Boys from the Dwarf

For quite some time now most of the author events for Waterstone’s in Edinburgh (a mere shadow of their former glory) have been given to the larger West End branch. So it was with much pleasure that we had the first author reading in our branch for a long, long time. When I first started we would have several readings a month just in our own bookshop, but no longer. The events diary for the whole of our Scottish shops is now somewhat less than the events diary for Edinburgh alone would have been five years ago. It certainly felt very nice to have an in-store reading again, bringing back for me warm memories of the Good Old Days of Bookselling, before marketing and accountant professionals ran the show and people did it mostly for the love of good writing.

It also marked a very welcome return (third time I believe) for Rob Grant, co-creator of one of my all-time favourite shows, Red Dwarf. Alex and I had set up everything in the basement of the store (which resembles a 60s fallout shelter, but does give us a good-sized space for free events) and, remarkably, we had been given plenty of assistance because extra staff had been put on to cover us, which was great. Rob’s moved from Penguin to Gollancz now, who have a damned fine SF list and they know how to run and publicise it. The publicity for his new book, the hilarious Incompetence, was impressive.

We had a damned fun night with Rob reading some of his favourite sections out to the great enjoyment of the audience and then taking time to sign copies and chat to the readers (naturally I had to get a signed copy for my collection and one for my chum Stephanie in Florida, a big Dwarf fan (pun intended)). As an added surprise bonus for me Nicola, Rob’s editor from Gollancz was accompanying him. I’ve known Nic for years now, talking to her on the phone and by email – she blesses me with an embarrassment of good books to read and review. This was the first time I had ever actually met her in the flesh, so it was a delightful surprise for me.

After the last book had been signed we toddled off to the nearby Guildford Arms, which in days gone past has seen many authors having a post-reading drink in our company (after Ken MacLeod launches we have been know to stake out a fair bit of the pub for ourselves). Much booze was consumed, jokes swapped and nonsense talked (Rob paying me the very nice compliment of telling me I need to write professionally, which was very nice of him and certainly did the old ego no harm). Mostly these days bookselling is not what it once was. It’s dominated by discounting, bestsellers and run often by people who refer to books as ‘units’ to be ‘shifted’ (keeps making me think of Nirvana’s Radio Friendly Unit Shifter song), a thought which give me chills. Occasionally though we get to have a good event and sell some books, lifting us out of the dull monotony that much modern bookselling has sunken into.

And to those who read the adverts which announced Rob would be ‘singing’, it was indeed a deliberate typo (to go with the subject of the book) and Rob did not, after all, deign to entertain us with a selection of show tunes from the musicals of Rogers and Hart, which is a shame. This did not prevent me from almost convincing my American colleague Stephanie that he would indeed be signing. Also he would put on a small one-man variety show encompassing magic tricks and some tap-dancing. She was asking me how he could tap dance on a carpeted floor when my straight face cracked and the grin of which a Cheshire would be proud rather gave away the fact I was bullshitting at full steam. It still amazes me sometimes that people will believe me, if only for a few moments, when I tell them things like this. Perhaps I should have been a politician.

Please note this is one of the very few times I’ll let images of myself slip into public view.