Well, it’s launched. In Rome, at least. My dear friend, Paola, lent me her studio, Dermot from the Almost Corner Bookshop arrived with two large boxes of copies, the fridge was filled with wine, the pizza bianca was hot from the baker’s oven down the road and cut into palm-sized squares, the local olives were gleaming in their little bowls. The weather was, after a week of almost constant rain, mild and dry. It was just after six. The (my) mood was tense but optimistic. At first, there was nobody and then there were a few close friends and then, almost too suddenly to grasp, the room was packed with people. Dermot had the large square table, stacked with virgin copies of Little Monsters, looking splendid though worryingly many (to start with). I had a small round table for signing at, and felt more like a card-less medium –Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante – than a novelist (also to start with). At this point, I hadn’t had a single drink. I’d spent most of the afternoon running pointless little errands, or useful errands that should have been run days before, ideally by someone else, while I practised my signing technique. Well, you learn by doing. By seven, an awful lot of copies had been signed and it was for time for the little presentation that Clarissa and I had organised. That was when I realised I couldn’t find my copy.
What makes my copy special is that a) two of the pages are ripped, so it’s defective; b) it has pencilled scribbles all over the extract I intended to read; and c) it has MY COPY written in felt tip on its cover. I’d left it somewhere during the first quiet moments, and hadn’t seen it since. This gave me the chance to behave like a teacher, which was just what I needed to calm my nerves. ‘Has anyone seen my copy?’ I bellowed from the staircase we’d decided to use as a slightly vertiginous podium (see photo). ‘One of you must have bought it!’ I cried. Pamela, with great generosity and briskness of spirit, offered me hers. Then: ‘Eccolo!’ said Renata, waving my copy in the air. ‘Eccolo!’ And there it was. MY COPY. Clarissa read two extracts, and I read one. It was wonderful to hear what I’d written being read with Clarissa’s habitual passion and intelligence; it was even wonderful to hear Jozef talking, through me, and to hear people laugh at exactly the moment I’d hoped they would. I can’t wait to do it again.
At this point I decided I could have a drink or two, and my later signatures are distinguished by a dramatic falling off in penmanship, made up for by LARGER LETTERS. Towards the end of the evening, I left the studio to stand in Vicolo dell’Atleta for a little fresh air and my mobile started beeping frantically as messages came in. One of them was from Isobel Dixon, my friend and agent. She said I should get someone to read it out, but hardly anyone, alas!, was left, so I’ll post it here instead. It’s very touching. Charles! Wonderful author, I am so proud of you, honoured to be your agent, and gutted not to be there. Much love, Isobel. Thank you! In fact, my thanks to everyone who made it and my thanks to all those who would have liked to be there, and couldn’t make it. I know you were with me in spirit. I raised my glass to you all.
PS To end on a venal note, we sold around 70 copies, and still have some wine left. I don’t know which of these two facts is the more extraordinary.