Monday, November 07, 2022

Pressing the flesh

Last weekend I was in lovely Grantown-on-Spey, nestling close to the Cairngorms, for the town's Wee Crime Festival.

It's been three years since the festival was last held. First 2020 happened. Then 2021 came along. 2022 hasn't been THAT much better but at least the festival was back on.

It's organised by Marjory Marshall, the energetic owner of the town's bookshop, the Bookmark. It's a popular store, footfall is incredible - local bookshops can be part of the lifeblood of a town. Someone told me that property prices for towns with a bookstore are higher than those without.

Anyway, the festival...

I've been lucky enough to be a regular there for a number of years. Along with crime writers Caro Ramsay and Michael J. Malone, I present a comedy mystery play each year called Carry on Sleuthing (there are three of them! And the mystery is, where's the comedy?) We also chair some of the panels over the weekend as well as participating in others as ourselves, as it were.

It felt good to be back, and not just because Grantown is a lovely place to visit. It, and the other festivals I've been lucky enough to attend this year, made me realise how much I missed getting out there and seeing the whites of the readers eyes! 

When I began this lark we call authoring, when I was writing true crime and non-fiction, I wasn't called upon to do much in the way of public speaking. There were radio and TV interviews but I was invited to only one festival, where one man approached me following my talk to remonstrate with me over the fact that there were no photographs of dead bodies in my books. 

I backed away sharpish, looking for a safe space. Or a panic button.

But since embarking on the stormy seas of fiction, I've become an old hand at the festival game, which is amazing to me because I am actually shy, Mary Ellen. 

Meeting the reading community is a vital part of what we do. A couple of months ago  I attended an event for a 'celebrity author' who announced at the start that he would not be doing a signing at the end - all books on sale were pre-signed. I was incensed that the unwritten contract between author and reader had been broken. To my mind, signing books and sharing a few words with the people good enough to shell out their hard-earned folding green to buy them goes with the territory.

The message he sent was that he didn't care if anyone bought his book. (Actually, he said that at one point during the interview. Quite breathtakingly arrogant, I thought).

I didn't buy his book.

I'll be out again next week. Every year that fine and august body, the Scottish Book Trust, funds events across the country for a week long literary extravaganza called, cunningly, Book Week Scotland.

It sees authors traversing the face of Scotland, up hill, down glen, into the streets, to talk in libraries, community halls, phone booths. Okay, I made the last one up.

I've got a full week going coast to coast, for which I'm grateful. I'll be in Musselburgh (on the East Coast), Saltcoats (West Coast), Motherwell (Central Belt) and then Dundee (East Coast again). 

Granted, the phrase going coast-to-coast in Scotland doesn't mean the same as it does in the US of A.

It will be exhausting, for I am not a young man, but it will be fun appearing with other authors, talking about my work, having a laugh and - it is fervently hoped - if not selling books then at least inspiring readers to borrow them from those all-important libraries. 

When next we are together, dear reader, I'll tell you how it all works out.

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