Waterstones, Tunbridge Wells. 16 April 2013.
The first ticket holders arrived – a family – and all close friends of mine. Gill, Peter and their 30-year-old son, Stu. Peter and Stu had volunteered to do the drinks and had dressed for the occasion in their DJs. ‘You look very handsome,’ I told them, ‘and easily spotted by everyone when they wonder where to go for their glass of wine – and refill,’ I added, laughing. Gill got to work straightaway, lining the baskets and bowls with napkins and shaking out the nibbles.
Alison, my writing critique partner (left, with Richard Milton), was another early arrival, as I needed her to help prepare the ‘stage’. She’d given a talk on her first published novel, INCEPTIO, at the same branch of Waterstones the previous month, so she knew the score. I left her to position the tall banner emblazoned with the front cover of the book.
One by one, couple by couple, they came in. There was much laughter and chat as I met people I hadn’t seen for years, and they in turn met one another whom they hadn’t seen for years. It was all very jolly. I kept to a half a glass of pink champagne. A full glass and I’d be squiffy!
It was 7.15pm. People were beginning to take their seats. My good friend, Richard Milton, a published author of both fiction and non-fiction, sat on the front row next to my sister, Carole. He watched me glance at my five ‘prompt cards’ and said: ‘It will look much better if you don’t use them, Den. You know what you’re going to say. So just say it.’ Immediately, my heart started to thump. I said: ‘I’ll leave them on the table, in case…’
7.20pm. Time to begin. Voices suddenly stopped and there was complete silence. I swallowed. This was it. I looked at the 70-odd friendly faces, opened my mouth and started (unrehearsed) by asking everyone if they would turn to their neighbour, give them a good once-over, then glance at them occasionally throughout the talk.
‘In light of the contents of my book and the characters,’ I held up Seller Beware, ‘we could be inadvertently harbouring a spy or two. But,’ I went on, ‘if there is one, even a spy has to have a night off sometimes.’ They started to chuckle (I expect the wine had already got to them) and I was away. I forgot about cards and prompts as I told my story, along with some amusing anecdotes, which made them laugh. Oh, the power…
At the end I completely forgot to ask them if there were any questions, but as my talk had gone on a bit longer than the allotted time, it probably didn’t matter. My aim was to tell them something about my sorry experience when I sold my estate agency to the wrong buyers, and for them to read the complete story of ‘one woman’s road to ruin’ (the strapline of Seller Beware).
‘So, please form an orderly queue,’ I joked when they’d finished clapping, ‘and make sure you tell me your name – spell it out – so neither of us is embarrassed because of my failing memory.’ And they did.
That evening I sold 55 books, which Waterstones said was a great success. Bowing my head in humble fashion, I agreed.