bars and restaurants from frantic to fancy, managed multi-million dollar innovation grants programs, advised hundreds of start-ups on how to refine their business ideas and source funding, and championed causes from a variety of soapboxes, lecterns and stages. She is currently the Strategic Marketing Lead for Global Edtech Startup Prosper Education. Her new book, The Good Hustle, is coming out in February 2018