If we exclude the launch party for my debut novel Lily Poole, where I didn’t have to do anything much, but go to the bar and buy drinks and get a couple of selfie-styled photos, then yesterday’s outing in Dalmuir Library was my first outing as an author. There were only two things made me more nervous than losing something on a flip of the coin. A heads up (i) There would be an audience. (ii) No audience. The tale of the latter was far more likely. My partner Mary asked me if I wanted her to go. She couldn’t really be bothered. Hasn’t read the book, wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about, but on the plus side Dalmuir Library is only a ten minute walk away. I hinted if she came along at least I was guaranteed an audience of one.
As any budding author knows playing the shucks-you-wouldn’t-let-down-card, if such a card exists in modern sagas with pre-nup agreements always works. I think what swung it for me was the Waltons was on the telly and presented a picture of prairie life as it should be. Mary put me right. It wasn’t the Waltons but Little House on the Prairie. I get a bit confused with nostalgic images of long-lost yore and life in pre-Trump America, but sure as fate, a pigtailed and incredibly young looking Laura Ingalls was in the next shot. She was planning to go on a picnic with a raccoon and her sister, whose name nobody can ever remember, (spoiler * she went blind at some point in later programmes, probably looking for food for picnics), but they planned to enjoy themselves regardless of whether they had food or not, because in those halcyon days they made do, a picnic without food was still a picnic. I guess they could have hunted and eaten the raccoon, or raccoon tail, because everybody in America is licensed to carry a gun except black men and Mexicans. I missed what happened next because I didn’t want to be late. Bob, Mary’s son couldn’t be bothered going to the snooker, so the potential audience had just doubled, or increased one-hundred percent, whichever sound more impressive. It was icy on the roads and pavement, I clung onto Mary’s jacket because I didn’t want her getting injured, and as they say in theatre land, break a leg, especially as she’d have missed all the fun. Bob had to deal with global warming on his own.
I wasn’t sure if the library was open, but three push-bikes were parked in the rack outside, which was encouraging, but then three people came out and rode away on them. On the plus side, Donny, West Dunbartonshire’s Champion Reader, which sounds like a cartoon character, nipped into the library in front of us and led the way.
If I included Donny and the two librarians working behind the counter my potential audience had increased by a multiple of three. A person smarter than me with a HNC in PR would have been able to calculate that number in audience growth rates above the mean, in terms of integers, and put positive spin on it (and ignore the negative and equalizing values that the audience were all paid employees of West Dunbartonshire Council). Things were looking good for a quick and diplomatic exit.
However, as anybody that’s ever been to Dalmuir Library knows that’s the place where they first got the idea for Dr Who’s Tardis. Donny the Champion Reader led me into the Tardis room and there were seated give or take a few bodies, around 15 000 folk. I recognized some of the faces. Pat McDade hadn’t given any hint on Facebook, where he lives, that he’d be making the journey to reality. But there he was seated in the back row close to Jim Mirren, his wife and father-in-law. Mary and Robert went to sit beside him. In the middle tier were the author Emma L Clapperton and her mother Margaret. They smiled to encourage me to hurry up and get it over and done with. In the front row a man with slicked black hair, blue casual wear and soft shoes clutched his ticket nervously and later asked me to autograph it. The librarian had to bring in more chairs, which might or might not have been a good sign.
The Champion Reader graciously offered the much prized and sought after padded swivel seat at the front as my throne. Pat’s voice drifted down, some belittling remark about me being unusually early for someone that prided himself on being fashionably late. Jim McLaren breenched in and then we needed another seat for Louise, Alan’s fiancée, but they’ll probably never get married because he’s grey and going bald. She’s already swithering, but her secret is safe with us. Don’t tell anybody, unless you have to.
John, the head of West Dunbartonshire Libraries, stood up, and like father of the bride, did the mandatory announcement about safety issues, where the toilets were and read a short speech about me. Donny remarked that was quite a good blurb and that he should know because he sometimes had to write them. I didn’t say it was a pretty good blurb because Unbound’s was crap and I’d written it, but that was the only time I was modest. After that I claimed to have read every book in the English language and some in schoolboy French and was in the process of re-writing them and making them better. After yakking for several hours Donny had me saying au revoir and had to pull me away from my audience and push me outside where he had a taxi waiting and the meter showing a bill of £321.
‘Money well spent,’ was my parting remarks to him.
I’m not sure I’ll be invited back. But with a library card in my possession I will not be thwarted in my plans for global domination.