Thursday, 16 September 2010


Well, this was nice! I haven't had such a close brush with fame since my kiss with Marty Wilde, aged 13 (me I mean, not him). Unless you count 15 minutes with George W Bush at Downing Street in 2003.* Which I don't. Marty and Jeff were both much nicer experiences.

What was really strange was when Jeff Goldblum offered to sign my programme for "Prisoner of Second Avenue" for me. Of course I said yes. But I had a tiny moment of hesitation and here's why:

You see, usually people ask me to sign things for them. Now, in case this sounds incredibly arrogant, I am speaking of book-signings at bookshops, festivals and schools etc. I have never had anyone stop me in the street and ask for an autograph. And I hope I never shall.

But because of my experience in this department, I have often mused on autographs and fame. I can understand someone liking to have their book signed by the author; I like that too and am lucky that many of my friends are also writers.

But the kids who come up with scraps of paper torn from exercise books - what does a signature do for them? Is it a brush with fame? Or perceived celebrity at least? If I saw one of my heroes or crushes in a public place I wouldn't dream of rushing up and asking for an autograph. The most I would do is wear a big soppy grin (see photo).

I would NEVER have bothered Jeff Goldblum for an autograph if I'd bumped into him in a restaurant, say. But since we had been introduced and he was asking ... Well, of course.

What do you all think about this? Writer friends who sign and non-writer friends and passers-by who collect autographs? And what do you do with them afterwards?

* I should like to make it quite clear no hugging or kissing took place on that occasion. Eww!

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Skype "visits" - the future?

Last week I was contacted, via my website, by a school in Texas at short notice, to see if I would agree to a Skype "visit" with the Grade Three class taught by my correspondent. I had said on my site that I was open to such suggestions.

So we managed to find a time that worked for us both - 5pm for me and 11am for them - and tackled the technology.

They wanted me to read Amazing Grace and answer a few questions, which didn't sound too hard. I have only the camera on my Apple Mac - no webcam as yet - so the image is not wonderful but of course the user can see only a tiny square in the left corner; it's much bigger for the viewers at the other end.

There were some introductions and then I read the story, without any problems. The children were all very quiet and attentive and gave me a big clap at the end. It was only when the first child got up to ask a question that our problems began. I could see and hear them but they could only see me.

We re-connected several times but always the same problem. So I started to Skype-text them. (I'm a very experienced Skype-texter because I do it with one of my daughters almost every day). The children asked their questions and I answered them by text. They could see it scrolling as I wrote and corrected, though it was a bit of a pain because I had to switch away from the main image while I was writing and couldn't see them.

This is what their nice teacher wrote: "Thank you so much! The kids LOVED their experience, even if we had technical difficulties.  It was probably on our end, except I'm not computer-savvy enough to know what caused it. So no apology needed.  I thought it was so neat for them to hear you read your own story. They loved your accent.
Again, the kids LOVED it, and I know they will be talking about it all year long.  :)

Thank you, thank you, thank you!  You have inspired our kids to love stories as much as you do!"

So  a high score on the warm glow front but the technical problems were frustrating. I did a test-call afterwards, which was fine on sound so I expect the problem developed at their end but this is something we need to be aware could happen.

The whole business calls into question what author visits of the future might be like.

On the plus side, a half hour visit without any travel fatigue or problems, no question that the school wouldn't know you were coming, good interaction with kids and teachers, enhanced librarian awareness of other titles and obviously distance no object.

On the minus, no book sales on the day (though maybe later) no possibility of signing books unless you possess Margaret Attwood's Long Pen, no close eye contact, no ability to stroll up and down when talking or to show pictures clearly as you read.

There are probably others I haven't thought of.

I didn't charge for this visit, as it was experimental, but was the first question I was asked by another author and we've been having a bit of a debate about it on my writers' forum. "Is this a way of getting cheap visits" and "won't it undercut other authors who don't (want to) Skype?" being considerations. I haven't been in touch with the Society of Authors about it yet but would be interested to hear others' experience of this new technology.