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!


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