Monday, October 14, 2013

Meet the Author

It was Margaret Atwood who, with her usual acid wit, said, ‘People who want to meet an author because they liked a book are like people who want to meet a duck because they like pâté.’

Fortunately, the fate of the author and the duck after this meeting are not quite the same, since face-to-face encounters seem to be more popular than ever.

I don't think I ever met an author when I was a child; they seemed a very exotic breed and even after I was writing myself, meeting an author whose books I'd read and loved would leave me awestruck. Today, there is barely a school that doesn't organise visits from children's authors and barely a small town or even village – in Scotland at least – that doesn't have its own little weekend literary festival.  Crime, I'm happy to say, is a very popular theme.

I was recently on a panel at Bloody Scotland, Scotland's new crime festival, now in its second year. It has been a tremendous success, expanding this year and looking set to expand again next.  Readers are coming over for it from the United States and Canada and this year it featured Lee Child and Scandinavian writers Jo Nesbo and Arne Dahl, as well as Scotland's own Tartan Noir army, led by Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Denise Mina and the lovely man who started it all, William McIlvaney. 

Like Scandinavia, Scotland punches well above its population weight when it comes to crime writers.  Something to do with the long, dark northern winters, and I guess that goes for Canada too..There's a whole blog to be written, some other time, about the effect of climate on literary creation – Steig Larsson and Andrea Camilleri: compare and contrast.

 I love going to events and I love the contact I have with readers but there is one worrying thought. I was talking to someone the other day who said that if she had gone to see someone whose books she enjoyed and she didn't like them, she'd never read another of their books.

I haven't had that experience myself but I do know that after reading a biography of Evelyn Waugh and realising just what an unpleasant man he could be, I've never felt quite the same about his books. The personality seems to get between the me and the words.

So meeting the reader may sell books, but it's perhaps a high-risk strategy. The producer is very different from the product and if you take against the way the duck quacks, you just might not buy the pâté again.

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