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 inside?”
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.
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.”
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.
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 plus an A. 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!”
“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 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.