Here's a true story. A couple of years ago, it had been arranged for me to do a talk and a signing session at a bookshop situated in the middle of a very large and very busy shopping mall (I can tell this story now 'cos the shop - and indeed the mall - are no longer there). A pretty big deal for me - I'd never done a bookshop signing before. Some classes from nearby schools were going to be bussed in, and the local press would be there.
The day of the event dawned after a night in which I was sleepless with excitement. To cut a very long story short, I arrived at the bookshop with seconds to spare (the train was late, and my station-to-shop map was rubbish), and dripping wet (the rain had started belting down seconds after I left home). Holy moley, I thought, what a journey, at least I got here in one piece, and I am at least on time. Phew.
I went into the bookshop. Hello, I'm Simon Cheshire. The staff gave me a funny look. Who? Umm... I'm Simon Cheshire? The author?... Err, the signing, today?... Nope, no author expected. No schoolkids, no local press. What was your name again, mate?
I was a little miffed. It turned out that the shopping mall's managers, who'd arranged everything, had forgotten to tell the shop I was coming. And also to tell the schools. And also the press. Hmm, I thought to myself, standing there dripping quietly, I believe it may possibly be time for me to go and have a word with the managers. It took me about half an hour to find the mall's office, tucked away behind a pizza stand and up six floors in a tiny lift. By the time I got to the Reception Desk, I wasn't in the best of moods.
"Hello, I'm Simon Cheshire," I said, to the very, very pretty Receptionist. She was so extraordinarily pretty, in fact, that my bad temper instantly went away, and all I could do was be vastly polite to her. "Is Mrs X in?" I said. [Mrs X - not her real name, you understand - was the woman who'd 'organised' my visit]
"I'll just find out for you," said the very, very pretty Receptionist, flashing an absolutely devastating smile at me. My heart skipped a beat.
She picked up the phone. Tap tap tap. Ring ring. While it was ringing, she whispered to me "Sorry, what was the name again?"
Her call was answered. I don't know if the Receptionist had the phone's sound turned right up, or if my hearing was oddly acute that day, but I could hear every word that was said at the other end. And the Receptionist obviously didn't realise this. She asked for Mrs X. She was told Mrs X was on holiday for two weeks.
"I'm terribly sorry," said the very, very pretty Receptionist to me. "She not in her office at the moment."
"Ah," I said. "Umm, is there someone else I could talk to? There's been a bit of a mix-up somewhere along the line, and I was hoping I could maybe sort something out for another day?"
"Of course. One moment." She smiled again. My heart melted.
Phone. Tap tap tap. "Hello? Stacey? I've got a Simon Chester in Reception. He wanted to speak to Mrs X."
On the other end: "Oh God. Why? Is this a moan?"
The Receptionist, still unaware I could hear Stacey, said "Yes, I think so."
Stacey huffed and puffed and tutted a bit. "Ummm...." Long pause. "Is he fit?"
Without a moment's hesitation, without so much as a glance up at me: "No way, man," snorted the Receptionist. My heart shattered. To be brutally honest, nobody has ever mistaken me for Brad Pitt, but I couldn't help feeling a little wounded. I want to go home now, I thought.
"I'm sorry, Mr Chessman, her assistant isn't available either. Would you like to make an appointment for tomorrow?"
"Err, no, that's fine, thank you. I'll leave it. No problem. Thanks for your help."
"Not at all. Have a good day." Beautiful, beautiful smile.
I walked away, rain still dripping off my trousers. I think I may have whimpered slightly on the train home. So you see, dear readers, the moral of this story is: the life of a writer isn't all glamour and excitement.
(By the way, I've got a new Selection Box ebook featuring sample chapters from some of my books for 8-12 year-olds, which is available free from my website. A-hem, you don't expect me to go a whole month without a blantant plug, do you?)