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Flat White

Monday night I went to the Edinburgh Book Festival for a session called 'Tips On Getting Published', my attempt to seek inspiration beyond self-publishing avec photocopier.

A lot of people turned up for the Tips. They filled the hall and sat up straight in their chairs. They opened their notebooks, clicked their pens and waited to be filled with information. I just had some tissues and a box of mints. Amateur!

On the panel was a literary agent, three publishers and a lawyer. They expelled much wisdom about queries and manuscripts and money (or lack thereof) and agents and enthusiasm, and the crowd dutifully scribbled it down.

Then it was time for audience questions.

"Please keep your questions nice and general," requested the host.

"You were talkin' about libel," growled a large man with shaved head, "Well, say you just got out of prison and you've done a memoir about bein' in prison and in the memoir you talk about people who're still in prison… can they sue you from there?"

Then someone else piped up, "How much would it cost me to send you my manuscript? Is it going to be expensive?"

"You mean like… postage?" asked a baffled publisher.

"Yes!" The stereotype of the tightarsed Scot won't be dying out any time soon.

We went back last night see David Sedaris. I'd never been to an author reading before so this was a brilliant place to start. SJ got me hooked on his stuff many years ago, so I admit to getting the dopey Fan Girl grin as he read his stories. And he was extremely charming and hilarious during the audience questions too. It's one thing to be a brilliant writer, but to be brilliant out loud, without cigarettes or weeks of editing too? Bonus.

Afterwards, I joined the typically lengthy but civilised queue to get my book signed. I was anxious and wanted to spew, because a girl in the audience had asked Sedaris about the most stupid or irritating thing fans have said to him. He said book signings can be nervewracking for all involved, because you have just a few seconds of contact and you feel some sort of pressure to say something interesting. Apparently some smartarse will always say to him, "Do you talk pretty yet?" and it drives him demented. So what was I going to say? Love your work? I didn't have delusions of being funny or engaging, I just didn't want to be a starry-eyed dickhead.

I was distracted from my angst by a triumvirate of journalism students behind me. They made me shiver with their retro shoes and carefully careless hairdos. I pegged them as second years, because they were still in that Holier Than Thou phase of a journalism student's career in which all you can do is MOCK STUFF, or tell the world of your disdain for The Media with its unethical chequebook-weilding practices and how you will Never Be Like That, because you are a real journalist with Integrity!

(This phase ends when you graduate and soon realise there's nae jobs and perhaps you shouldn't have been so hasty in turning down that cadetship at the Hicksville Herald.)

Once they had argued which university had the superior student newspaper, they discussed what they were going to say to David. Should they approach as a trio, or go separately?

"If we go up together and say something collectively brilliant, maybe we'll appear in his next story!"

"Yeah! Although he might blend us into one character. With boobs, two penises and six legs."

"Brilliant!"

More interesting was the veterinary student waiting in front of me. She was making efficient use of her queuing time to study. First it was something about cells with intruiging blobby diagrams, and then she moved on to a page of case studies.

Female intact dog presents with dullness, lethargy and vaginal discharge. She was on heat eight weeks prior.

What the hell was an intact dog? You'd presume it would have to be intact if it had managed to present itself, especially if lethargic. But what about the discharge? Is that terminal?

I scribbled down the case as I peered over her shoulder, word for word; because I had come prepared with a notebook this time and I had make use of it somehow.

I was so busy pondering the plight of the intact dog that I forgot to think of anything interesting to say to David Sedaris, and before you could say "dullness and lethargy" it was my turn.

"Hello!" I said.

"Hello!" said David Sedaris.

He asked my name and I said Shauna and he asked how to spell it so I said S-H-A-U-N-A and he said M-A? Shauma? And I said, No it's N-A you know like Shaun with an A attached. He said Oh I see then asked where was I from. I said Australia and he asked whereabouts in Australia and I said, Oh just a country town that nobody's heard of.

And then he said, "I like those flat whites you have in Australia."

"Oh yeah! Flat whites. You don't really get those over here do you."

"Actually I think there's a cafe in Soho that does flat whites, it's called –"

"Flat White! I heard about that!"

"Yeah!"

"It's all those Aussies in London," I mumbled helpfully, "They really need their flat whites."

And then followed what I perceived to be a pained silence. We were all out of words, so he handed my book back.

They always say you should never meet your heroes. Whenever I read a David Sedaris book from now on, I will remember that vaguely uncomfortable expression and my complete… flat whiteness.

I slinked away and the three Journalists of Tomorrow stepped forward. I should have told him about the dog with the vaginal discharge. That could have been interesting.

signed!

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About Shauna Reid

Ahoy there! I’m an author, copywriter and old school blogger. I love telling stories about life and helping my clients to tell theirs. Find out more about me and how we can work together.


32 thoughts on “Flat White

  1. I’ve had my share of dickheaded moments too. Small brushes with fame that totally floored me, and left me, knock kneed, mumbling something I later believed to be completely regrettable. Oh well.

    One good thing — I now write my first name out in block letters and hand the card to the author/singer/whoever so the person in question (I’m thinking of book signings, mostly) can spell it properly without my feeling even more mortified that my name isn’t something easier for them to spell like Jane or Sue.

    Bottom line — David Sedaris! WOOHOO!

  2. A pox on journalism S.

    Do what I did and move into spin-doctoring.

    The money is better and you get paid for being evil – pure evil.

  3. I was so excited to meet an Aussie music star here in the US that I lined up for ages to meet her and had my photo taken with her.

    Thinking we’d bonded by that point, I proudly told her where I worked and she looked at me all deadpan-like and said, “So?”. And she didn’t laugh, even when I did. She wasn’t even kidding. I felt like a prize tool. She had a point though, which made it worse. Damn celebrities.

  4. INH, you sure get around. And I’m not even stalking you. Yet.

    Don’t listen to him shauny, btw, spin doctoring will destroy your soul. Unless you want the cash and don’t mind dealing with morons every day, in which case it’s fine.

  5. Speaking of publishing and all that, and not wanting to put the pressure on or anything, but do you think it might be a good idea to actually send a chapter (even a draft) off to some publishers with some of your recent press clippings, while the press clippings are still recent? I’m not saying that you won’t go on to be an enduring media superstar, or anything, but I wonder whether it might be worth striking while the iron is hot? Selling the book in advance would be good incentive to finish it …

  6. aaah… from the words he scribbled down does this mean david sedaris reads your blog AND knows what you look like?

    i loved that book by the way. i always think about writing down all those wacky family stories… if i ever did i’d be disowned.

  7. At least you swapped a few sentences (although the goodness of this might be cancelled out by pained silence? Not sure.) But at least you didn’t do what I did when Janet Evanovich signed my book. My nose dripped down on to my handbag and we both watched the trajectory and then tried to pretend we hadn’t. HORROR.

    And then last year at the Writers Festival when William McInnes signed my book and I was desperate to say something witty, but was still half hysterical from his very funny reading and just kind blushed and grunted at him…

    But I envy you David Sedaris – he’s one of my uber-faves!

  8. Dan said: worth striking while the iron is hot

    Definitely. Brandish them press clippings! Seriously. You need to stick out from the crowd.

  9. Getting published… well I have never been published and I dont work in publishing (really, I do stretch it for tax purposes) but I am studying postgrad in Editing and Publishing here in oz.

    Approaching Publishers directly:
    Apparently if you have already been published in some format then that’s half the battle. Most publishing houses are owned by multinationals so they need to justify the expenses of publishing, so they tend not to go for totally unpublished.
    Go to the Publisher’s association where you are (UK – http://www.publishers.org.uk/paweb/paweb.nsf/pubframe!Open) Oz – (http://www.publishers.asn.au/) and they should have a list of all publishers and they will say who accepts unsolicited manuscripts and who doesn’t. They will also give you the instructions on how they want it.
    Have a look at who publishes the books that you like and go to see them. The commissioning editor is going to be the one.

    Using an agent:
    Sometimes it is good to use an agent. They will be able to have a read through your manuscript (or usually a chapter) and let you know what your chances are. You can find these on the web.

    Author’s Centres:
    They have these in Oz, and they are places (online as well) where you can go and get your Manuscript reviewed and learn about getting published.

    The main skills (apart from being a fab writer which we all know you are) is persistence and professionalism. As someone else mentioned put together a pack of your published work and media releases and show the publishers what you can do. Never underestimate the value of already being in print.

    I am happy to answer any questions that I have so email me and I will see how I go…

  10. also – I have copies of all the directories in Oz if you dont want to have to buy them – happy to email you some of the stuff if you want…

  11. Shauny, one person’s eternal, horror silence from hell is another’s moment of blissful peace. Love D.Sedaris but read you a lot more often 🙂

  12. I was at Melbourne Airport just a few months before getting married, and saw Xavier Rudd (aussie muso) outside a Sanity store… I wanted his autograph for my (then) soon to be husband who adores him almost as much as I do…. There I was, after getting up the courage to ask him, fumbling aroung in my bag trying to find a piece of paper, a gum wrapper, ANYTHING….. when I suddenly realised we were standing outside a RECORD store and perhaps I could buy his CD and get him to sign that. I tried so hard to be all cool and not stalker fan like, but I KNEW I sounded like a bumbling fool….

  13. I saw colleen mcculough speak, and she was surprisingly funny, down to earth and interesting. I didn’t bother trying to say anything when I got my book signed.
    I piked out on signings for Terry Pratchett and Michael Palin – very long queues.

  14. Augh. I have sounded stupid to a variety of authors at the Bookfest, but the worst so far was an encounter with Dave McKean (artist/director) at the Film Festival. I found myself next to him in the river of people making for the exit after MirrorMask and blurted out something earnest about how beautiful I thought it was.

    Then, of course, I couldn’t get away because of all the people around me, although I had clearly run out of anything coherent to say…

  15. Flat whites are a great thing to talk about, Shaummmma! When I met Miss Z. Smith (on my first day at work when she was doing a signing in the canteen. Surreal) she commented that I looked especially smart (of appearance, not necessarily a judgement on my Intelligence Quotient, ie “poor”). I shrugged looking around at the scruff that surrounded me and explained away my smartness bashfully with. “It’s my first day. Thanks.” She further commented on my “cool shoes” to which I replied another bashful “Thanks.” I felt like a dorky year sevener talking to a year 12 girl or something.

  16. Sahuna,

    “Female intact dog presents with dullness, lethargy and vaginal discharge. She was on heat eight weeks prior.”

    I think the dog is pregnant.

    Intact means that it has not been neutered.

    But the discharge could mean that it is an miscarraige.

    I do not know about David Sedaris, either his work or if he has ben neutered.

    Hope you are both fine and dandy.

    Pol x

  17. Oh god, I met David Sedaris at a reading/signing in Minneapolis, at the U of M bookstore of all places, and I was PETRIFIED. My friend and I arrived a couple of hours earlier to snag good seats, and we did–we were on the center aisle, about 6 rows back. Before the reading began he came out and talked with/signed books for the people in the front row on our side…then turned up the aisle…oh, god, as he got closer and closer to our row the butterflies in my stomach grew steadily larger and more active. My face flushed. I think I was sweating. What would I say? How could I come up with something adequately witty for this man?

    I actually don’t even remember a single word of what I ended up saying. I think the panic wiped out my brain for a bit, there. Very anticlimactic, I know. But I am pretty positive that I babbled and that it was markedly un-witty. I do, however, have a little Sedaris-drawn picture of a peanut-man in the front of my book! Hurrah!

  18. Years ago in Toronto, the comedian David Brenner was signing his book. A friend of mine was a huge fan and had bought the book but did not have it with her to take to the signing, so instead she took the book she had with her – something by Leon Uris. He just laughed when she told him why he was signing this book instead of his own. “Oh, my old pal Leon!” he said, as he signed.

  19. I can have also had the joy of hearing David Sedaris read his work, and I dare say there is nothing better. In a slightly related event in my live I had the chance to ask Kevin Spacey a question after an early viewing of his film American Beauty. I asked him to compare AB to the recent firm The Ice Storm directed by Ang Lee. The was a short silence and then he admited he hadn’t seen it. Damn! So much for asking insightful questions.

    A final side note: I am a regular reader of all of your blogs, but typically just lurk. Thanks for all you do.

  20. BTW, Shauny, I decided to Google David Sedaris, because, yeah, I didn’t know who he was, and even the synopses of his works on Wikipedia are making me chortle. Think I’d better hot-tail it to the bookshop.

  21. Make that KIWIS in London! 😉

    http://www.flat-white.co.uk/

    Good strong coffees with ferns on top 🙂

    They had a massive posting on a NZ blog where all the London expats ended up going there’s no good coffee here – then some others saying “yes, it’s here”.

    Pity I’ve stopped caffeine for a while.

    Scott F 🙂

  22. And I remember saying something dumb to Garrison Keillor, whose writing I really like. Sigh. Even now, several years later, I can’t think of a particularly sensible remark. “I think your Lake Wobegon stories are really really good”. True, but I think others may have expressed similar opinions before.

    So what does the “finally meet you in person” mean?

  23. Shauny,
    I read your entire post aloud to Lorraine as we sat here drinking our—flat whites! Who knew!

    We make espresso every morning and don’t like a lot of foam at the top. All this time we’d no idea our special mugs o’ milk and caffeinated beverage were an Aussie delicacy!

    Oh, and I’m with Dan and Spike: use your clippings, your fame, and zip off a cute, short cover letter to JK Rowling’s Agent with a coupla three chapters. Don’t forget to include a synopsis, even if you haven’t fleshed out all the chapters yet.

    Do it. Oh. Yes.

  24. ooh hi folks!

    INH – spindoctoring! nooo! i was shite enough at being a journalist… lazy AND spineless… i think i’d be even worse at the spinning 🙂

    these book signing stories are a hoot, especially beth and her dripping nose…. nooooooooo!

    and thanks for the advice/encouragement too … dan, spike, dani, trevor… will give it a go, by all means!

    scott – ahh it’s the kiwis, eh? i am sure all antipodeans are grateful for it anyway 🙂 wonder if they sell lamingtons..

    isabelle – methinks he’s just being funny. if you hear his voice and know his humour, it is a funny inscription 🙂

    momolicious – that is so cool that zadie smith liked your SHOES. i’d put that on my business card!!

  25. I once tested my sister on her vet stuff the ngiht before an exam. It was all about sheep giving birth. Most of it was high tech stuff = blood pressure, organs, temperatures, various drugs with really long names. But there was some really practical advice too. Like – if you are performing a manual birth of twin lambs, when you reach in to grasp the legs, make sure you are holding two legs belonging to the one lamb before attempting the delivery.
    indeed.

  26. “Female intact dog presents with dullness, lethargy and vaginal discharge. She was on heat eight weeks prior.”

    An intact animal is one that hasn’t been spayed or neutered… and in this case she hasn’t been spayed. This particular case study is likely about a pyometra- a very nasty uterine infection where the dog’s uterus fills with pus. This is one of the prime reasons you should get your dog fixed.

  27. The thing about getting published, Shauny, is that there are no shortcuts. None. You just have to do the work and persist, and be able to handle the inevitable rejections without breaking down or getting dissilusioned.

  28. i met david sedaris 3 years ago, and i had the same sort of problem. i told him i loved french and was moving to france. he looked at me glumly, but tried to write something french in my book. unfortunately, he failed. poor david, i doubt he will ever talk pretty.

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