How long is too long to spend planning a book launch, you know, if it’s your first book?
A year? A decade? A lifetime? I began planning my book launch when I started my first novel. That was fourteen years ago. The novel, which is in the proverbial bottom drawer (let’s be generous and call it a work-in-progress), took a while. I kept breaking off to write the guest list, and to ponder outfit options.
I have a friend who spent years fantasising about what she would wear to her husband’s funeral. Each to their own.
When it came to having a book published, all I could think about was the party. I wanted to invite the world, but the world would not fit in an Edwardian bookshop.
“To know know know you is to love love love you.” Some hippy crooner sang that once, and all I can say is, that was a love song. To know you is to love you is not a thing. I decided that would be my rule of thumb. If I know you and I love you, you’d be in.
I’m big on love nowadays. Mad for it, in fact. Self love. Something approximating selfless love. Filial love. Mother love. Unconditional love. I’ve woken up to the whole shebang during the transformative process of writing my book. Better late than never, I say.
About three weeks before the launch at Daunts Marylebone, an old friend called me up.
“What are we eating at the launch?”
“You’ve got to have food.”
Fourteen years, and I hadn’t planned any food. I love food.
“Get about twelve of your friends (note the use of ‘your’; this particular friend lives miles away so was off the catering hook) to each make a batch of canapés.”
Tupperware and LIDL carrier bags and cling film flashed before me.
The next morning, I checked out catering companies. £20 per head was the best offer. My book costs £14.99. I don’t know exactly how much I get per book sold, but I could see the maths didn’t add up.
Crisps. I went on the ASDA website and ordered 40 packets of crisps. I don’t really like crisps. I pictured Daunts Marylebone, its fine wooden galleries and the illustrious authors on its shelves, poked by greasy fingers.
I consulted my agent. “Nuts. They could work.” I could tell her heart wasn't in nuts.
That night I didn't sleep. I fretted. I was turning into the Bridezilla of authors.
I emailed a writer friend. I could have asked her about Trump, whether we are going to hell in a handcart, or if we are already there.
Instead I asked: “Crisps or no crisps at the launch: what’s your vote?”
“Everybody loves crisps, and I hate them,” she replied. “Be confident.”
I cancelled the crisp order, and consulted my Scottish foodie friend Nell Nelson, who runs a food-tasting tour called Edinburgh Food Safari.
“There’s no need for food. Your guests can go for an hour and a half without eating. They’re adults.”
I relay this to the friend down in the boondocks. We agree I could do with a personal touch. I decide mini, alcoholic milkshakes might be in order and set about sourcing some online. I spend hours doing so. No-one seems to do them. Funny that.
I consult my friend Fliff. Alcoholic milkshakes do not float her boat, make her feel queasy, in fact.
We re-convene two days later. I tell her in advance that I think I am going to have a seizure. It is two weeks before the launch. I have now turned into Scribezilla.
Her catering friend and all-round inventive foodie Nicola Easton of Ministry for Cooks comes up with the genius idea of striped retro confectionary bags filled with milkshake-shaped candy and liquorice pellets masquerading as tablets of morphine, sealed with stickers featuring the book cover.
Three nights before the launch, my younger son, a friend from New York and I went into production at the kitchen table. It’s not how Scribezilla imagined the run-up to her big day, but there you go.
On the night itself, the guests arrived, undeterred by dozens of angry Donald Trumps staring out from Daunts' window display of Michael Wolff’s ‘Fire and Fury’. A nine-year-old me smiled on the cover of ‘Milkshakes and Morphine’ in the other window.
The guests were welcomed by the feelgood sounds of double bass player Sandy Burnett, playing jazz with a saxophonist.
My memoir is not the kind of book I ever planned on writing. I also never planned on knowing and loving so many people. And I certainly never planned on giving them bags of candy milkshakes and morphine.
But I am glad that I did.