Oh yes, Zombies and Vamps, the post you’ve all been waiting for has arrived! After reading yesterday’s offering about his excellent novel, Dead Men, you have returned to get a taste of the author himself. And so, without any further ado and with no more preamble or fanfare, I give to you the poet, the author, and all round nice kinda guy, Richard Pierce.
Enjoy the trip – and it is a trip
In the lovely village I am fortunate enough to live in, I’m now talked of as the famous writer. Which is very odd, because I’m not famous at all. There is a common misconception that all published writers have a massive publicity machine behind them, that they’ll just be able to sit at home, in the comfort of their study chair, and watch sales rise and rise while they’re busy eccentrically producing the next masterpiece for their captive audience. Oh, and occasionally fielding phone calls from the publishers offering yet another all-expenses paid book tour to some exotic location. Unfortunately, real life in publishing nowadays very different to that. Or should that be fortunately?
A writer who has found a home for his or her first novel with a small independent publisher will get significant support on the editing side – Jon, my editor, spent hours with me going through the tiniest bits of grammar, meaning, punctuation, explaining the typesetting process etc etc – but when it comes to getting a big marketing push, there just isn’t the resource. It does make me smile when I tell people I’ve been here and there, and that I’m off to the US in June, and then add that I’m paying for it all myself. But, if I believe in the book, I have to do it, however uncomfortable it might be for my Yorkshire wallet.
The week Dead Men was launched, I was in London on the Monday, Portsmouth the next morning, then Doncaster in the evening and for the whole of Wednesday, then home, and another event here in the village on the Friday. I then spent a whole day in London doing 13 radio interviews (half of which were live), one after the other. And on Good Friday, I travelled all the way up to Dundee for a talk in the evening, and then back home on the Saturday. Cold and tired.
Now, don’t misunderstand me, this is not a miserable piece. I am not complaining. It’s been wonderful, sitting on trains, watching the countryside slide by (and the services have, on the whole been reliable, although with insufficient seating at times). It’s been even more wonderful, from a writer’s point of view, to be able to sit and watch lots and lots of strangers, absorbing their idiosyncrasies, storing them for future use, either as walk-on parts in some future novel, or as main characters who will write a whole book themselves, because they’ll be beyond my control.
The best things about all the travelling, though, and the book signings and interviews, are the individuals I got to meet, from crazy, rude people, all the way through to the people who engaged me in long conversations, even if they didn’t buy a copy of the book. It’s a hard slog, and sometimes hardly anyone turns up, but it’s worth meeting even just one person who’s interested, or one person who makes some sort of impression on you. That’s what a writer’s life is all about. Taking other people and putting them or their words into the stories we tell. Here are some of those people.
Like Fiona at the Natural History Museum, one of the Day Guides who help people to plan their days at that spectacular edifice, who calmed my nerves, talked to me about her mother who had met Charles ‘Silas’ Wright years ago when she was a young woman, the same Wright who features at the beginning of Dead Men. Fiona bought a copy for her mother who has since started regular correspondence with me – humbling.
Like Alan in Portsmouth, an Old Danensian like me, who turned up fifteen minutes early so he could show me photos of Portsmouth during the Second World War, who talked to me about my old school, and about how he loves Portsmouth now. ‘Oh, I don’t read much,’ he said to me when I asked him if he wanted to buy a copy of my book. ‘But my wife reads loads.’ And then he turned and left. That’s me put in my place.
A rowing couple in Portsmouth, a couple of lads walking round threateningly and telling me to you know what. Arms in the air. And then the best one, an Irishman whom I, feeling like a used car salesman sharking through Waterstones, approached and asked if he was interested in a book about the Antarctic. ‘Only if it’s about Tom Crean,’ he said, sounding even broader than the late, great Frank Carson. And then we spoke, not just of Tom Crean (who was a real real hero, who saved Teddy Evans’ life by walking over 30 miles without a compass through the freezing cold, and finished his days running a pub in Annascaul, The South Pole Inn), but of my new friend’s life, of the dreadful accident which had robbed is 30-year-old daughter of both her legs as she saved her own daughter from being run over by a refuse lorry on the way to school. And he wasn’t feeling sorry for himself or her, he was dignified, a caring father, a man complete and at peace with what life had dealt him and his family. ‘I’m just getting books for her so she doesn’t get bored,’ he said. We finished our conversation many times over, but turned back to each other time and again to add something else we felt we had to say to each other. I don’t care if I missed out on sales during that conversation. I just wish I remembered his name, but the piece of paper I wrote it down on has disappeared off with Lord knows what else I’ve lost. But the memory’s there. I wouldn’t be surprised if his name was Tom Crean the Third.
Doncaster was meeting old friends again, like noble Mick and Gray, at the Rovers, although they lost, and realising a dream, to have a page of the programme to myself, though I had always dreamed of it being as a player or a manager of the Rovers, but we can’t have everything. And making new friends, meeting twitter buddies like Craig, whose blog this is, who must be one of the kindest men on the planet [aw shucks – Craig], and his partner Laura, who helped me face the unusually quiet Creative Writing students at Hall Cross School. And Simon Saynor, from SineFM, who must be a long-lost half-brother of mine, who still has so much hair and so much energy he puts me to shame. What a craic that was, doing the Breakfast Show with him. All these people are so much more interesting and talented than I am.
An unexpectedly large crowd for my home event in Stradbroke. Lots of beer donated by St Peter’s Brewery, and me so nervous I forgot to thank them, although their MD was sat right in front of me. A friend, ill with cancer, making the effort to come and she rewarding me with a peck on the cheek as well as buying a book. And one lovely man whom I only know by site, coming and buying two copies of the book early and getting me to sign them because he had to rush off again. And Jack Stevens, from the band Cathedrals & Cars, being the most nervous I’ve ever seen him, because the other two couldn’t make it. And lots of familiar and unfamiliar faces. And talking till my throat could talk no more.
The water diviner in Diss Publishing who was ex-Royal Navy, who swore he could remotely divine water and was helping an African state find more water from his front room in Diss. ‘You don’t need divining rods any more,’ he said. ‘You don’t even need to be there. It’s all in the mind.’ And, you know, I believe him.
The crowd at Dundee could have been larger. Publicity angles had got confused, and so the event fell between two stools. But the eight souls who did turn up were wildly enthusiastic and made me go on for an hour and a quarter rather than the 45 minutes I’d planned. Michelle, the Australian girl with a very slight Scottish accent, and her East European friends, the two mature gents who kindly laughed at all my jokes and asked me really good questions. Nick, an old friend from Cambridge who works up there sometimes and had hidden himself from view when I’d gone into Waterstones before the gig, because he and his wife wanted to surprise me. Russel from the Waterstones up there was a brick (he writes crime novels himself), and the gathering down the pub afterwards with McEwans 80 was, er, lots of fun. And the folks at the Discovery Centre who gave me a free tour of Scott’s Discovery, which I later found out, back in Sassenach country, is haunted by quite a few spirits. Full cycle.
And so, now, as I brace myself for my US tour, as I try to edit my next book, A Fear of Heights, I look back at those wild crazy days just after book launch and wish I’d written it all down, in the minutest detail. Ah, but I have, and, like I said to Craig when I promised him this blog post – all the best stories are written in your head first.
Thanks to Richard for a great post! I’m honoured to have been a very small part of it. And now what you’re wondering is where you can find out more about this guy? Well, you can follow his Twitter with @tettig, or hit his blog HERE. Or, of course, you can buy his book…
Thanks for reading.