Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Independent's Day : Penny Dolan.

Writing demands a certain level of ego. I think, therefore I write down my thoughts, or at least something I’ve constructed out of my thoughts. I have hopes this stuff might be worth reading, by myself even if by nobody else. I feel, as so often I do, that there is a vanity about bothering to write at all.

Vanity’s bubble is easily burst, so I have what I think of as my imaginary “iron corset” on hand at all times. It is a very useful protection against the many small pinches of the writing life:

The silence that tells you a submitted manuscript has been rejected.

The email that says, after several re-writes, “we really liked the idea but have decided that now the words aren’t quite right.”

The day when a bookseller tells you that someone at the publishers has told them that your book has gone out of print. Nobody has bothered to tell you.

The moment when someone in a staff-room asks “Should I have heard of you?” Obviously you haven’t, not even with my name written on today’s school notice board.

Every such occasion is an amusing reminder – how else can one look at it? – of how fragile the writer’s role and ego really is. Ouch! That smarts!
So I gird my iron corset around me for extra reinforcement when these small pinches arrive. Now I can pretend the painful digs don’t get to reach me really. Ha, ha, ha!

However, these last two weeks I’ve really needed my clanking virtual corset. Every few days, walking into town, I have passed the only bookshop. It's part of a chain now. I’ve used it over many years and seen many staff come and go.

During this month, I'd had a book out: A Boy Called M.O.U.S.E. Sorry, I know one shouldn’t say this but the book is so good that I cannot believe I wrote it. My name on the front suggests I must have been involved somehow. The thing is a lucky mix of fancy, imagination and words.

Furthermore, the hardback cover looks magnificent. It must be pure cover karma: by some weird chance, I am the author who ended up with all the good luck left over by unfortunate writers who ended up with covers they hate. Before you despise this evidence of even greater vanity, remember that if you don’t love your book, who else will? I feel anyone would be pleased to see the book on a shelf. "Now I have to search for many books in town."

Two weeks ago I was passing the shop, having done the bank and sent other stuff in to Mouse’s publication. Stupidly I was tempted. I thought “Why not?” and edged into the bookshop quietly. After all, I had just had a mention in the local paper, and know at least one person who asked after a copy last week. Was my book there? Nope. Nope. Nope.

Than only a couple of days ago, I needed to get a present for friend so had to call in to the shop. Nope again.

This time I approached the desk, spoke sweetly, humbly and casually to the girls behind the desk. It seems they have only just sorted out who runs the children’s department. The book is definitely on order. The computer says my volume hasn’t come in yet. So odd! Then I recalled grumbles about the company’s central book ordering system in the past, but I laughed too. Ha ha ha! If you’d like me to come in to do some book signing, do get in touch. I said. I felt myself simpering stupidly as I gave my contact details again, again.

Today I passed by the shop. In the window hung a long list of half-term activities. Roald Dahl, Halloween. Horrible Histories, and so on and so on. By now I feel totally in the wrong for even offering anything to the shop. The corset grows stronger round my heart. I am becoming Tin Woman! Clang, clang, clang! You cannot get me now, cruel fate. It is best not to care!

Don’t worry. I’ll be okay soon. If it wasn’t for the support I had from the Children’s Bookshop in Lindley, Huddersfield, and several reports from writing friends who have spotted my lovely tome in independent bookshops all across the land, I fear I might have dreamed the whole Mouse experience up. So long live the great Independent Booksellers of Britain.

I wonder who's your favourite and most helpful bookseller then?

Penny Dolan

A Boy Called Mouse, published by Bloomsbury October 2010.


Joan Lennon said...

Your metal underwear sounds like an excellent investment (Oo, is that a joke? Perhaps not) You must tell me the name of your tailor/blacksmith.

Three of my favourite independent booksellers (but really I love them all):

Blast-Off Books in Linlithgow, Scotland

Story Time Books for Kids in Petone, Lower Hutt, New Zealand

Glowworm Books in Edinburgh, Scotland

P.S. Your book IS good - don't let the bleeders get you down. (Is it okay to say bleeders?)

Sue Purkiss said...

We don't have many independent bookshops in Somerset, but my local Waterstones, Wells, has always been very supportive. It is very hard to go into a bookshop and start talking about your book - at least, I find it so. I'm perfectly happy to talk about other people's books, though - maybe we should adopt a buddy system! Have ordered my copy of the mouse book, and am looking forward very much to reading it.

Linda said...

Don't have an independent bookshop nearby, but wanted to say I loved ''Mouse''! I gave it a lovely review on Bookbag. Feel free to wave a copy under the nose of your bookshop folk!

Savita Kalhan said...

Details of where one can purchase the virtual iron corset please - mine's worn out from overuse!
One of the few bookshops that has been really supportive is my North Finchley Waterstones - the staff have been absolutely brilliant.

Savita Kalhan said...

PS - Mouse on order and looking forward to reading it!

Lynda Waterhouse said...

Foyles in Charing Cross Rd actually stock my books and if you are a member of Society of Authors you get 15% discount there. Of the independants I miss Happycow children's bookshop in Uppermill and Crockett and Powell at Waterloo. The Review bookshop in Peckham is great! I am in great need of iron girdle at the moment.

Penny Dolan said...

Okay, I am going into full (unisex) iron girdle production.

I am so glad you all recognised the usefulness of the image, though how thin the metal feels at times. Hope you will feel better soon, Savita and Lynda. I shall now start imagining a whole battalion of authors, fully guarded against all the slings, arrows and all manner of pinches.

Glad of your positive response, Joan - suspect a Scots blacksmith would be an admirable girdle maker - and you can use whatever descriptions you care to imho. Thanks for the list of bookshops too - though sadly NZ may have to wait for the World Tour.

Sue, what makes the dashed hopes worse is that the shop IS a Waterstones (though I have known it as a Hammicks and an Ottakers on the way.) It is much easier to talk about someone else's book - maybe we should organise "impersonation signings" where the author appears in the bookshop? Ghost signings? A kind of opposite to celebrity signings?

And Linda, thank you so very, very much for the review on BookBag. It's hard to tell whether one is totally deluded about something one's worked on. I have printed up some of the forwarded reviews to read with some leisure and pleasure ie. now the family have gone back home and no longer need feeding, so am looking forward to reading yours with even greater happiness.

Thank you all!

Catherine Johnson said...

Penny! I am late to the party, but will big up Jo at Victoria Park Boos because your book is there and looks lovely, I know it's lovely because I was lucky enough to read t all ready. Loved the iron corset thing, although mine has completely rusted and am in need of a new one, titanium maybe?

Nicola Morgan said...

Penny - I buy my corset from the same place as you! My hero bookshop is the Edinburgh Children's Bookshop, which, through sheer bloody good selling, managed to make my outsell JKR AND Stephanie Meyer for a WHOLE year! But still I won't find many (sometimes any) of my books in the branches of Waterstone's nearby.

Penny Dolan said...

What stars these independent booksellers are! Thanks for the Victoria Park Books mention, Catherine, and for the Edinburgh Children's Bookshop, Nicola.

Wishing you all super-strong, well-fitting, lightweight metal corsets/girdles to protect you and your soft author hearts!

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