Lanark is a hell of a lot further away than I thought it was. So just to be on the safe side I’m going to leave the house at nine in the morning. That should get me there in plenty of time for lunch, before meeting the hordes of my adoring public at half two.
And as it’s a hooring long trip I’m going to keep myself entertained (that’s not a euphemism for anything dirty, before the smutmeisters among you start sniggering – be far too difficult to keep control of the car) with the complete and unabridged, 8 cassette, audio version of WINTER’S END. Yes, The Nameless Horror and I have swapped audio versions: he’s got John Sessions reading my book and I’ve got John Chancer reading his. It seemed like a good idea at the time – but then we’d been drinking, you know how it goes. According to Mr Rickards the audio version of Winter’s End is bloody hilarious, in a ‘can’t listen to it for more than five minutes’ sort of way. I bloody well hope so.
It is. Well, the first side is anyway. Audio books are a weird thing, someone else making a performance out of an author’s words, making up voices for his/her characters. And BOY does Mr Chancer go to town on that one – he was in the Moomins you know. The book opens on a rainy night in Maine, a flash of lightning, two cops chatting in a squad car on their way home. One of them sounds like he’s swallowed a frog-coated cheese grater, the other one sounds like something out of the Beverly Hillbillies. Hurrah!!!
The best bit comes when it’s time for the tape to flip sides. Due to an unfortunate Rodger Waters incident (he might have been Amused to Death, but I bloody wasn’t) the tape player in my car goes at normal speed on one side and like a bat out of hell on the other. Now it sounds like the cast of the Clangers going at it full pelt. When the sheriff comes on he sounds like a demonically possessed chipmunk. And I laugh like a drain. Before ejecting it and playing it the other way up instead.
It grows on you, the voices settle down a bit, though several new characters have faintly silly voices and the hero tends to ‘camp it up’ on a regular basis. But it’s still a good story that helps pass the time. Especially when I forget to flip the tape and it goes into rabid squeaky mice mode again.
Lanark boasts the longest, intact Victorian road in the country. The library sits three quarters of the way down it, behind a mass of roadworks that I’ve passed about five times already, looking for a parking spot. Raymond (the nice bloke who's invited me down here) is waiting for me and we nip across the road for a pint and some lunch before the festivities kick off. He’s been in the library game since 1967 and is the first person I’ve ever met to espouse my own views on politics: becoming a minister, councillor or MP should be like jury duty. And anyone who actually wants to be in politics is instantly disbarred (and maybe kicked in the knee as well). Then it’s time to fight our way through the bustling throngs of MacBride fans and groupies to do the talk / reading thing.
Today my ‘bustling throng’ is six people. But then it’s quality, not quantity that counts. This will be an intimate little event with lots of interaction. That’s what I tell myself as I get up and make with the introductions and ask the various audience members what they’re hoping to get out of this afternoon’s funfest. There’s a couple of girls from the nearby school who though it would be fun, a lady from the local writers’ group (who’s taking notes as no one else could come), a nice lady who just likes to read books, and the star of the proceedings: a ‘performance poet’ who was in the area doing a vast event at a prison / school and thought he might see what was going on. This one’s going to be trouble, I can smell it. Raymond and one of colleagues come in to make up the numbers, for which I am eternally grateful.
Has anyone read the book? ... tumbleweed ... OK... So off we go – I do the reading thing, during which Mr Performance Poet wears a pained expression (makes it a lot easier to do these things when you can see 12.5% of your audience wincing), then it’s onto Stuart’s Patented Audience Participation Plotting. Which nearly sparks a fist fight between Mr PP and the nice lady who reads books.
I do the intro, we get a name for the story: 'The Garden Of Death', the victim: an 18-year-old girl, the mode of death: strangulation, where the body was dumped: graveyard... It’s not until we get onto ‘who’s going to investigate the crime’ that tempers begin to flare. We know it’s going to be a woman, but Mr PP is adamant that it shouldn’t be a police person as that’s so boring and predictable and the reason ‘adults’ are so bored with television drama these days. Apparently she should be a hairdresser instead.
A hairdresser that solves a murder. OK, not undoable, I say, but a challenge. But it would probably be a thriller or a cosy style of story— “Why cosy? What makes it cosy?” demands Mr PP, “It’s a much more interesting story if she’s a hairdresser! That's the trouble with storytellers today...” etc. etc. Then my savoir, the lovely lady who reads, has a go at him. It’s brilliant – she wants realism and believability in her fiction, not crime-fighting hairdressers. That's just stupid! Brilliant. I love her.
Then, once the blood has cooled slightly we go onto Stuart’s Merry Rambling Anecdotes On The Road To Publication, with Mr PP chipping in every now and then (of course). When it’s time for tea and biscuits, my two young ladies from the school make their excuses and leave. They’re being picked up by their mothers, but are really glad they came - or so they say... Mr PP begins to hold forth on his career as a Performance Poet and all the ‘gigs’ he plays up and down the country. He asks me if I’m taking my year out to ‘knock off’ the other books. I smile and do not stick a chocolate digestive biscuit up his nose. Then he looks round at the remaining crowd (now down to six, including Raymond and his mate from the Library) and tells me how it’s a different market that we’re both in, and how he’s used to performing in front of crowds of three or four hundred.
After tea I have a moment’s petty revenge. Someone asks about translation and I use it as an excuse to list all the lovely countries around the world I’m published in. Mr PP squirms slightly, but doesn’t say anything. Then there’s more questions – a good few of them provided by Raymond and Co, bless their cotton socks – and it all wraps up at about quarter past four. Nearly two solid hours of beardy ramblings. Poor sods.
Winter’s End keeps me company all the way home (which takes until the back of nine, what with roadworks and the fog and the hoiven claven washing of the windscreen every two minutes to get rid of the filthy spray from the road), only providing occasional chuckles as I’ve become adept at the old tape flipping routine.
Lonnnnnnnnnnnng day. But it wasn’t dull!