This Saturday I had the pleasure of giving a talk at Readers’ Day at the Council House to help support local libraries. My fee was instantly donated to Nottingham County Council for illegally driving in the tram line and later for being caught speeding 8 miles over the limit by a hidden camera. In the last two years I’ve forked out near on £1,000 in traffic fines and certainly won’t be demonstrating in Market Square if the highways department feels the pinch from Osborne’s scissors.
Although I would much prefer to rant about how many cameras there are in Nottingham, I will instead try and remain focussed on what was a lovely gathering of book geeks from across the city, proudly confessing their love for the written word.
My talk was about how my real parents, Robert Smith and Morrissey, turned me into an obsessive reader because it was through their lyrics I discovered Balzac, Braine, Camus, Delaney, Hall, Naughton, Sillitoe, Sitwell, White and many more. Wanting to know more about the context to the songs, I read the books they were based on or influenced by and soon discovered the kitchen sink dramas, beat generation and many other periods of literature that are now neatly filed according to genre across my bookshelves.
Of course my talk could have been on bureaucratic poetry or how getting so much correspondence from the council has improved my literacy skills and ability to comprehend legal jargon. Maybe in a few years I’ll do a talk on how traffic offences led me to Roland Barthes and semiotics. Or perhaps I’ll turn to crime fiction and find greater empathy for Moriarty, we do after all share the same forename.
My highlight of the day was meeting Armistead Maupin (pictured), author of Tales of the City, who was the first person to pen a character with AIDS and through his complex and hilarious characters, has helped to break down gay stereotypes. He shared a funny story about how his sister’s mother-in-law would place a bag over her head when visiting her gynaecologist, to retain her dignity. He later used this in one of his books and was giving a public reading when his sister and the said woman turned up. The woman turned to his sister and innocently said, ‘see I told you. I’m not the only one who does it’.
I wanted to grab a quick interview with Maupin but he was in such a rush I didn’t want to pester him. Instead I spoke to his publicist and forwarded on some questions which hopefully he’ll find time to answer as he shoots between readings on his UK visit. David Nicholls was another who slipped through the net, proving you need to be a bit heartless if you want to make it as a hack. In his talk he said he hated giving interviews and being asked the same questions over and over again but loved talks with readers such as now. I didn’t have the heart to approach him afterwards. Besides, there was a long queue of blushing females wanting to touch the hand of the man whose first novel, Starter for Ten, made it onto the Richard and Judy list and his most recent, One Day, is a romantic story following the varying fortunes of two people on the same day over the years. With its undertones of loneliness and fate, it reminded me a little of the false truths found by the museum curator in Jon McGregor’s So Many Ways to Begin.
I would have loved to have met Lindsay Clarke, the award-winning author of The Chymical Wedding, but we were reading at the same time and so he became my third failed interview of the day. Things weren’t quite working out as I had envisaged, a familiar theme. But in hindsight it’s probably best that I didn’t have to waste my evening transcribing interviews, not when there were more pressing concerns, such as giving my credit card details to an automated phone service in the highways management branch of my beloved council. Snip.