In light of having once blogged about someone eating yoghurt in the street it would be false modesty not to write about the inclusion of The Life Assistance Agency in WHSmith’s 2017 Fresh Talent selection.
The last time I was in WHSmith’s for an hour was in 1988, when the music department couldn’t find the LP to match the sleeve of Roachford’s debut album. I eventually walked out with Talking Heads’ (best) forgotten Naked album, which was my first exposure to reputation outstripping reality.
Anyway, with a hangover best left undescribed I don’t feel particularly talented, far less fresh. I keep finding myself near bacon sandwiches, which I am not at Euston station to promote. I’m here as one of 12 new writers to watch out for. I am utterly chuffed and in shock. However, there’s a thin line between looking chuffed and appearing smug and I keep crossing it. So, I hope people are not watching too closely. I also keep closing my eyes. It was not my intention to bring my best Bukowski impression to a book signing. Mind you, Hunter S Thompson would have flown in on mescaline, so an ale & crisps induced headache barely registers on the reckless writer scale. I’m pleased my supportive publisher is there to keep me standing.
I’ve done my best to look like the photo used in the promotional poster, but I’m not in back and white, which I’d prefer to be, as colours are making my head spin.
I’m joined by seven of the other writers lucky enough to have been chosen by WHSmith Fresh Talent. It’s good to put a face to the prose. Even if they also look so little like their photos that I wonder if I’m surrounded by imposters. That is until I see the horror in their eyes as first drafts of next novels are mentioned; of the kind that cannot be faked.
Thankfully the staff have been told why seven writerly-looking types are loitering and scrawling all over front pages of novels in their shop. Then Matt Bates, WHSmith travel Fiction buyer, arrives with the sort of barely-contained enthusiasm that encouraged 27m books being purchased last year to read while travelling. He’s so passionate about my novel that part of me thinks I’ve made him up.
Promoting your book in store is not the sort of thing that writing a novel prepares you for. It’s very flattering, and of course a fantastic opportunity to flog a few copies. I was delighted to see WHSmith celebrating new authors, even before I was included. Now I’m evangelical about it. There was also a cake with all the book covers on, which seemed a shame to cut. For about 10 seconds.
We pose with our novels, as the line between smug and chuffed is not only crossed but nuked from recognisable existence. I’m unsure how near I should hover to my book. It might put people off, although nothing repels customers quite like a shop full of smug writers and their publishers, but as we leave I notice customers (clearly with excellent taste) approaching the wall of the 12 Fresh Talent novels. .. I leave before announcing to them ‘I wrote that’ in the kind of louche manner now banned in the 21st century. I need to eat my own body weight in cheese burgers and go to bed.