The glitzy showbiz life of a writer... - Simon Cheshire

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?"

"Simon Cheshire."

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.

Happy Christmas!


(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?)


Anonymous said…
Sorry, couldn't spell 'blatant'...!
Jan Needle said…
no apologies - that piece is bleeding brilliant. i'd have come, AND bought a book, if Mrs X had remembered to put me on the mailing list...

merry christmas to all. and a prosperous new year, chiz chiz.
madwippitt said…
Oh nooooooo, how horrible ... how embarrassing ... and how very self restrained of you ... I'd have had a major rant with a follow-up visit from the wippitts ...
So funny! I read this with a wry smile. I'll bet most of us could recount something similar. My unpleasant experiences have usually involved being decanted into strange towns on dark nights, to drive several hours to get home, with not so much as a cup of tea offered by the group I've been talking to. (But I have to add that Ayr Writers and Bute Writers are WONDERFUL!) I always carry a flask in the car now. But probably my worst experience was when I went to listen to a very distinguished Scottish poet give a talk and reading. She hadn't been given proper directions to the hard-to-find arts centre, she had driven a long way on a winter night, and got lost. She arrived at the 'arts centre' just in time and was precipitated onto the stage, where her audience was waiting - except that there was nobody at all from the centre to meet, greet or introduce her. After an embarrassed pause, I got up and did what the people who had invited her should have done, off the cuff - I just felt so bad for her. The reading was excellent - but I think she was hopping mad with her hosts, and I'm not surprised. No tea, either.
Anonymous said…
Thank you, guys! The worst of it is, I've got far more traumatic anecdotes I could tell you, but my psyche is still trying hard to forget them...
Linda Newbery said…
Delightful post, Simon! Reminds me of my first "signing". I arrived to find an A4 notice hidden in a corner of the front window, and, not suprisingly, no one waiting. I spent a couple of hours sitting on the stairs reading the latest David Almond. After a while, one of the staff made me a cup of tea, and bought one of my books out of pity. I felt marginally better when I heard that a famous politician's signing that morning had attracted a similar non-attendance. I've been wary of "signings" ever since ...
Pauline Fisk said…
My worst was when a bookshop (which was full of school children) phoned my agent to find out where I was. My publishers' PR girl had fixed up the event but omitted to tell me.
Debbie Bennett said…
"Is he fit?" That just cracked me up!
Enid Richemont said…
My first book signing was in the totally lovely Children's Bookshop in Muswell Hill. Lots of people came - it was satisfying and joyful.
I was then invited to a bookshop in Barnet (long since closed). The bookshop people were sweeties - a theme-decorated table and several bottle of wine. I sat. I waited. No one came. I shared a drink with my publisher's PR who'd brought along her baby in a buggy. She left. My glass was refilled by sympathetic shop staff... how many times? Eventually, as I was about to leave, a woman who'd bought a copy of my book thrust it under my nose - she was the head of a prestigious local school. Me? Difficult at that stage to even recall my own name, let alone sign it. I hope I managed it - I shall never know.

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