I got an invitation from Simon Scarrow, author of historical fiction bestsellers featuring Roman legionaries or Wellington (who would have thought that he was such an expert violinist?). I first met Simon when we were asked to talk to a gathering of booksellers – and we suffered some of the very worst food ever made, ever. Everyone on my table left at least half of the food – the roasted potatoes were so hard that they could have been effectively used by Wellington to disable the French.
That event was the first time I had been in the position of ‘after-dinner speaker’ – and I made a mistake of remaining absolutely sober for hours (it takes time to make the potatoes that inedible) and I also made a mistake (unavoidable) of talking non-stop for four hours about hedgehogs, before having to do my bit about hedgehogs … I felt I had said everything a hundred times already.
To make me feel worse about it all, the final ‘act’ was Rick Wakeman. Former prog-rock keyboard extravegantist, he has remodelled himself as a very ‘grump old man’ – and has a great line in anecdotes from his life on the road of excees, so there was plenty of bawdiness do with drugs and booze and toilets. He got the big laughs and I left feeling rather deflated (and hungry).
But my feeble performance made an impact and the event generated interest and sales (just in case you have not read it yet, here is another large link to Amazon). And it also generated an email from Simon Scarrow – asking me to come and talk to his book group just outside Norwich. So the meal definitely bore fruit.
The last book group I talked to was the one my wife is part of – and the biggest problem I had was finding that only a couple of people had actually bought my book – and then shared it around … this was them missing the point BIG TIME! Book groups tend to be small and un-resourced, but then I was not aware of quite the standing Simon Scarrow has – it took him pointing out that he was pipped to the number one slot by Katie Price’s ghost written novel to make me realise that he is in a very different league of sales to me and my hedgehogs.
Going all the way to Norwich, I felt I might as well make the most of my time, so asked if there were any schools nearby I could do a talk in – and ended up having a wonderful hour with the year six class of The Stoke Holy Cross Primary School. I was amazed that quite a few of the children came for a second sitting as they accompanied their parents to the evening event.
The guests had been asked to bring along hedgehog-related food (fortunately hedgehogs are still hibernating or someone might have brought me a dish of hedgehog spaghetti carbonara (recipe in the book)) – and I managed to grab some photos before the feasting demolished most of them.
The talk was great fun – and discovering that there was a senior scientist from the British Trust for Ornithology present certainly helped keep me on my toes – as did the approach from the genial former-member of Special Branch (now trainer) who was very interested in some of my interesting friends!
So, that rates as the most impressive book group to date. Anyone else want to invite me along?
There is a chance to catch up with me giving talks in Oxford on Thursday 8th April and in Exeter on 20th April (I will post the venue when I know).