Last month, XPO North sponsored the Indie Author Fair 2015, at Foyles Bookshop, Charing Cross Road, London…which meant me heading south for 8 hours by an interesting east coast line Virgin train ride, that passed through Newcastle and some great undeveloped farming countryside I’d never seen before…
It’s a bit surreal to arrive at a big station like King’s Cross in London after travelling backwards for 8 hours by train…it reminded me of Robert Pirsig’s description, in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, of how ancient peoples used to encounter the future…as though proceeding up a river of time in a boat, with their back to the future as they rowed, facing the past, and only seeing the new territory of the encroaching future in small manageable segments appearing over their shoulders gradually…
In his book, Pirsig presents this backwards approach to moving forward as the healthier way to travel…rather than the modern method of turning our back to the past, and facing the future head on, aggressively, thus removing all context from it, and almost inviting it to overwhelm…
So, anyway, I arrived at King’s Cross, to witness the scene of armed and armoured, machine-gun bearing police officers patrolling the station’s public floors in groups of six.
It would have been a bit like entering the film stage of Blade Runner, and I might have thought this London’s become a bit dodgy, had I not left an Inverness 8 hours earlier which had seen the street containing the railway station there shut off and also filled with police and fire engines after a terrible fire the night before.
King’s Cross then, and never mind the Bad Omens – First job was to get food, I managed that, something called a Falafel Surprise which contained no great shocks.
And then to a hotel room in Argyle Street, right by the station, convenient, but down a supernaturally quiet road, so quiet I was wakened by birds singing outside the window next morning.
On the Friday of the Indie Author Fair I got lost in the tube trying to make for Leicester Square, the machine ate my ticket twice (this happened every day I was in London)…I got to Foyles at 10.10am, though…and so began a day of talks which have been better described elsewhere and which are caught on camera here:
(Now that I check I can see myself in the background during first 45 seconds, looking really dodgy in leather jacket and cap, arriving to sign in!)
When the day of talks was over, 4.30pm arrived, and it was time to have a go at selling books.
After 3 years of being an ebook-only author, the first paperbacks of The Survival of Thomas Ford had been designed by Dean Fetzer of Gunboss Books (www.gunboss.com) specially for this event, and the very first paperback sold to Bob from the Midlands.
There’s no photo of that one, but Thanks, Bob!
Orla Broderick, author of The January Flower, got a photo of the second paperback being signed and sold, though:
Thanks again (things became a bit blurry by that point in the day, but I think that copy went to Richard – Hope you enjoy Thomas Ford, Richard…and more importantly, apologies if memory has not served and your name was not Richard!)
Friday was then rounded off with a good philosophical talk at a pub table on Charing Cross road, and some late sandwiches from King’s Cross to munch back at the hotel room.
Saturday began in a rush, with the attempt to catch the Northern Line tube to The Omnibus arts centre in Clapham, right by Clapham Common, which I had always heard of.
I was headed for this Spread the Word event called “Keeping the Pages Turning”
“Hunt down the DNA fingerprint of great Crime Fiction, with “Ireland’s answer to Ruth Rendell" Claire McGowan
Former Director of the Crime Writers' Association Claire McGowan leads this day of practical work, seminar discussion and creative writing which gets you under the skin of Crime Fiction. In this day-long masterclass, which also includes an author talk and Q&A, you'll unravel the mystery of making a book unputdownable. What creates suspense - how do I keep the pages turning?
Claire teaches London's City University Crime Writing MA, which has a cracking track record for getting authors published, and she knows her police procedurals from her psychological thrillers, having published several herself. And as if you needed further persuasion... there's free tea and coffee! Can you think of a better way to spend a Saturday? (Other than, say, reading a bloody good thriller…?)
“A knockout talent” Lee Childs
“Chills you to the bone” Daily Telegraph”
Sounded good to me, so I had booked a place online before getting the train down to London!
The weather was great that morning as I passed Clapham Common, and the Omnibus building which was rescued from a fate of dilapidation I believe, by being turned into an arts centre, was immediately recognisable on the horizon, just as it had looked on Google.
Later, I learned that this building had originally been built as The Clapham Library in 1889.
There were 11 of us in the circle around the table, including Claire.
The atmosphere was like a tutorial or seminar, perhaps more like a tutorial, and it’s 21 years since I’ve sat in on anything like that.
It was interesting, for me, to get the contrast between an “Indie” event like the one the day before, and a class like this, taught by a traditionally published crime author who teaches the London City University Crime Writing MA, which is targeted at successfully getting students traditionally published.
Though, as Claire said, self-publishing is more and more regarded as a serious option now and she herself has friends who have self-published extremely successfully (Mark Edwards and Louise Voss).
Later that week, I saw that Claire had written this piece on her blog, Inkstains -
“Seven ways to stay positive (in the face of dropping advances, ongoing rejection, and an onslaught of articles in the Guardian)”
As she rightly says there - “One thing I’ve tried to do is understand what a privilege it is to earn any money at all from doing something you love.”
After the class, I walked the Clapham streets for an hour or so, continuing a talk with two of the other participants which had begun in the room.
The common was full of people, children, dogs, the sun shining down.
It occurred to me that, on both days, it was these individual talks with people that caught my attention, more than the structured, ordered meetings…what the character Chaney in the 1975 film Hard Times referred to as “the in-betweens. Don’t forget the in-betweens”…
Although, of course, I was equally conscious that without the context of those structured, ordered meetings I’d not have met those people to have the “in-betweens” with.
Back at King’s Cross, I arranged to meet my old friend, Chae, and Saturday was rounded off with a philosophical discussion of another kind at a kitchen table in Walthamstow.
Headed back for King’s Cross, I once again had a completely non-functioning tube ticket.
Lots of midnight drunks in the railway station to thread through, and then the walk down that quiet Argyle Street to my hotel room (which has many bad reviews online, from customers unhappy with only having the space of a ship’s cabin to sleep in, but I quite enjoyed my little ship’s cabin bed for those 3 nights).
Nearing the hotel, I passed a young man who was removing six-foot-long awkward-to-handle cardboard sheets from a dumpster/skip, fishing them out nervously.
I think my approach spooked him a bit, he hurried up, hauled out the cardboard, got it under his arm, and speeded up as we walked past each other, him carrying his new bed at midnight to who-knows-where and leaving me with another permanent “in-between” to squeeze in my brain, take home with me, and think over later.