I was still cat-sitting in Peacehaven when I saw on Twitter that Joanne Harris had included Chichester Waterstone’s in her tour to promote her latest book, The Gospel of Loki. I rang the shop and booked myself a ticket, on the understanding that I would pay for it when I got there. This is what it looked like:
I usually avoid fantasy. It’s generally ‘not my thing’, though I have read a few good fantasy books that have come as recommendations and, of course, Neil Gaiman can be placed firmly within that category. Neil Gaiman was, in fact, my first introduction to Loki in his American Gods, which I absolutely loved, and of course I also loved Stardust, Anansi Boys and my beloved Neverwhere. No, I didn’t recognise the name when I read American Gods, but I was already familiar with the Trickster, and of Chaos. There have been many times in my life where the Trickster has interfered, as he has in everyone’s life to some extent, but I had never really given him much thought. Since reading American Gods, I’ve also read George P. Hansen’s The Trickster and the Paranormal which, although not the easiest or most comfortable of reads, did put a lot of things in perspective and clarified others. It’s well worth a read and, for me at least, life-affirming.
The main thing, of course, is that Joanne has been my favourite writer for a lot of years and having met her back at the end of October when she was at the World Fantasy Convention, I figured it was worth a shot and asked if she’d like to meet for a cuppa before the signing. Perhaps afterwards, she said, as she wasn’t yet sure what her schedule was, but while I was in town, I got a tweet from her, asking if I was free for a quick cup of tea. Of course I was. I went to her hotel to meet her and when she saw me, she could hardly get her coat on quickly enough, saying the lobby was rather intimidating. I myself felt an overwhelming urge to whisper, and that’s hardly the best setting for a catch-up chat between two women who like to talk. A lot.
So I took her back to where I had been working earlier, the Belle Isle in Chapel Street, where we had a cup of tea each and Joanne’s nachos never arrived because of a technical hitch. This is unusual in the Belle Isle, though, where the service is excellent and the staff are lovely.
From there, we made our way to the bookshop, which is, quite literally, just around the corner (that’s handy, eh? *ahem*), and when we went in, Joanne introduced me and one of the staff members asked for our tickets. I produced mine, then Joanne said that she didn’t have one and was there under false pretences. Nothing more was said until her publicist said something which then made the poor guy realise who she was – he apologised profusely and disappeared up the stairs so fast I could almost see the smoke trail.
Before the talk, we spoke to the manager Michelle for a while and then Joanne went into the staff room for a few moments. I went to find a seat (partly so she would have at least a little time away from yours truly!), and then a short while later, the talk began. It seems crazy, considering I’ve been reading her books since I first picked up a proof copy of Chocolat from the shelf when I worked at what was then Ottakar’s and is now Waterstone’s in Commercial Road in Portsmouth, that this was the first of her book launches I’d been to. It was a very informal affair. (Or, if you prefer, low-key. I’ll get my coat…)
Joanne is very at ease in front of a crowd (at least, she appears to be), and after an hour or so, she took questions from the floor before Michelle began shepherding her as a hint that her time was up and some chairs were moved so that an orderly queue could be formed for the signing. When it came to my turn, I said, ‘You’re gonna be sick of the sight of me, soon,’ to which Joanne replied, ‘Absolutely,’ before signing my book.
Once they were signed, we queued at the till to pay for them (book launches are usually the other way around, which may say a lot about trust in a smaller shop – or it may just have been more practical). The ticket for the event could be redeemed against the price of the book, too, which I thought was excellent. I hung around a bit and talked to Joanne and her publicist and a lady who was saying how much she had loved Gentlemen and Players and Joanne signed a few more books for the shop. Then, it was all over. Joanne, her publicist and I left together, and Joanne remarked on the thing in the middle of Chichester. I explained that it was the Market Cross, there since 1503, and with a bust round the front that is a replica of the original, replaced when the council found out how much it was worth… And I pointed towards East Street and added, ‘If you want to go in Lush in the morning, it’s down there.’
It was a lovely day and a lovely evening and it was great to see Joanne again. I’m looking forward to the next time.