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!


  1. I have always been a bit mystified by the autograph thing. In fact I managed to sign the first few copies of my first novel in the wrong place - ie the fly leaf, not the title page, as if it was a school text book. I don't see, unless you know the person really well, it means much. I don't know why it adds value, especially when the author is not very well known (ie like me - but I still get asked to sign occasionally). My signature is not very beautiful and think it rather spoils the book.
    It is certainly well worth questioning why this happens. It's sort of superstitious and mystical. Collecting signatures of famous people is odd too, like you are harvesting part of them to hold onto, like keeping bits of the body for sympathetic magic. (See the Golden Bough and all that)

    Fun to meet Mr Goldblum though!

  2. Interesting.
    As a reader, I like to get books signed by the author as it is a nice reminder of the fact that I have met them (even if only briefly following a reading or something similar)

    I have also occassionally waited outside a stage door for an actor or sent a letter to them, when I have really enjoyed a performance - if I hang around then I'll usually ask to habe my ticket signed - (The tickt gets tucked into my journal afterwards, along with my write up of what I've seen, so again, it's more of a reminder of having met someone than becaue I want a pieve of paper with their signature on.

    I think if I saw someone in the streeet or in a restaurant I probably wouldn't approach them at all, but if I did I'd feel OK saying something such "Excuse me, are you Mary Hoffman? I really enjoyed 'City of Ships', are there going to be more Stravaganza books?" but I wouldn't feel comfortable asking for an autograph. (Althoguh as I have really terrible face recognistion skills it probably wouldn't arise, as I am hopeless as recognising people

    I've had one or two situations where I've met people who are famous ( a couple of well known writers, and a musician or two) in private social settings, and I felt that they were not 'on duty' and it wouldn't be appropriate to ask them to sign a book or CD. Although I would have been happy had they asked, and if I'd happened to have a suitable book or CD on me at the time)

  3. @fictionwitch That is interesting and I agree: a signature could be a magically useful "bit" of someone. Hmn, is there a plot there I wonder?

    @marjorie I know what you mean about on and off duty. There was a bit of a temptation in the authors' yurt at Edinburgh to approach someone unknown because we were all writers together but if it was that person's downtime it would have been a bit unfair. (And yes, there will be City of Ships in 2012!)