Sunday, 16 January 2011

In The Bookshops.

by Leigh Russell,

Peter Stuart Smith mentioned the Society of Authors’ survey on authors’ appearances. Once again, I seem to be out on a limb on this as one of a rare breed of authors who doesn’t suffer from what my fellow authors have called ‘snub fatigue’. It doesn’t faze me when I visit a bookshop and meet customers who aren’t interested in my books. Crime fiction isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and why would a reader who doesn’t like the genre consider buying my books? I very rarely sign a book for a sci-fi fan (daleks and storm troopers excepted – one of my fans is famously a dalek. I’m even included in his public album of celebrity encounters.)
Science fiction is escapist literature. My novels are as plausible as I can make them, give or take a few liberties I take with reality. In real life DNA tests take around 6 weeks. In urgent cases results can be obtained in a week. At the end of Road Closed, my detectives get the result of a DNA test within 24 hours - but I can hardly keep my readers hanging on for 6 weeks, or even for a week, at the end of the book. When faced with a choice between realism or serving my story, I have to serve the story. I write fiction, not a text book on police procedure and none of my large cohort of fans in the police force has ever queried my forensics (yet!) My choices seem to be perfectly acceptable; CSI use this kind of artistic licence all the time.
So while I don’t welcome rejection it doesn’t put me off, as I’m driven by my passion for supporting bookshops. The demise of Borders happened very suddenly. We had hoped Borders would survive to the end of the year but with half a dozen events booked in branches of Borders for December 2009, they were all pulled right at the last minute as Borders suddenly closed down. I was grateful to WH Smith’s who stepped in at the last minute and booked signings at such short notice. Now HMV are starting to close branches of Waterstones.
So book signings for me aren’t only about selling my books. Obviously my visits are more enjoyable when the books sell well, and I’ve signed between 40 and 100 books at each event so far. I do worry this might peter out as more people use ereaders, and the reading public declines in general, but that’s a discussion for another post. All this only encourages me to spend more time in bookshops, as they struggle to survive. I don’t think that’s an exaggeration. Borders went, just like that, and the writing for Waterstones is, I fear, on the wall rather than the page.
As for ‘standing up on my hind legs and making a fool of myself in front of a jeering crowd’, as Peter puts it, over 200 adults turned up to hear me talk recently, and they were a piece of cake compared to a class of teenagers!
Giving talks is enjoyable, but what matters is doing what we can, as authors and readers, to support our bookshops and libraries (yes, I spend time talking in libraries too). Because bookshops need our support now more than ever.


  1. By Peter Stuart Smith

    I have to echo what Leigh said above. I would infinitely rather talk to several hundred people than a class of schoolchildren. I've only so far done one talk at a school, and it was far more nerve-wracking than anything I did before or since. The reality was that the combined classes were incredibly well-behaved and very polite, and the problem was really all me.

    I found that pitching my talk to an age-group ranging from about 10 to 14 was extremely difficult. I knew I would have to dumb down the talk to some extent, simply because the vocabulary of a ten-year-old will inevitably be somewhat limited, and I was also conscious that I couldn't go too deeply into the agreed subject matter (computer hacking) because the purely technical aspects were quite complex.

    In the end, I'm not sure I got it right, but it did seem to go down reasonably well. And I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised at the very first question they asked: 'How much money do you make?'

    Was it rewarding? Yes, of course. Would I do it again? Er, maybe, but give me the jeering crowd any time.

  2. "not sure you got it right" Peter?
    If you is over 20, I think what you is saying is wrong, innit?

  3. By Peter Stuart Smith

    I'm very definitely over 20!