Saturday, December 09, 2006

Sign Here Please!

Waking up in an unfamiliar hotel room with a slight hangover and remembering that you've agreed to sign a few copies of your novel isn't the best feeling in the world, particularly when you remind yourself that today you're signing over 2000 of them and you'll be required to do the same next week.

But of course, as a writer you want to do everything you can to help the book along, which is why I and my trusty assistant Lauren, find ourselves alighting from a taxi outside the TBS warehouse in Colchester at nine AM prompt.

I'd just been proving a point. Lauren had never heard of Rita Tushingham (see previous posting) and I said, 'that's because you're just a young thing.' And I point to the taxi driver, who looks around 60 years of age and I say, 'I bet you've heard of her, haven't you?' And he says, 'No,' which throws me a bit, until he explains that he had a heart attack a few years back and lost his entire memory of everything that happened before it. Which is like something from a movie script but amazingly, true. Lauren and I are a bit nervous that he won't remember where the warehouse is, but happily, he does.

Anyway, into TBS we go and I'm ushered into a room and I nearly have a heart attack on the spot, because there's a stack of books in there with the aproximate directions of an articulated lorry (click on my web site if you want to see what that looks like- but remember, there's the same amount of books again out of the frame!) and there's nothing for it but to make a start.

Now to be fair to the lovely staff at TBS, they did everything they could to make it more bearable - comfy chair, supplies of coffee, juice and water, comprehensive selection of pens - but signing that many books is like being in detention for something really bad, like say, murdering somebody.

Here's how it works. Somebody sits at your left and passes you a book, open to the frontispiece. You sign and pass the book to somebody on your right, who then passes it to a couple of other people who pack it into a box and prepare it for sending away. You sign and sign and sign until your wrist aches and your back aches and every so often somebody says, 'That's 200 or that's 500,' and you just keep going until even your ears are aching and you try and fill the time with inane conversation, but what happens is you start making mistakes.

Some of the interesting variations I got on my name included Philip with two L's, Philip Prince, Page Caveney, Prince Philip and even (rather worryingly) Philip Pullman! (I think we were discussing one of his books at the time).

I am reminded of Guy Fawkes and his signature before and after he was tortured and I can't help but notice that mine has followed a similar trajectory. They time me at 4 seconds per signature, which I'm told is about average. 'That Chris Ryan can do one in two seconds, ' somebody tells me and I point out that he was in the S.A.S.

There's a break for a delicious lunch "The Dickens" (the meals are all named after authors) - succulent pieces of fillet steak on a mouthwatering rosti base with caramelised onions - and then it's back in the saddle and if it was hard doing it in the morning, it's even worse in the afternoon.

Finally, finally, it is all over and I am able to slink away, through the gathering press of friday afternoon humanity, secure in the knowledge that I will be doing exactly the same thing again in 7 days time! Ah, the joys of publication...

And before anybody asks, no, I can't use a rubber stamp!

Party Animals

'Would you like to come to the Random House Christmas party?' they asked me. Hey, is the Pope a Catholic?
So there I was, Thursday December 7th, walking along the street to my destination, looking at plaques saying things like, 'Lord Pilkington Smythe was born here in 1887' and who do I see coming along the street towards me? Only Rita Tushingham!

Now, I appreciate that people of a certain age will be saying, 'Wow, Rita Tushingham!' while those under a certain age will be looking blank and saying 'Rita Who?' Let me just say that Rita was one of the brightest stars of 60's Brit-cinema and her lead role in Tony Richardson's A Taste Of Honey alone, would qualify her for superstar status. I once wrote a little poem about Rita. It goes like this.

As I was rushing home
through Rusholme
in the rush hour.
I didn't see Rita Tushingham
rushing home,
but if I had
I would be glad.
For there's none more neater
than our Rita.

So I took a liberty, pretended I knew her and had a nice little chat with Rita, before going on in to the party. I didn't mention the poem, in case she thought I was a dangerous maniac or something.

The venue was incredibly swanky, to be honest, all cut glass chandeliers and parquet floors. I was literally the first person there, but within minutes the place was filling up and my goodness, just look who it was filling up with! I recognised (and in many cases, chatted happily with) the likes of Philip Pullman, Terry Pratchett, Jacqueline Wilson, Jonathan Stroud, Keith Grey, Dean Carter, Paul Stewart, Chris Riddell, Joe Delaney, Sam Enthoven... and a chap who looked exactly like Hugh Fernly Whittingstall but wasn't. Luckily, I'd actually read books by some of these people and when I was introduced to them, nobody looked at me and said, 'who the hell are you?' which was a relief.

And then, what a surprise, who do I bump into but Steve Webb, from Manchester, who once came to the Writers Group and who I last saw at a Society Of Authors meeting. And I knew of course that he was an author/illustrator but hadn't realised he was with Random House. Weird! We stood there and talked about the wonder of it all, two Manc scallies in amongst the quality.

Then it was time to head in the direction of the nearest pub and the party really began...