Sunday, November 06, 2005

All over. A hundred books sold - or thereabouts. Endless hours of standing smiling at people, engaging them in (French) conversation, hand-selling my books. This is the sharp end of writing that most authors never get to experience. This is hard-selling direct to the public.

This is seeing their noses wrinkle when they read the blurb on the back of the book, or even when they catch a glimpse of the title. There are, clearly, some people for whom "Meurtres à Pékin" is inestimably distasteful.

With graphic descriptions of carbonised corpses on the back cover, I wonder what on earth could have put them off? Ah, well, chaque à son gout.

One simply has to expect that what one writes is not everyone's cup of tea.

To balance that, my publisher, Danielle Dastugue, was delighted with our sales. For an "inconnue" - unknown - in France, it would have been perfectly possible to sell two books or less, she said. We had done well.

The day started off with a change of stands. We were moved to another stand in the foire, judged to be in a better position. The two young girls, and rugby playing student, who had taken the money and popped the books in bags for us all day Saturday, were almost tearful to see us go. Not unhappy, however, to see the back of us, were the man-hater and Mr. Cèpes, who had deigned to turn up for the Sunday session. Our departure meant they got a bigger and better display.

We, however, found ourselves crammed into a breathless space between a purveyor of philosophy and a writer of such titles as "Le Pinkie-Pinkie", whose cover was adorned with the screaming face of a tortured man. Opposite was an emergency exit which, while providing an outlet for people in trouble, also provided an inlet for frequent blasts of icy autumn air. I was glad I had brought my jacket.

What was nice was that both the young girls at our new stand bought and asked me to sign copies of the book, and that the girls from the previous day's stand paid us several visits to check that we were okay. One of them said she had started to read the book the night before and couldn't wait to get back to it. She reads "polars" (crime books) all the time, she said, but somehow this one was different, and she was really intrigued.

We made a point of going and saying goodbye to them all when we left.

Ariane and Gilbert appeared late morning, and we tried to make an arrangement for lunch, but the restaurant where we were scheduled to lunch, courtesy of the municipality was only scheduled to take six from Editions du Rouergues. Our poor friends wandered off disconsolately to try to find somewhere to eat, and we went in search of Michèle to see if we could find a solution to the problem. No problem, she said, call Ariane and tell her there are places for them at the restaurant - Chez Francis, in Avenue de Paris, reckoned to be the best in town.

By coincidence, the hapless pair had just tried to get into that very restaurant, which had been recommended by a friend, and had been turned away. Complet! At which point my call came through on Ariane's mobile.

So we all met up for lunch, only to discover that Danielle and Michèle had been unable to get two extra places, and so had sacrificed theirs to partake of salads in an inferior joint across the street. No amount of argument would dissuade them from this.

Publishers are different in this country!

Another nice moment came that afternoon when a gentleman we had spoken to earlier in the day about cultural and linguistic exchanges, returned to reveal that he worked for Les Trois Epis, the bookseller, and that his boss had told him that he could chose any book at the foire, have it signed, and he would pay for it. He chose "Meurtres à Pékin", which I took as a real compliment - considering the hundreds of thousands of books available at the fair.

At the end of the day, we said fond farewells to Danielle and Michèle, and Daniel and Roger and Adeline Yzac (another Rouergue writer whom we had met that morning), and disappeared off into the cold, dark night, to make our way back to a cold, dark house and try to get it warm before collapsing into our own bed for the first time in what seemed like weeks.

And it was only three days.

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