I must be going up in the world: not only am I sharing an event with star of stage, page and screen, M. Billingham Esq. I've also got a car to whisk me from Heathrow to the HarperCollins offices in Hammersmith, instead of just taking the tube like a normal person. And not just any car, no, according to the guy driving it, it's a VIP car! I ask him what that means and he shrugs, he has no idea. He asked the dispatcher when they gave him the job and they said, 'You smile at them and hold the door open and stuff.' Which he normally does anyway. I secretly determine to measure the guy's smile at random intervals throughout the trip into town, just make sure HC aren't getting short-changed.
My VIP car is a Mercedes with dodgy air-conditioning, so we're greasy spots by the time we get to HarperCollins' headquarters. My driver's smile is on average two centimetres wider than the norm -- even if he does try to convince me to have babies all the way in from the airport (with my wife, not with him: that would be freaky, but if we managed it we'd be rich beyond the wildest dreams of avarice!) -- so I feel safe enough to give him a favourable review if asked. I shan't have him stripped of his badge of office and thrown into a barrel of rabid hamsters in a VIP hissy-fit!
Fiona, who usually looks after me when I'm down here is off sick, so today I'll be shepherdessed round town by Kelly, who's also from the publicity department. I wonder if she knows I'm a VIP? I could get free crisps! She's in her early twenties, cheerful, nice, and has a brain like the sink trap in a dishwasher -- all the little bits of information that would normally get washed away from my brain, get stuck in hers. She's a font of trivia and interesting snippets, shame she's got a face like a bag of old spanners. Well, that's what I'm going to tell She Who Must anyway (just between you and me she's very, very pretty in a wholesome Doris Day sort of way, complete with Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz-style dress).
First stop: One Word Radio for an interview, two readings, and some general chat. I think I must be getting a bit more used to this kind of thing, because I actually enjoy myself. Doesn't mean I'm any good, just means I'm less worried about screwing up.
Second Stop: Broadcasting House -- home of the venerable BBC -- where I'm supposed to be live on air at 14:00. Which is going to be interesting as we're still standing in reception at five past waiting for someone to escort us up to the warren of tiny little radio studios they keep for the BBC regional stations. Don't they know I'm a VIP? I've been upgraded from the mobile-sauna Mercedes to an air-conditioned Jaguar. I must be oozing with very importantness by now, but there's still no sign of anyone to take Kelly and me to the studio... Maybe they have time-travelling lifts here, like in Doctor Who? OK: I know he has a police telephone box and not a lift, but it's the same principle. About the same number of people urinate in both. By the time someone turns up to show us to the studio we're about ten minutes late, which is OK because there's no sign of anyone on the other end of the ISDN line till about quarter past. Another fun interview, and no reading to make a mess of either -- just as well on a live show. Then it's off to sign books!
100 first editions at Goldsboro Books with the Daniel and David who were training to be catholic priests, so do a great line in blasphemous swearing and tell the kind of stories about authors I could never repeat for fear of getting sued. Nice guys. Then we're whisked by chauffer-driven VIP Jaguar to Murder One for more signings, then off to Waterstones in Oxford Street for yet more squiggles and doodles. I should point out that these aren't the kind of signings where people line up and buy your book and say nice things about your beard, these are the kind of signings you do anonymously to give the bookshops something to put their 'Signed By The Author' stickers on. Given the option I'll usually buy a signed book over an unsigned one, so I know it works. Plus it means they can't be returned: Bwahahahahahaaaaaa!
By now it's getting late. Well, it's nearly five anyway and we're supposed to be back at HarperCollins -- eight miles away across London in rush-hour traffic -- in three minutes time to get another car to Greenwich. Hmm... should have borrowed one of those time-travelling lifts from the BBC. Plus I've not checked into the hotel yet. There being bugger all chance of getting to the hotel, then to Hammersmith and out to Greenwich for seven, Kelly makes an executive decision: bugger the plan, we're taking the underground. Which means there's time to eat great big wodges of fish at a little restaurant opposite the Ottakar's we'll be descending on for tonight's fun-fest. Mmm, fish...
There's something really bloody worrying about doing an event with Mr Billingham. One: he's a big-name, best-selling, internationally-famous author; while I'm a bearded idiot. Two: he's a stand-up comedian; I'm barely coherent at the best of times. Three: he's had a lot more practice at this than I have. And four: ninety percent of the crowd will be here to see him, not some Scottish bloke they've never heard of. Damn. But I have a secret weapon called Kelly. Not only does she have that dishwasher drain-cover mind, she's also a big fan of Marks. Huge fan. Used to watch him all the time on Maid Marian and Her Merry Men. When she was eight. Bwahahahahahahahaha! Cue Stuart making 'old' jokes at Mr Billingham's expense all night. Yes, it's a cheap shot, but I need all the edge I can get! Mark works the crowd like a pro... because he is one... and although most of the questions are directed Billinghamwards he punt a good few my way too. And so does the lovely Natasha Cooper, who's acting as our ringmaster tonight, so I'm never left sitting there like a spare fart for very long.
Now I have a confession to make: I've never been to an author event before. The closest I came to it was turning up to see Terry Pratchett when he was promoting one of his books years and years ago in Aberdeen. And even then there wasn't time for any of this Q&A stuff -- he just sat at a table and signed books for a long, LONG line of people. So it's very interesting, and educational, to watch Mark work, and he generously takes me with him too. For brief, shining moment we're a double act, though he's definitely Eric Morecombe to my Ernie Wise.
Afterwards a bunch of us go to a little tapas bar, where after a few beers Natasha asks why DYING LIGHT has so many arses in it. Arse, arse, arses all over the shop. No idea, is the puzzled response. I wasn't aware of being arse-tastic when I was writing it, but it probably has something to do with the editing process. I tend to write a goodly number of rude words in the first draft, then go through and start cutting them down. And given the choice between removing a 'fuck', 'bastard' or 'arse' the latter looks positively tame by comparison. I'm going to be paranoid about that now. I'll have to have an arse check for NDC -- now known as BROKEN SKIN -- and make sure things are slightly less bum-centric. Which will be hard given one of the plots is decidedly bottomular. Damn.
So all in all, a good time for Mr MacBride; an OK time for those kind souls who came and listened to us; and a slightly crap time for Mark, who got stiffed in the tapas bar when one of our party buggered off without paying. An no -- it wasn't me ;}#
Right -- if you're feeling masochistic, there will be MacBrideian news in Tomorrow's Sunday Times. Or there should be, you know how these things change. But I'll probably have some sort of ego-fuelled self-aggrandising post about it tomorrow.
* Oh, did you see what I did there? Did you see?