I have suddenly become acutely self-conscious about walking into bookshops. If I do it with anyone else, you can guarantee my book is either not there or stashed on a dusty shelf on the third floor under the heading "We've put it here because we don't think you're going to want to buy it." I walked into a London store for a signing and my Penguin minder told the assistant behind the desk: "We're here for the author signing" and the assistant behind the desk said: "What's the name?" and the nice girl from Penguin said: "Judith" and he said: "Judith who?". That gave me a nice warm feeling. (Infinitely better was the shop we went into which said one of the books had been stolen.) If I am left to walk in on my own, I am forced to wander the shop till I see the book on a table or a shelf; then I have to look at it for a long time to make sure it will not disappear into thin air. When I find a copy, I have been known to move it around to a better place in the bookshop which is a bit sad and apparently what Jeffrey Archer does with his books. The other day I was in a bookshop in the nearest city and was standing next to two women. I was trying to take a photograph of my book because the bookshop had kindly put it in their chart (I know it's not a cool thing to do but hey what do I care? Next time I go in, there will probably be the history of the SAS or a TV cookbook in its place.) The problem was, the two women were right infront of it. I manouvred my mobile phone infront of them by dislocating then telescopically extending my left arm, and just as I pressed the "take-a-picture-complete-with-flash" function, I realised one of the women actually had a copy of Wife in the North in her hands and was saying to her friend something along the lines of "I don't know how she did this." Now, it could have been a prelude to a conversation along the lines of "...set up a blog while being sad and wrote a funny book and had kids and got this shop to sell it. Good on her." Or, it could have been a prelude to another conversation completely which would have sounded more like "...persuaded someone to pay her good money for her wittering, moaning-minny, geek diary." The flash went off at the exact same moment I realised what was happening leaving me no time to scurry away between the 3 for 2 summer reads. I did that breathy laugh thing that announces you to be an utter tosser as they turned around, and said: "That's my book. I wrote that book. Heh, heh." How sad did that look? One of them said: "Really this is your book?" It was definitely one of those moments where you think: "Oh my God. Can I get any more uncool here?" It turned out the girl who was about to tell her friend exactly what she thought of my book (little knowing writer-polizei stalked the shop waiting to pounce on shopfloor critics) also used to live in London and moved to Northumberland. Her friend made me sign the copy. I said: "If I sign it, you'll have to buy it." She said that was OK. I signed it with my name. I felt like signing it: "Walls have ears y'kna."
(On holiday for a week. Back in a while.)