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Friday, 5 October 2012

Imagine going into a pub and finding 22 romantic novelists


Meet the northern chapter of the Romantic Novelists’ Association - well, some of them. I did, yesterday, when they invited me to go over to Harrogate and talk about myself for an hour or two. We met in the Smith’s Arms, and got down to it after a hot lunch.


Really it was supposed to be about how my ghost-writing association with Mike Pannett works, but they had asked for some background - i.e., how did I arrive where I was? - and they got it, in spades: the entire story of my writing career. I wanted to explain that I was writing at a very young age - letters, mostly - and was able to produce one I wrote in September 1960, just two days after I arrived at boarding-school, addressed to my sister.




I continued with the story of my first publication - a letter in Football Monthly in 1965 - and went on to my first paid piece of writing, a cheque from the editor of a Hull-based magazine, Proof. I really wanted to frame that cheque, but £9 in 1986 could buy two or three days’ groceries, so into the bank it went.

The nineteen ladies and two gents all listened attentively. Hard to tell whether they were enjoying it or not, but Linda Acaster, who’d driven me across from York station, insisted that they had: I would’ve known if it were otherwise. ‘They would’ve started shifting in their seats, looking at their watches and saying they had things to do,’ she told me. ‘But there they were, ten to three and still sitting there, asking questions.

I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed myself. This was another opportunity to re-arrange the narrative of my life and making it sound like a heroic progress. To add to my delight I sold a book. I’d only taken with me a copy of each of my publications, for display, but one of the guys pounced on the anti-Manchester United (Yesss!!!! United In Defeat) thing and whipped out a £5 note. ‘Just the thing for my son at Christmas,’ he said. I could also have sold a copy of Destiny, the collected war correspondence of Capt. Jack Oughtred, but I only possess two copies and want to hang onto them. I directed the would-be buyer to amazon.

What was most stimulating about this whole thing was that, as ever, I found myself going home with my head full of sound, useful feedback and advice from the audience. But then I found that when I used to teach, especially face-to-face. I am still in the process of absorbing what I heard, which was largely to do with adapting to the e-publishing age. How well I will be able to recall what was said is, of course, in doubt. There’s another busy day coming up. As soon as I’ve got dressed and had some breakfast I’ll be off to the station. I’m meeting friends in Newcastle, and taking the train to Hexham for a day at the races where I’ll be re-investing yesterday’s fee in the fortunes of some dubious nags as they plough through heavy ground on one of the north’s more picturesque courses.

If I do well, I’ll give a full report tomorrow. If not, I shall most likely sulk.

I’ve noticed a sharp increase in my readership these last few days, which is pleasing,. I suspect, however, that it has more to do with my recent switch to (or venture into) Google Chrome. God knows why that should make any difference, but Microsoft insisted that it would, which is why I succumbed to their blandishments. I still attract very few comments, and I do find that disappointing. I really would like to hear what people think about these postings.