Let’s just imagine that a couple of weekends ago, hang on, it might have been last week. No, it was definitely… Oh, I don’t know, I’m not Doctor bloody Who (Although I would no doubt, make a bloody brilliant Doctor Who. Admittedly, there’d be a lot less reversing the polarity of the neutron flow and a lot more ‘Hold my beer and watch this’ before all the running and yelling started)
Anywho, 3... 2... 1... back in the room… Where was I? Oh yes, one weekend in the recent past, I was invited down to Southcart Books, the only independent book shop in the Black Country (Where Lenny Henry comes from) to talk about all my books – Past, present and *Whisper* future. You’ve heard me talk about Southcart before – I bang on about it like it’s going out of fashion, you should really go there and spend lots of money. Also, say it was my idea that you go there, I might get a free coffee out of it or maybe some vodka at Christmas – Because everyone knows that that’s what authors live on, coffee and vodka.
It wasn’t just me that got invited. Well, it was that time, but… Well, what happens is that every month, on the lunchtime of the last Saturday, they hold a book club in the shop. It’s where they get a local author, or other person of note, to pop down for a couple of hours and chat about stuff and things, maybe do a reading, maybe recount some funny story from their past and generally hold sway with their feet on the table like a cut-price Tyrion Lannister until it’s time for them all to leave so that they can pick their kids up from ballet, or football, or organic weasel plaiting or whatever it is that passes for children’s weekend entertainment in the West Midlands nowadays. The punters also get the chance to buy copies of whatever book the author’s hawking at the moment. It’s like the thing that Waterstones do with authors you’ve actually heard of, but without all the nasty queueing out of the door and not being able to eat an ice-cream while you’re looking around the shop.
I got there early, spread out some signed copies of ‘The Pangolin Yodels’ and sat on one of the shop’s comfy sofas to await my audience. Before long, Lucy, the organiser of the whole book club thing arrived – Calling her an organiser is selling her short really, she’s a successful author too, and a musical photographer (in that she specializes in taking photos of bands, she doesn’t spin around whilst whistling the Sugar-Plum Fairy as she works – Although who am I to judge? She may well do that too.) and she’s the lead singer of a massively popular soul band – I hate her actually, she’s so bloody talented that it makes my teeth itch. She let me know how these things usually played out, and confided that usually it followed a pretty strict timetable of five minutes of the author bigging up their book, then a break for cake, then the remaining hour was reserved for random knob jokes and comparing favourite flavours of crisps, then a couple of people would buy a copy of your book and we could all go home (via the Organic Weasel Plaiting Foundry Est. in Walsall December 1749, obviously)
So then the fine upstanding members of the book club started to arrive and some of them talked for a while about the damage caused to their boobs by rabbits, (Plus other famous local author James Josiah whom I may have mentioned in passing before - Wait, no, I don't mean that James Josiah caused them some boob damage too... Oh Christ I can see the litigation now!) I sat at the head of the oversized oak table, with a line of completely normal people down each side, some with more damaged boobs than others. They looked at me like jackals in a kebab shop, ‘Go on,’ I could tell that they were thinking, ‘do something literary, I dare you.’ I started off with telling them who I was, just to let them know that they were in the right place. And gave them a quick five minutes of why I do what I do, and where I stared and stuff like that. Then I was asked for a reading… I’d prepared some stuff, but I was requested to read the Gullible Steve story ‘The Concussion Chilli with Rottweiler Sauce’ – I read it, stopping every few minutes to wait for people to stop laughing, and told them that this story wasn’t actually in the book that was available for sale, it was in my previous one (Luckily, I’d bought a copy of it with me for advertising purposes). I got through ‘Thermodynamics,it’s the law’ about my Dad and a pigeon from the 60’s and I think that there might have been one other, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was.
Then I read ‘Bek’ – Now, I can’t tell you what ‘Bek’s about, because it’s a story from my next book, which includes both some extended versions of existing (fiction) stories and some completely new stuff – I’m trying to get it out for Christmas (2016 before you ask) – I’ll keep you in the loop. This is the cover:
Yes, that's my daughter there, well spotted
It promoted some interesting reactions, there were yelps, there were covered faces and various cries of ‘No!’ from people. At the end there was a stunned silence for a few seconds, and one person asked, “How can that story have been written by someone who writes things like that.” (Pointing at ‘The Pangolin Yodels’) another remarked that it felt somehow comfortable and horrific at the same time (I’m paraphrasing as I can't remember exactly what words he used, but I know that I was quite pleased)
I looked up at the clock and we’d over-run by about half an hour. I inscribed some books for people, and every single person who was there bought a copy (apart from the people who already owned it, obvs) – We even had a Viking film director come in off the street to buy a copy (And by Viking film director, I don’t mean someone who directs Viking films, I mean he directs films, and is also a Viking)
(Don't tell anyone, but there has even been talk about the possibility of one of the stories from 'Forever Girl' being made into a film - Remember, Mum's the word. Shh...)
Another funny thing happened, all the people who were there, every man-jack of them, are now my friends on Facebook – I’m very social you know – And one of them has given me permission to screen-grab something she posted so that you can see that, despite your better judgement, it’s not just me that enjoys my books. (I also enclose a picture of her preparing to read the book, for science reasons *cough*) I’m going to be there again probably on Saturday the 25th June, so that people can ask me questions about the book – You could come too, it’ll be fun. There might be a bouncy castle*
Not gratuitous in the slightest...
Frankly written and beautiful? Open? Me? Surely some mistake... Anywho, Southcart might have some signed copies left, or if you get a copy of whichever book/s you want and get in contact, I'll scribble something unintelligible in them and send them back to you, free of charge (inc postage within reason) when I remember.
And what do you get for nothing nowadays?
*There almost certainly won't be a bouncy castle.