Travelled down to Suffolk to see my book being printed. Had to get a grip of myself before I went in to the printworks because I felt slightly teary and thought I might just lose it completely and find myself weeping over the conveyor belt if I was not careful. It still felt special even though the factory prints 160 million copies of books a year. That is a lot of books. Most are reprints but 8,000 of them are new titles. There are only two big printworks responsible for most of the bookprinting done in the UK and mine was one of them. They print several million Bibles a year (- it is always good to have God on your side) and had to bring in security guards for the latest Harry Potter. The other thing they did with Harry Potter was to ban mobile phones from the factory in case anyone snapped the pages. For some reason, they still take your phones off you. I felt like saying: "Actually I know what happens at the end of my book."
Sections of the book queue up, shoot onto a conveyor belt and are then gathered into a pile, the back is trimmed and the pages flip onto their side to roll over hot glue. The pages are then clamped together and the cover put on. Up to this point, the book - or rather books - have been travelling round the factory like a pair of siamese twins joined together at the skull with one copy the right way round and the other copy standing on its head. The end-to-end books are guillotined and the remaining sides trimmed. Eventually, when the glue is dry enough, the completed book drops into a stack of seven which are then wrapped alongside other stacks in white plastic. There are 30,000 books out there with my name on them - now all I need is someone to buy them. Sometimes famous authors go round the factory. Apparently Eoin Colfer, author of Artemis Fowl, cried; Quentin Blake drew a cartoon of Matilda sitting on rolls of paper; Michael Palin signed lots of autographs and Sandi Toksvig was lovely to everybody. None of the printers knew who the hell I was but I still insisted on shaking people's hands over and over, muttering "Thank you so much. Really - thank-you." At one point, one of the chaps on the belt broke the back of the book, pulled out a clump of pages to show me how they are glued together, then said: "Don't look" and lobbed the ruined copy into a large black dustbin. I thought: "Bastard."
But they say - as one door opens, a window closes. I got a guest column in The Times on Thursday which was cool but on the same day I was finished as a columnist by the local paper. Budget cuts means they are firing their columnists - or at least three of us. I don't mind too much - it was nice while it lasted.