Well, it’s been a while. Christmas and all that snow seems like a distant memory. There were no dead rodents among the decorations this year, and the fact that we went to the in-laws’ on Christmas Day and I didn’t have to cook was a bonus for everyone. I finished reading Wolf Hall on Christmas Eve, and was relieved to have found it to be as good as everyone had said it was. If a book has had such a build up – and I’m reading it long after everyone else, and am therefore aware of the critical consensus – I worry about being disappointed. How does Mantel do it though? How does she manage to bring alive characters we already believe we know so well and breathe new life into a period of history that has been done to death in fiction and on screen? And sustain it for so long and yet manage to hold the reader’s interest? Five pages into the only Dan Brown I tried to read and I was rapidly losing the will to live, desperately flicking to the end to find out how much more of this I had to get through. Although I made two attempts, I didn’t get very far, and when a friend asked to borrow it I gave it to her and I’ve never seen it again, I’m glad to say, yet his books sell in far greater numbers than hers – how do publishers manage to market bad books so well?
I recently discovered that my novel is now available on Kindle, which came as a surprise – although I don’t know why, as I suppose most novels still currently in print will be. Given my dismay at the thought of electronic readers replacing my beloved books I was initially less than pleased; then I thought about royalties, and cheered up.
Twice over Christmas I was at a party when someone came along and informed the person I was talking to that I was a writer. One minute we were two people having an inconsequential chat, the next I felt as if I were expected to say something clever or witty – to perform in some way. Although I’m always pleasantly surprised when someone finds scribbling for a living impressive, I’m also aware that I let down the side somewhat. I could pretend to do something else, but then there are few professions that I could discuss convincingly. My friend Alastair works for what used to be the London Rubber Company, manufacturer of condoms, and he had a girlfriend who was employed by a company that made sanitary towels. Whenever someone at a party asked them what they did it killed the conversation stone dead, so maybe I should just pretend to be a rubber technologist, like him, and no-one will ask me quastions about what I do.
So Waterstones is to close 20 of its stores. Like a lot of people, I have mixed feelings about its monopoly in the high street, but as so many independent bookshops have been forced out of business it provides the only place that many of us can go and physically browse through books. I’m still reeling from my attempt to buy Phillip Pullman’s Four Tales in Smith’s in Lewisham. After searching in every likely place without success, I went to the enquiry desk, where I was asked to spell the name. The young man behind the counter didn’t seem in the least perturbed by the fact that he hadn’t heard of Pullman, nor that he couldn’t tell me whether they had the book. He called over the manager and another member of staff, who led me in a little procession around the shelves, the manager holding aloft the device that was supposed to tell him whether an item was in stock as he tried to get find a signal, until I lost patience and said I’d get it from Amazon – which I duly did, sitting ay my desk at midnight…
I shall be taking part in an event at Forest Hill Library to celebrate World Book Night on 5th March, so if anyone’s in the vicinity, come along and join us. It will be from 4.30 to 8pm, I believe, but I’ll post the details when I know more.