Monday, 14 May 2012

ABIDE WITH ME: The Walthamstow Book Signing

MAY 5TH 2012

It all started when the iron broke on the Thursday - two days before the signing.  I'd forgotten all about it by the Saturday, and so when I jumped out the shower on the Saturday morning and made to get my customarily crumpled white shirt out the wardrobe, I realised I'd have to wear my magically-never-in-need-of-ironingblack shirt again.  I'd started the tour at Romford wearing the black shirt, and spent half the day fielding questions from customers about where such and such book was, and where the toilets were, and what time do you close.  Yep, I was to be turning up at Walthamstow Waterstones dressed identically to a Waterstones employee once again.  Still, how bad could it get . . .

The journey to Walthamstow Waterstones was the longest of the tour so far - an hour on the train from Harold Wood Station.  I say an hour on the train - in truth it was the train to Manor Park Station, a ten minute walk to the London Overground at Woodgrange Park, a six stop haul to Blackhorse Road, then change for the Victoria Line to Walthamstow Central.  All with my seven foot rolled up pull-up poster slung over my shoulder and my bag of goodies in the other hand - including two Double Deckers and a box of Ribenas.
Mmm . . .

I arrived an hour early, thanks to the blindingly efficient service British Rail runs on a minute to minute basis, and had a wander round the nearby Walthamstow Market to pass the time.

 Walthamstow Market.

I'd have to say, Walthamstow Waterstones is one of the most beautiful bookshops I've seen.  It was open plan, yet had the feel of an independent bookshop with it's high shelves and narrow aisles.  And there was this lovely wooden staircase spiralling up to the first floor above.  Lovely.  

I walked in, said hello to the staff, and within no time, Tom and Max and Sabrina were sorting out my signing area.  I was to be right next to the staircase, somewhat in a corner, but a great position nonetheless.  I set my bits up, took a cheeky bite of one of the Double Deckers, and I was ready to go.

My little corner of bookshop heaven.

It was just before eleven, and I was aware footfall in and out of the shop, and outside in the shopping mall, didn't appear to be that great.

Then, my first customer.  Sort of.

An elderly gentleman, probably in his mid eighties, wearing an overcoat and a crombie hat, approached my table and pointed out the Prince Philip biography sitting on the nearby Jubilee display.

 'He used to be my Jimmy,' he said, in a very well spoken voice.

The gentleman went on to explain that a 'Jimmy' was Royal Navy slang for 'First Lieutenant'.  He also went on to explain, in great detail, the Navy's part in the North African conflict during WWII, his time in Jerusalem where he had to explain to a Jewish family that were putting him up that the holocaust was real, an account of the Cable Street Riots of the 1930s, and why George Orwell was great.  Twenty five solid minutes later, and still showing no sign of slowing down, the very well spoken gentlemen suddenly began to pepper his speech with swear words.

'And that Ted Justice [whoever he is/was - I never did quite know], he knows fuck all about justice.' 

I smiled and I nodded, as I had done for near on half an hour.

Eventually, after describing the history of the cafe round the corner he was about to have his breakfast at, he said he thought he'd better buy a book, seeing as he'd taken up so much of my time.  He made to hand me a tenner, asking if that was enough.  I said it was, and he took a book and left for the till.

I've a very strong feeling he paid the tenner for the chat rather than the book, but KERRCHING! all the same.

And about the same time as the elderly gentleman was winding down, my mate Pete turned up.  Pete Sortwell.  Many of you might know Pete from his Radgepacket stories and his involvement in certain writing websites.  I've known Pete in a writing capacity for a couple of years now, and he's always struck me as an honest, courageous, writer.  To meet him was an absolute pleasure.  We chatted about writing and life and publishing and book signings, and then Pete nabbed a seven year old kid to take a picture of us:

 Me and Pete.

And as they day went on, and sales steadily grew.  People came and went.  I chatted to a young girl of about nine who asked me if I'd written the book, and said she was writing a book herself.

'What's the book about, darling?' I said.
'It's about a cloud that has adventures in the sky.'

I urged her to finish it.  A couple of minutes later she came back and asked if I could sign a bookmark for her.  Bless, eh :)

And then there was a young Czech lad came up to the table, and we spoke of writing in the vernacular.  He said he'd written four unpublished books in a local Czech dialect.  It was a fascinating discussion with a really enthusiastic, proper nice young lad.  And then an English teacher asked, well, grilled me about the book.  What's it about?  What's the theme?  Who is the publisher?  Has it got a message?  Bang Bang Bang.  

I was discovering one thing about the people of Walthamstow: not only were they very nice, blimey, they could talk.

After lunch - finishing off the Double Decker I'd chewed earlier - I was presented with another cup of coffee and a couple of little muffins by the ever-lovely Waterstones staff.  Then someone nicked a book.  Not one of mine, I hasten to add, but a book nonetheless.  One of the staff gave chase, but to no avail.

As the afternoon drew on, I saw Alice - one of the Waterstones staff - listening to a middle aged, slightly rotund, bespectacled man, in the centre of the shop.  I was wandering around, stretching me legs, and Alice called me over to introduce me.

'Do you like football?' she asked the man.

'Hate it.  My wife supports Arsenal.  There's no bigger cure for insomnia than watching Match of the Day.  Der der der der der-der-der - zzzzzzzzzzz'

'Well, do you like Crime Fiction,' perserveres Alice.


'This is Ian Ayris, he's signing copies of his football based crime fiction book in store today.'

Alice then expertly disappeared, leaving me with a man that spent the next twenty-five minutes informing me of police brutality in Hackney, how he threatened two scalliwags in his local model shop for 'pissing around', the best ever sci-fi writers in the world ever, a report about the office he's worked at for the last thirty-seven years, and, oh, I don't know, a million other things, I should imagine.

'I think I best start packing up now,' I said, in truth, not really knowing what else to say.

And then he was gone.

I looked over at Alice, smiling at me .

Cheers, Alice :)

And all day I had people asking me where the dictionaries were, where the children's section is, where the Albanian books are kept, and what time does the shop close.  

Bloody shirt.

By the time I packed up at half past five, I'd had one of the most enjoyable days on the tour, met loads of interesting people, and some not so, sold a decent number of books, and spent the day in a lovely bookshop with some of the nicest staff imaginable.

Thank you, Walthamstow - it was a joy.

And so endeth the end of the stint of the book tour.  Next up is the Tonbridge Arts Festival on the 23rd June.  More details on that when I get them.  We're hoping to book some more signing dates for later in the year, and again, as soon as I know something, I'll pass it on.

This book tour lark has been a life-changing experience for me.  When I've got meself together a bit, I'll devote write a blog looking back at it all.

Take care everyone.

All the best,



  1. A 7 year old London kid that DIDN'T run off with my phone. Good job really as I was lying when I said I'd be able to catch him, I'd have had a stich my the time I'd got to the door (of Waterstones)

  2. That cheered me up! I'll be doing my first book signing in July and was told to check out your blog for tips. I found three in this post -

    Take chocolate.
    Don't wear a black shirt.
    Bring sense of humour.

    Will do!

    1. Hi Patsy.

      Thanks for popping by.

      I'm hoping to do a full blog on what I've learnt about book signings either tomorrow or Monday. I'll let you know when it's up.

      Best wishes,

      Ian :)