Who ‘fired’ first

Two of my most treasured books as a ten-year-old were a couple of Reader’s Digest children’s annuals. I am not blushing all that much admitting to this, because they meant a lot to me. I read them over and over again, and there was plenty of interesting stuff to find.

In one there was a puzzle to solve. It was the picture of a saloon mirror which had lots of bullet holes, and the clever marshall who went there to decide in which order the shots had been fired, could immediately work out the correct answer, based on how the cracks on the mirror were hemmed in by each other.

That’s pretty much the technique I used to decide which author had signed an anthology of mine.

Some years ago I had this crazy idea that I’d get my anthologies signed by as many of the participating authors as I could. What I hadn’t worked out was that I’d be getting more and more of them, so my task would simply grow too big.

I still cart collections of short stories around, especially when I know I’m likely to run into more than one potential signer. But generally speaking it’s a lost cause.

The volume I had in mind when I mentioned the shooting above, was one I looked at a while ago, several years after I’d done my carting around. Melvin Burgess was obvious. He signed first, so had taken up a lot of the available space. Tim Bowler was next, so there was plenty of room for him as well.

Then came Alan Gibbons, who also did all right. And after him I collared… Yeah, who did I find? I tried deciphering the signature and failed abyssmally. It was more a doodle than anything. In the end I needed to look at the index to see which of the authors I had met, and thereby might have signed. There was only one possibility.

With that thought I peeped at some of his other signed books, and I’d been right. How could I have forgotten Eoin Colfer’s autograph? And what did he (or anyone else) think of being offered only a tiny space in which to doodle?

It’s a weird hobby, but one I suspect I will continue pursuing, on and off. I once made up a list of my books and which authors, and which ones I’d had signed, in order to make my planning easier. I gave that up pretty swiftly. It was as hard to keep up with as my card system for knowing what’s in my large freezer.

Better to take pot luck in both cases.


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