There is nothing a group of authors like more than to outdo each other with tales of mortification, and reading this book has caused me to remember one my own.
My book had just come out. I was excited. I was expecting something to happen - I wasn't quite sure what, but not this.
A librarian rang me. She wanted a female author for their Orange event. Lots of people had professed an interest so they thought they would combine it with a little scheme they had to initiate a reading group. Could I come and tell them how I'd come to get my book published?
I spent several hours preparing my talk. I drove up to the library about fifty miles distant in light drizzle. It took me some time to find but I arrived with about fifteen minutes to spare. The place was festooned with orange balloons, orange paper plates and napkins, numerous bottles of wine - red and white - were open on the table. There were nibbles of many varieties, badges, streamers, books on display...
"Over forty people have taken tickets!" One of the librarians told me excitedly. "There's been such a lot of interest." We sipped orange juice and waited.
"Bound to be late," one of younger librarians said. "Nobody like to be early."
An older librarian munched thoughtfully on a twiglet. "Such a shame we missed the Chronicle."
"How much were the tickets?" I asked.
"Free. People just took them as they went through the door."
When a middle-aged hippy in a long dress and beads walked in we mobbed her. She sat in the middle of the front row of rows of empty seats looking quite pleased to be the centre of such attention.
It was unfortunate she came. It meant I had to give my talk: earnestly and awkwardly. Everyone paid avid attention and laughed too loudly. At the end we overdosed on crisps. Each librarian bought one of my newly published books sent to the library in a box by my publisher.
It was dark when it ended and the drizzle was still going strong.
It didn't seem so funny then. There were roadworks and the journey back was slow. Hodmandod Senior was waiting up for me and I disconsolately turned on my computer before I went to bed. An email pinged in. I still have it:
"You have asked for comments about your book "Wegener's Jigsaw", and I feel I have some constructive things to say about it.
Reviews of the book praise it as magnificently written and beautiful, as having a poetic style.
But surely, it is written in a flat, dull, prosaic, mechanical, one thing after another, matter-of-fact style. I have read in it again and again and just cannot see how the style could be called poetic.
There are often what surely can only strike a reader as irrelevant observations thrown in (possibly intended as colour?).
I feel a reader can surely only experience it as an over-long, tedious, unrewarding read.
The standard of writing of the book does not seem to be what would be expected of an adequate Creative Writing teacher.
I read your book because I know someone interested in the geological subject matter, and I wanted to see if I might be able to say it was worth their reading it. I can only say it is a very poor read that I cannot recommend."
As I read it now I am surprised to find that it still hurts - even after 6 years. It seemed such a vindictive thing to write - but then this book business can be such a mean vindictive business.
But that incident at the library was funny.