When I was five, I lied.
I told friends at my primary school that an author had dedicated a book to me. In print. And everything.
This white lie got me in a bit of hot water. “Bring it in and show us then”, they said. “OK.”
Except the book didn’t exist. One fib led to another and I decided to write my own dedication in a way that (I thought) looked like type: For Molly Mackey.
(I wrote it in pencil, because I wasn’t old enough to write in pen.)
The book was Terry Jones’s Fairy Tales, which included a story called ‘Brave Molly’, so it made sense to me that it would be dedicated to a real life Molly. I wrote it on the inside page, hoping my friends wouldn’t get to the actual dedication: these stories were written for Sally Jones in the summer of 1978.
I still have the book. And you can see my hand-written ‘dedication’, along with the very faint ‘for’, rubbed out after my super sleuth friends quickly discovered the truth:
It’s a laughable forgery. I think I knew it at the time, but I really, really wanted to have a book dedicated to me. I thought it was the Best. Thing. Ever. That someone could write a book and say, “here, this is for you” blew my mind.
It still does. The first thing I do when I pick up a book – any book – is look at the dedication in the front and the thanks at the back. If I’m in a bookshop, browsing the three-for-two mounds, I don’t read the blurbs. I head straight for the names, the little bit where the author writes in their own voice.
Sometimes they tell you how they’re connected to that name on the first page (for Kate, my mother). Mostly I have to settle for the bare bones. For… but then my brain goes into overdrive (“must be his partner/wife/sister/mum/best friend”). I swiftly make up my own stories about how the name in print is connected to the name on the front cover.
Sometimes authors give you a little more, like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous Once again to Zelda. In Nicole Krauss’ The History of Love, the dedication reads: for my grandparents, who taught me the opposite of disappearing, next to their four photos, as well as and for Jonathan, my life. You don’t have to be a Nobel prizewinner to know that’s Jonathan Safran Foer. Ahhh. Lovely! Two authors! Together! In love!
All the time I search for scraps of information. Something, anything, about the author. Why? I don’t know for sure, but what I do know is that I spend a lot of time with an author when I read their books. I hear their voice. I’m in their head, and they’re in mine. Even if it’s outlandish fiction, their book becomes like a familiar friend. And as the book goes on I want to know more. So much so that I feel a bit of disorientated when I pick up a book written by someone else. And although it’s exciting to read a new book, I have to get to know the writer’s little wordy eccentricities and foibles all over again. And each new dedication gives me a teeny tiny glimpse into their real life.
And then there are the acknowledgements. Tucked away at the back, it’s often where you can find out where the author put pen to paper (thanks to such-and-such-research centre, writers’ retreat or Starbucks), who helped them get their facts straight, who edited their book and who they relied on to look after the kids while they wrote it. I love these sneak peeks into an author’s real life. There are books I’m just not interested in reading, but I’ll always have a look at their acknowledgements. Just a few little words, but they’re a story in themselves – admittedly one that’s often made up by me.
Three years after my playground dedication debacle, I finally got what I’d boasted about. My mum’s friend was writing a book and her illustrator needed some children to photograph to help her draw the pictures. If by any (small) chance you have a copy of Rose Impey’s Scare Yourself to Sleep, you’ll see it’s For Tom, Molly and Alice (me, my brother and my best friend). Too late to prove my point to the five-year-olds, but a fib come true all the same.