Whereas I think it’s quite nice to have authors visiting bookshops, signing their books, it appears they are more of a liability and an embarrassment. Or that’s what Waterstones are thinking.
You get pushy people everywhere. That includes bookshops. And their staff. Other kinds of shops. And their staff. Sometimes it can be hard to extricate yourself from buying something you don’t want. Or, god forbid, can’t afford. But this feels like one step too far.
Some years ago I attended the event below. It was a very minor event, in a small independent bookshop. It is to their credit that they even offered it, seeing as staff and other helpers outnumbered ‘real’ customers. But I sometimes think back to it with some fondness.
“Our guest on Monday night had only come from a few miles away, but did so via Finland, Nepal and Sierra Leone. B J was with us to talk about his latest book, which is part tribute to the British Council and in part about all the famous names in literature who have a past in teaching English abroad.
Having been at the receiving end of this myself in my early teens, I now wish I’d paid more attention to the teachers who are possibly both rich and famous by now. B J spent five years researching his book, finding a total of 205 authors, and then his editor at the publishers went and put an upper limit for the book at 300 pages. How unfair is that?
Following in the footsteps of Wilfred Owen, James Joyce and John Betjeman, B J talked about the complications of buying grapes in Finland in the early sixties (I’ve got two good Nordic grape jokes myself if anyone’s interested) and of meeting Edmund Hillary in Nepal and flying round the country with him visiting Nepalese primary schools. B J now boasts a collection of 1650 books on Nepal, so if you need one you know where to go.
Among B J’s gems of information we found out that J K Rowling probably got the idea for the Philosopher’s Stone from a Portuguese poem. At this point those of us sitting closest to B J all had the same idea and leaned closer to see if his copy of Harry Potter was a first edition, with some vaguely criminal intent, which fizzled out when we discovered it wasn’t…
Talking to so many people with experience of Funny Foreigners, B J found a new translation for “out of sight, out of mind”. How does “invisible and insane” strike you? As another FF, I can only wish “my English was gooder” and I forget where that quote came from.
Already B J has detailed plans for another four or five books, so no problems with writer’s block there.”
I wrote the above, now slightly altered, blog post after the event. I’d rather not mention B J’s name, since I believe he didn’t manage to sell any books, but he was so earnest in what he did. Probably a little aspie, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I almost bought a copy to end his suffering, but couldn’t quite make myself do it.
Encountering an author in a bookshop – even in Waterstones – probably won’t have me running for the door. Yet.