This is preceded by the prologue, also made available as a #SampleSunday on the 16th Jan – .: CLICK HERE :.
Robert Casey stood facing the double doors into the main body of the bookshop, and took a deep breath. It was always like this, meeting his fans, the great unwashed who had given him his comfortable lifestyle. The bookstore owner, James something-or-other, bow tie adjusted perfectly around his bulging neck, stood at Casey’s right elbow, peering in through the window. Casey knew he was mentally counting the punters and the pound signs they represented. Stan Lillywhite, Robert’s long-suffering agent, stood on Casey’s left side.
“Good crowd tonight, eh Robert?”
Casey grunted. This was by far the worst part of his author’s existence. Lillywhite and the publisher said that it was an essential part of marketing. Both of them were hanging off Casey’s coattails, taking their percentage. Casey thought it was just bullshit.
“Okay, let’s do it.” Casey followed the bookstore owner through the doors, Lillywhite peeling off to one side.
“Ladies and gentlemen”, bow tie announced, “Mister Robert Casey!” A small round of applause fizzed into life from a few sad and lonely claps.
Casey allowed himself to be led towards the rear of the shop, where a large table waited, covered by a pristine starched white tablecloth. To one side, several neat piles of books were positioned, and an empty space had been created on the other. Casey sat down on the utilitarian, orange plastic seat – why couldn’t they ever use a decent chair for once? – and then stood up again, when he realised he would need to say something to the crowd.
“Ladies and gentlemen”, bow tie began, rubbing his hands together
Shylock-fashion, despite the oppressive heat in the shop. “I’d just like to welcome our esteemed guest for this evening, who I’m sure will need no introduction. Mister Robert Casey.”
He started another ripple of applause, less effusive this time, following the introduction which apparently wasn’t required.
After the applause had died down, Casey cleared his throat.
“Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. You’re really kind.” He stopped, looking around the twenty or so faces, wondering what they hell they were doing out on a cold and wet night like this. Do they think some ethereal stardust is going to get wafted from his aura? Are these people really that sycophantic, that they wanted to see their favourite author, up close and personal?
He realised that there was the beginnings of an uncomfortable silence, and everyone was waiting for him to do something, to show them why he was one of the country’s favourite authors, an honour bestowed upon him by some nonsense chat show he’d done a couple of years ago.
He picked up his dog-eared copy of “Death by Drowning”, and opened it at the first page marked by a tiny yellow Post-It. “I … err … before I start, I’d like to give you some background to this book. Does anyone mind if I sit down?”
Of course they didn’t. As always, he had them eating out of the palm of his hand. It was just a shame that all he had was a few cracker crumbs. Book sales were dropping off, and reviewers had begun to call his writing “formulaic”. He thought they had a point. His formula had stood him in good stead for some years now, and he saw no reason to change. The publishers disagreed.
He sat down again, seemingly idly flipping through the book. “This is my seventh ‘Death by’ book, and I personally think it’s my best yet, despite what the critics say.” There was a murmur of amusement, and Casey glanced at Lillywhite, who was staring back at him.
“I do like to try and push the boundaries of crime writing, whilst keeping my finger on the pulse of modern society.” He paused. Christ, he was a walking cliché. “Perhaps the best way of telling you what makes me write a book like this, is to read some sections from it”.
Casey went through the motions of making readings; he tried to inject some enthusiasm into it, he really did. But this was about the fifteenth book signing on his present tour, and any tiny bit of enthusiasm he’d had when they started the tour had all but evaporated. He could see bow tie man getting twitchy. No one was enjoying this evening. What was the point?
The publishers had said that they wanted to get him in touch with his core audience. Publishing speak for admitting that the big city centre stores didn’t want him cluttering up their stores, when they could have a celebrity chef, an ex-MP, or a footballer who’d recently been photographed with a team mate in a fairly compromising position. Some old has-been
bean crime writer just didn’t cut it any more.
Eventually, after the last reading, he sat down, only to be encouraged to his feet again.
Bow tie led the applause, if it could be called that. “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sure before Mister Casey begins his book signings, he would welcome the opportunity to answer a few questions any of you might have.”
Casey looked towards his agent, but Lillywhite just shrugged his shoulders. Bastard! He knew about this. Casey made a mental note to grab a bookstore complement slip on his way out, so he could be sure he would never come here again.
He sat down again, and waited. There was a moment’s silence, before bow-tie opened up the questioning.
“I suppose I should have the pleasure of starting with the first question. Mister Casey, Robert, who would you say was your greatest inspiration? Where do you get your ideas from? I’m sure I speak for a number of people here when I say that we enjoy your books immensely, but we couldn’t imagine where some of the concepts and plots come from for your books.”
Casey groaned inwardly. This was probably the most common question he was ever asked, and usually he had a smart answer for the people, to keep them quiet, to satisfy their desire to own
won a piece of him. Tonight, the smart answer eluded him, and he struggled to come up with a satisfactory answer to this first of a number of boring, inconsequential questions.
“Of course, I read a lot.”
“Which authors do you read mostly?”
Oh Christ. “I suppose I read a wide variety of authors. From, of course, Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler and James Elroy, to modern authors. A wide variety, I suppose, would be my answer.” He paused, as if to think. “I always try to inject as much realism into my books as possible. I put myself in my character’s shoes, so I can see what they’re seeing, and feel what they’re feeling.”
Sweaty bow tie man laughed. “I hope that’s not true for your murderers, Robert?” The audience shared the joke, politely.
“No, of course not.” Was it time to get out of here and back to the hotel bar yet? “Now,” Casey said, with a bright tone to his voice, “are there any questions from the audience.” He threw his arms out wide, either embracing them or throwing himself on their mercy.
“What time of day did you find best for writing?”
Bloody hell. What a stupid, stupid question. “I mostly write in the mornings. These days, I have timescales and targets and deadlines to meet – my agent, Stan Lillywhite over there, sees to that.” He nodded in the direction of Stan, who stood at the back of the group, impassively. Probably thinking about the hotel bar, too. “So I try to get as many words out in the morning as I can. That way, I can edit and rewrite at my leisure in the afternoon and evening.”
Please God, get me out of here soon.
“What sort of computer do you use for your writing?”
Bloody hell. That’s a weird one.
“I dunno, really.”
“Is it a laptop?
AnA PC or an Apple?”
“Oh, I see. It’s a laptop PC. Nothing special.”
“Wouldn’t an Apple MacBook be better?”
Casey looked over to the man asking the questions. Nondescript, boring features, wrapped in what looked like an old plastic mac. Dark, wet hair, earnest expression. Christ, what a saddo. This question was important to this weirdo. Fortunately, bow-tie came to the rescue.
“I’m sure Mister Casey has more important things to do than discuss the type and styles and makes of computer. Wouldn’t you say so, Mister Casey?”
“Well, I suppose that’s true. I don’t pay that much attention to the details of the computer. I just buy something that has a good screen that I can read for several hours a day. Nothing special at all.”
The same guy spoke up again. “Are you proud of your books, Mister Casey?” The quiet buzz of conversation in the bookshop dies away completely.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it must be difficult to maintain standards over a long series, wouldn’t you say? Do you think the critics are right to describe your book as ‘outdated, belonging to a era of steam trains and Harold MacMillan?’
The was quiet, before bow tie came to Casey’s rescue.
“Well, thank you, Mister Casey – may I call you Robert?” He’s been calling me Robert all fucking evening so far. To the audience – “Now if you would so kind as to form an orderly queue in front of the table here, and Mister Casey – err, Robert, will be pleased to sign your books for you.”
“Lovely to meet you, Mister Casey.”
“I’ve read all of your other books, Mister Casey.”
“I do love the way you bring a sense of adventure into your books.”
Casey smiled dutifully, but watched out for the strange, aggressive man in the plastic mac. He seemed to have left the shop before the signings. “Probably a journalist,” Casey thought.
Casey kept his head down, signing away on the hardbacked source of income. Good work, Peter. Cheers, Diane. Hope you enjoy it, Davina. Davina? He looked up. No, it wasn’t THAT Davina. Thanks, Charlie. Cheers, Brian. And so on. He licked his lips. He could taste the beer already.