Soon after accepting the deal I was summoned back to London. My agent and I went to meet my editor at HarperCollins. My head humming with awe, I trod into those hallowed halls at Hammersmith as if entering heaven, which, of course, figuratively, I was, for this was the shrine at which my writer alias worshipped. A shrine dedicated to Mammon, of course, appropriately brash and bold and shiny.
HC headquarters is a huge modern building set in the back courtyard of a more traditional edifice on the Fulham Palace Road, Hammersmith. You are granted entry through a series of security gates and doors buzzed open by whoever owned the voice at the other end of the intercom. We were handed identity badges at the reception desk, then buzzed through the final door and into the main reception hall.
I found myself at the bottom of a huge shiny atrium, corridors of glass and steel spiralling up to the sky above me. After a short wait, my editor came down to greet us and whooshed us up to her office on one of the upper stories – the Holy of Holies. Her office was relatively small, and filled with books and manuscripts – exactly how I’d imagined an editor’s office.
And my editor; my new god. She was exactly as an editor should be: warm and full of enthusiasm for Of Marriageable Age. She couldn’t put it down, she said.
Some of the lesser deities arrived in the office: young women from Sales, and Marketing, and Foreign Sales, all of whose names I forgot in an instant and whose faces seemed strangely blurred, so much so that I would not have recognised a single one of them if I’d met them the next day on the street. They were all perky and delighted to meet me and all of them loved Of Marriageable Age and couldn’t put it down.
We discussed various aspects of the publishing process. They had decided to market it as “an exotic love story”, I was told. I flinched. I didn’t mind love story, which it was, but I’d never liked the word exotic; what was exotic to them was, of course, completely normal to me. But, of course, I was myself going to be marketed as exotic, so the tag “exotic love story” stayed put.
My name was slightly problematic, I was told. It began with W, and W is a problematic letter. It’s too late in the alphabet. Books are shelved alphabetically, and W would be on the bottom shelves. Would I consider a pen name? If it would help, then sure, I said. We discussed possibilities. My mother’s maiden name, Cox. My father’s middle name, Hamilton, which is his mother’s maiden name. My middle name, Josephine. Combinations. Josephine Cox was, of course, already taken…
We finally chose the second half of my surname, Maas, and my real first name.
I returned to Germany, my head spinning, and eager for the next step forward.