In which my songwriting career is unexpectedly revived

If you read my first book, you’ll know that I once tried to be a songwriter.

I was a teenager at the time, and I wasn’t very good at it. I could blame the fact that I was growing up in very un-angry, un-rockandroll surroundings; or the fact that I was heavily into progressive rock at the time; or the fact that I was on target to horribly bomb in my English ‘A’ level. Or I could simply accept that I didn’t have the first fucking clue about what I was doing.

“We are the aliens, we come from the Planet Og; We look like a cross between a monkey and a dog.” Yeah, take that Paul Simon!!!

It was sooner rather than later that I decided that lyrics weren’t my thing. As did the rest of the band.

A little while ago I wrote a bit of an essay about Jake Thackray and Georges Brassens, and how they’d been the inspiration for Frederic Debreu. With Jake’s last will and testament long-since having been read, I couldn’t send him a gushing fan-boy note with a copy of the book, but on a whim I sent one to Paul Thompson instead; he’s the man behind and a general authority upon and mover behind All Things Jake.

I’d written some lyrics when I’d been writing the book, partly as a sort of background-immersion type thing; partly to ensure that I was consistent when I quoted them back to myself throughout the pages. These were worked up into a little promo booklet to go with advance copies of the book (there are still a couple available if you contact the publisher). So I popped one of those in Paul’s envelope as well.

To cut a long story short, Paul replied unexpectedly, having set the lyrics to music. Which was a little flabbergasting, given that my last musical collaboration was about twenty years ago, with a girl who I met via the ‘Loot’ small ads. Anyway, between the two of us, we’ve created a library of lost Frederic Debreu songs. Translated to the English, of course.

Here’s one: it debuted at the Lymm Festival in Cheshire this month. See what you think.

Manning a book/pork pie stall: some observations

So anyway. I did the joint book and pie stall with Sarah and Derek from Bray’s Cottage. It was a genuinely lovely day. Let’s face it, chatting about books and signing them for people is a very pleasant occupation for a Saturday morning, but the incorporation of pork pies and sausage rolls elevates things to a new level. And that was before the nice lady from Ethnic Fusion fed me free bhajis.

To help other authors to benefit from my experience, I have put together some observations. So, in the most niche clickbait ever, I present to you:

8 tips for authors considering running a book and pork pie stall at a farmers’ market

  1. Appreciate that you are not in a bookshop. It is an utterly different audience. The books are an unexpected thing for the customers, who generally attend farmers’ markets to buy pork pies. Some humility is in order. You are not Mr. Important Author behind a desk and a stack of books; you are Mr. Novelty Man Trying To Sell Books In A Different Environment. (Or Mrs./Ms., etc)
  2. If it’s important to you, insist that your pitch is referred to as a ‘book and pie stall’ not a ‘pie and book stall’. Puppet show and Spinal Tap, an’ all that. But either way, ‘a book and a pie – what a perfect way to spend a summer’s afternoon’ was a very successful opening gambit.
  3. Giving away a sausage roll with every book will eat into your margins. And it will not sell a single extra book, as book purchases are not price-sensitive (unless yours is vastly overpriced). However, it will delight the buyer and help the pie/sausage roll element of your stall, who will be grateful, and big up your book accordingly.
  4. Appreciate that – far more so than in bookshops – people will pick up and examine your book even if they have no intention of purchasing. It is a curiosity: a book! They are just being polite, in the way that you say nice things about the house that the Estate Agents are showing you round, despite the fact that the bathroom is avocado and the M6 runs through the front garden. Put an already-thumbed book right at the front. This is your sacrificial book.
  5. A subset of these people will do a sort of lightning flick through the inside pages. It is as if they are double-checking that there are actual words inside and that you are not trying to con them. This behaviour is simply weird.
  6. “I would buy one, but I have a big pile of books at home that I haven’t read yet,” is the universal code for a polite knock-back, allowing both parties to part ways amiably and with dignity. Note that this phrase is acceptable in this type of venue only. If heard at a normal signing, you are well within your rights to respond with: “So what are you doing in a fucking bookstore, then?!?”
  7. “I would buy one, but I’ve just had breakfast,” is the associated code for pie non-sales. Whatever the time of day. And, whether book- or pie-related, “I won’t buy one now, but I’ll pop back,” means they won’t. So don’t get your hopes up.
  8. The most important one: unlike in a bookstore, you’re manning the till yourself. So don’t forget to actually keep a proper account whenever you make a sale, as you can’t live on feeling pleased with yourself alone.

Come and say ‘hello’…

OK – I don’t get out much, but there are a couple of things planned. If you’re in the vicinity, do come and introduce yourself!

Saturday 21st May 11am – 1pm: DISS PUBLISHING BOOKSHOP, Diss, Norfolk. I’ll be here, signing some books – and I understand there is a tea shop there as well, so it’s very possible I shall be eating cake as well. Pop in!

Saturday 4th June 9.30am – noon (ish): BOOKS AND PIES at CREAKE ABBEY MARKET, Norfolk. There will be books! There will be pork pies! In a repeat of possibly the nicest event that I ever did when the first book came out, I’ll be co-manning the nation’s finest pork pie stall whilst signing books and possibly giving out free samples (of pies). This all courtesy of UK Pie Queen Sarah, at Bray’s Cottage Pork Pies. Come along!

Saturday 9th July 6pm – CHICHESTER FESTIVAL, Oxmarket Centre of Arts, St. Andrew’s Court. I’ll be on the panel for the ‘Self Publishing – Debunking the Myths’ event, sharing my range of experiences: from publication by a major publisher right across to contributing to print-on-demand works.

So, I’d just like to thank…

‘Frederic’ is out today.

I’d like to be all cool about it, but I’m not. It’s a different sort of feeling to last time, as it’s a completely different sort of book; a little more ‘personal,’ which is a bit odd. So I’m both excited and nervous, which I’m guessing doesn’t make me unique amongst the 50 grillion people who also have books out today.

But it’s already prompted something slightly flabbergasting to happen, which I hope to write about at some point.

If you will indulge me, I’d like to point you towards three people who have been incredibly generous with their good nature and reputation: the trio quoted on the front and back covers. It is impossible to convey the anxiety I felt when I made initial contact with them in a sort of fumbling fan-boy type way. (I know people think that publishing is all corrupt and cynical, but I – perhaps naively – wanted to ask writers who I genuinely admired and whose affirmation would mean something to me personally.) So thanks to, in no particular order:

Saul Wordsworth. Saul had written one of the best bits of outright comic fiction that I’ve read in recent years: Alan Stoob, Nazi Hunter. I truly don’t say that lightly; it was masterful, made all the more so because in different hands it so easily could have been a one-dimensional, one-joke novelty.

Neil Forsyth. Amongst other achievements, creator of Bob Servant: the books, the radio shows and the BBC4 series. I’ve loved Neil’s stuff for years; he gets his characters to inspire such affection amidst the comedy, and seriously knows his way around plotting and dialogue.

Jill Twiss. Very-longer-term readers may recall Jill once writing a couple of little blog pieces on here, to keep things going when I was away on holiday. Now she writes for one of the top TV shows on the bloody planet. To say that I was shy about metaphorically turning up at her apartment after ten years and mumbling ‘mmphjillwouldyoureadthismmph’ is somewhat of an understatement. Thanks to Jill, and to John Oliver’s office for clearing the use of his name.

You guys are the best.

That’s it for now. Wish me luck.