As someone who has experience of book signings from both sides of the desk, children’s author Mark Griffiths reflects on this peculiar literary ritual.
The monstrous queue zigzags its way across the floor of the function room, a chain of human beings coiled tighter than a bellyful of intestines. Necks crane. Every so often, a ripple like a peristaltic wave passes through the queue and it shuffles forward a few excited paces. Aware that their guest needs to leave soon, the venue’s staff close a concertina room divider, neatly bisecting the queue into Those Who Will Meet Stephen Fry Tonight and Those Who Will Not. There are groans from those on the wrong side. Complaints, tears. Fortunately, I’m Fryside.
It’s an odd ritual, this book signing business, but one I love. We like meeting our favourite authors because for a few brief moments our lives – our stories – intersect with theirs. There’s something of Joseph Campbell’s hero journey to it – you undergo the gruelling trial of the queue, have an epiphanic encounter with a powerful being and are ultimately rewarded with a magical object. Which you can then put on eBay if you’re a bit strapped.
It’s also an opportunity to thank authors for the enjoyment they’ve given us over the years – and in my case, the advice and inspiration, too. A few years ago I met Neil Gaiman at a signing and was able to tell him that it was his book Don’t Panic (a potted life and work of Douglas Adams) that first inspired the 17 year old me to submit a page of jokes to Radio 4’s Week Ending in 1988. To my shock and delight, one of those jokes made it into the show and people have been paying me to write things ever since. The next day Gaiman Tweeted that he had been proud to learn this and I went around for the rest of the week feeling ever so slightly ten feet tall.
Tonight I and a few hundred other people are waiting to meet Stephen Fry, who has been plugging his latest volume of autobiography More Fool Me at Bridgewater Hall in Manchester. The atmosphere is thick with expectation and queasy giggles. Will I clam up? Make a fool of myself in front of a hero?
As an author of four children’s novels, I’ve sometimes had the privilege to be the one doing the signing. Once a kid presented me with a copy of Gangsta Granny to inscribe. “You do know I’m not David Walliams, right?” I asked him. He nodded stoically and asked me to sign it anyway. I wrote: “To Liam, Sorry I’m not David Walliams”, which, in terms of sales at least, is perfectly true.
My moment with Fry has arrived. “I read your book The Ode Less Travelled,” I tell him, “and used it to write a poem which I’ve now sold as the text of a children’s picture book.” He scrutinises me for a second, taking this in and then thunders, “Oh, that’s fantastic!” I blush. He signs his name and then looks up at me and winks conspiratorially. “You can make an awful lot of money writing children’s books, you know,” he chuckles. Maybe, I think. But probably not as much as David Walliams.
Mark Griffiths’s picture book The Burp That Saved The World, illustrated by Maxine Lee-Mackie, is published by Simon & Schuster on August 13th.
One of the things I like about being a children’s author is traveling to schools up and down country to run creative writing workshops. In a recent science fiction writing workshop in Romiley Primary School, Stockport, imaginations were running at full steam and produced these amazing stories. I, for one, will be ordering a copy of Future Poop when it’s published…
“Thank you for coming to my school. I have read both your Space Lizards books twice and love them because they are really funny. But it was even funnier hearing you read them yourself. I can’t wait to read more books by you.”
From Harry, aged 8 and a half
Do you want to win signed editions of SPACE LIZARDS STOLE MY BRAIN! and SPACE LIZARDS ATE MY SISTER!?
Of course you flipping well do!
All you have to do is answer this question:
WHAT IS THE NAME OF THE BOY WHOSE BRAIN IS STOLEN BY ADMIRAL SKINK?
Send your answer, along with your NAME and ADDRESS, to: firstname.lastname@example.org
CLOSING DATE: 1st OCTOBER 2012
5 sets of winners will be chosen at random.
Ahead of the publication of SPACE LIZARDS ATE MY SISTER!, the hilarious sequel to Mark Griffiths’s sci-fi comedy for kids SPACE LIZARDS STOLE MY BRAIN!, chief space lizard himself Admiral Skink shares his heated thoughts on literature.
As a busy space lizard, I am frequently asked if I ever find the time in my hectic schedule of planet conquering and senseless destruction to curl up and unwind with a good book. Well, of course I do! I love books! I seldom burn anything else! As a lizard, you see, I need to absorb warmth from my surroundings and few substances rival the combustibility and heat output of a really good novel. My all-time favourite book is Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. Have you read it? I haven’t, but I adore the beautiful indigo flame it emits when doused in petrol and set alight. Now I see the hideous Earth mammal that goes by the name Mark Griffiths has written another book about me and my exploits on your dismal little crumb of a world entitled Space Lizards Ate My Sister! Couldn’t tell you whether the story’s any cop but an advance copy sent to me recently went up in flames a treat and kept me toasty through a long winter night. I can give no higher recommendation.
In no particular order:
1) THE IRON WOMAN by Ted Hughes.
Everyone knows and loves THE IRON MAN but less well known is this 1993 sequel in which a female iron giant emerges from a marsh to warn mankind of impending ecological doom. Where the first book is a melancholy and contemplative fairytale, this second is a feverish psychedelic nightmare. One of the craziest books I have ever read.
2) STAR GIRL by Jerry Spinelli
Spinelli excels at bittersweet tales featuring angsty kid protagonists battling the problems of everyday life. Leo is one such hero whose life is turned upside down when a strange and defiantly non-conformist new girl comes to his school. Reading this is like putting your heart in a tumble drier.
3) JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH by Roald Dahl
Is this Dahl’s best book? Quite possibly. Everything about it works. The characters are unforgettable (the joyfully unrepentant pest of a centipede might be best of all) and the invention never flags. The encounter with the cloud people is as superbly creepy as anything Dahl has written.
4) THE H-BOMB GIRL by Stephen Baxter
Time-travel shenanigans in 1960s Liverpool by the modern master of science fiction. Engaging, compulsive and, at times, outright horrific. One of the very few science fiction novels to feature a cameo appearance by Cilla Black.
5) THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS by Lewis Carroll
If for no other reason than the inclusion of JABBERWOCKY – one of the greatest poems in the English language (if indeed, those odd words really count as English) – this deserves a place on this list.
6) SKELLIG by David Almond
Who or what is the strange creature lurking in Michael’s garage? An air of mystery, foreboding and death clings to this dark little tale. About as near as a children’s book can get to a David Lynch film. A modern classic.
7) THE TURBULENT TERM OF TIKE TILER by Gene Kemp
Tike Tiler is a wild kid but extremely loyal to best friend Danny. When it looks like the two are about to be separated, Tike decides upon drastic action. One of the best books ever about day-to-day life at school, TIKE TILER was also the first book I read (or more accurately, had read to me) that had a twist at the end, forcing me to revaluate the entire story.
8 ) WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams
Rabbits as heroes? Who’d have thought it? Adams’s rabbits have their own culture, words, even mythology, and are entirely believable. A masterclass in world creation.
9) HOLES by Louis Sachar
The story of Stanley Yelnats incarceration in the Camp Green Lake correctional facility, where juvenile delinquents are forced to dig holes to “build their character”. Pure fun from start to finish.
10) TIMMY THE HAMSTER by Bryson Kinsey
Sometimes dismissed as merely a prolific hack (TIMMY is his fortieth novel!) Kinsey is almost unique among writers in being able to conjure up horror out of almost nothing. In this typically twisted tale, a young boy develops almost imperceptible psychic powers following a traumatic experience. But slight powers are all he needs…