Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Signing 2: Gloucester

Did the second leg of the "Stairway to Hell Tour 2009" last Saturday at Gloucester Waterstones. Things got off to a good start - by pure chance I chose the dodgiest car park in town and was greeted with the smell of urine-soaked concrete, making me feel right at home. Ten minutes later I'd found the store and was sitting upstairs, enjoying a complimentary coffee, gearing myself up for whatever lay ahead. I admit it, I was nervous. Even after doing all this in Birmingham the week before, my little heart was all aflutter. 'Don't worry, you'll rock them. Just like I did in Berlin, 1989,' a voice said behind me. I turned - no one there, only a couple of middle-aged ladies two tables along. And that was a man's voice, wasn't it? Quietly, in case people thought I was nuts, I asked who had said that. 'Me, David Hasselhoff.'

Oh yeah. I should have known.

So I went downstairs, listening David Hasselhoff's words of encouragement. 'You gotta hit them hard,' he was saying, adjusting his leather glove (he had his pet eagle with him). 'Don't take no for an answer. Don't even take yes for an answer. Just when they're coming round to the idea of buying your book, that's when you need to push even harder. See that button there?' Where? 'There, on the front of the book.' We were at the table now, next to a pile of STAIRWAY TO HELLs. I picked one up and examined it. No button. 'There is. Right there, see?' No, that's a "3 for 2" sticker. 'No, trust me, it's a button. A Turbo Boost button.'


I made a start on the job in hand. At 11am on a Saturday morning, Waterstones in Gloucester is not a rocking place. A nice place, but not yet fully rocking. The only people milling around my area were past retirement age. Which is great, but... Well, I thought I'd give it a try. After all, I have a hot property here. The new series of TV's X Factor is on telly, and my book offers a direct resposte to it's glossy, sentimental lowest common denominator-iness. What we have here, my friends, is a piece of the zeitgeist.

So I approach one or two browsing customers, aged about 65 or so. You know the X Factor? 'Yeah, don't like it.' Well that's good, because I don't like it either. 'Oh, OK...' [continues browsing...] And, you see, my book doesn't like it either. 'Your book doesn't like the X Factor?'

OK, so I've lost him. Try someone else... Do you like crime books? 'Yeah.' Great, well I've written three of them. But this new one, it isn't really crime. 'Oh...' No, but it's better! It's about a luckless pub singer who finds out he has the soul of David Bowie. 'I like John Harvey. Is it like his books?' Exactly like them, yes. 'It isn't, is it?' No.

I'm back at my table, thinking things over. 'You don't believe me, do you?' said David Hasselhoff. He was standing behind me, pretending to read a copy of Dissolution: The Crisis of Communism and the End of East Germany, by Charles S. Maier. 'You think I'm wrong about the Turbo Boost.' I just... I don't even want to think about the Turbo Boost. 'It's there for you, Charlie. Use the Turbo Boost. We all need a bit of Turbo Boost sometimes. Even me, when I knocked down the Berlin Wall.' Shut up about the Turbo Boost!

A few customers turn to look at me, then quickly avert their eyes. OK, so at least they've noticed me now. Let's try a new tack...

Hi, I'm a local author. 'Oh yeah? You're from Gloucester?' No, Worcester. 'Well, that's not really the same, is it?' No but it's only about twenty miles away. 'Yeah but it's not local is it? To be a local author, you must be from Gloucester. Or at least the surrounding county.' Yeah but... 'What?' Nothing.

Back at my table again, Half an hour gone and no joy. I look around: not a friendly soul in sight. Not even David Hasselhoff. But no one is looking, so... I press the button.

The Turbo Boost button.

'Excuse me, but if you're looking for a interesting third option on the 3 for 2 promo, you might want to look at this.' That's what I'm saying to the customers now, then leaving the book in their hands, smiling, and moving on, unless they look like they want more of a pitch. Ninety minutes later, 10 books signed and sold. Not great, but DOUBLE FIGURES!

Driving home along the M5 motorway, I reflected on how I'd sold out there, resorting to an economic angle in trying to sell a book that should speak for itself. 'Yeah, but only a fool ignores the buck. Money first, artistic integrity second. That's what I always said to Billy Warlock, when we were working on season one of Baywatch. Oh, and could you turn the car around? I think I left my pet eagle in that place back there.' I take a sideways glance at him, then ask a question. 'Seatbelt?' he says. 'Did you ever see Michael Knight wearing a seatbelt? No, and you won't see the Hoff wearing one either.'

I reach over, open the passenger door and push him out.

Many thanks to the staff of Gloucester Waterstones for letting me do this, erm... event. Next Saturday, the final leg of "Stairway to Hell Tour 2009" will be at Mangel. I mean, Worcester. Will I see you there? I promise there will be no deranged celebrities.


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