My First Ever Book Signing
I spent last night curled up in the big chair in the window, reading The Year of Open Doors. I wanted to take all of it in in one gulp, all these different Scotlands around my head. The Year of Open Doors is a short story collection, put together by the author Rodge Glass and published by Cargo, a brand new company. It’s got stories by well-known and new Scottish writers; the only criteria were that they had to be new stories, and they had to be set in Scotland, now. That’s what he said, in the email: Scotland, now.
I’ve got a story in it. Probably I should have said that at the beginning. This just looks vain, now.
At the launch, which was on Tuesday, in the big basement of Waterstones, Sauchiehall Street, people asked me the same two questions - are you excited to see your name in print, then? and are you nervous? and I gave the same Yes! to both, but both times it was a lie.
The thrill of having my name in print had been blunted a little when the publisher sidled over, and cringed before speaking, and told me that my name had been spelled wrong on the back cover of the first print run (Kerstin, which is a new one for me - they usually go for Kirsten or Kirstie, the mis-spellers). I took it as a cosmic sign from the universe: Don’t go thinking you’re all that, now, with your story published and everything. We can still get you, kid.
They were asking me if I was nervous because I was one of three authors from the collection who was on stage, reading my story, and there was a pretty big crowd: it’s a fair enough question. Crowds are okay, though - they like you as long as you do all the funny voices. It’s just like reading a bedtime story with a lot of swear words in it.
There have been a lot of articles and conversations about the changing position of the writer recently. You don’t just have to be able to write, they say (these conversations, these articles) you have to be able to perform, too. They say this like it’s some sort of betrayal of the essential notion of what ‘a writer’ means, and I can see their point.
In March, ever one to follow a trend, I interviewed A L Kennedy about her feelings on The Changing Position Of The Writer for an article (in my other life, I’m a journalist) - she’s a great performer of her own work, and someone who spends her life on the road, promoting her books, giving readings, meeting people.
This is what she said:
The voice that you have in your head, the voice that you have on the page and the voice that you hear out loud. These three things are intricately connected. Intricately. Anything you can do to make one of them stronger is going to affect the other two. Too often, writers get hung up on the voice that’s down on the page, and forget that readers are going to hear it out loud in their own heads, and it has to sound clear there, to them. That’s an essential connection. If you’re not going to look at the other aspects of the voice, then you’re not giving yourself as much ammunition as you could have. You learn these things from performing your work, from hearing it out loud.
Reading out load also helps you at a basic level, shows you where there’s unnecessary flab in your sentences, helps you pare everything back down, trim away any fancy adverbs, get down to just the story, the meat-and-two-veg of it. Standing up and reading in front of all those people, I realised, just at the back of my head, that I could make the story even better than this! If they’d just give me time. But it’s out there, now. It exists in a final version, in black, on white. Published. I’m really sorry about the eighth-last-line.
After the reading, we sat down behind tables for the book signing, like I’ve seen authors do hundreds of times before. The other two authors on with me were Jason Donald and Aidan Moffat, both of whom are famous, published, clever men, and to be honest, I was pretty sure that nobody in that queue we could see building up would be interested in my autograph. In fact, I was having trouble keeping the seventeen year old inside me from just turning round to Aidan Moffat WHO WAS SITTING RIGHT BESIDE ME and getting him to sign my face or something. Maybe while screaming. But the first person in the queue, who was called Scott, and whose name I will always remember, actually came up to me. And everyone else did, too. And I couldn’t think for the life of me what it is that people write on books.
(Aidan Moffat just writes Aidan Moffat 2010 in very small letters, Arab Strap fact fans)
That’s when the excitement hit me. The signing took at least half an hour, and everyone, everyone was buzzing about the book. About how there hasn’t been something like this in Scotland for years. The afterparty was one of those long, messy ones, ended up in Nice’N’Sleazy’s after everywhere else had shut. Someone, glittering around the eyes, threw his head back and roared Now is a good time to be a Scottish writer! And all the people around him went Whoooo!
And I think I was one of them.