So I’m sitting in the food court area of Wellington Airport. I’m heading up to Auckland for a conference. Due to bad weather, my flight has been delayed for 90 minutes. That’s bad – it will make the kind person who’s picking me up from the airport late. But it has a good side: I’ve had the chance to sign the copies of my short story collection Transported in the Wellington Airport Whitcoulls.
The staff are very well organised. The books are on a nice little display cabinet near the entrance to the shop, and they have a pen and a bunch of “Personally Autographed” stickers close at hand. I kneel down in front of the display, sign each book, and carefully place a sticker on the front. There are 17 copies to sign – that’s good, because I know the bookshop started with 20. I rise to my feet (wishing I hadn’t decided to wear both my jacket and my raincoat onto the flight as the easiest way of carrying them).
But now I’m about 50 metres from the bookstore, nursing a coffee, doing a spot of work, and peering intently at the foot traffic into and out of Whitcoulls. Nobody is stopping at the display of Transporteds. Are they too low, too far below eye level? Should I have piled them up higher when I put them back on the stand? Is the blue “Personally Autographed” sticker on the front putting people off? (I prefer the way Unity does it – instead of putting stickers on each book, they put a nice “Signed Copies” notice on top of the pile.) And, though I really like the cover, does it stand out enough from the gaudier books around it?
Eventually they call my flight and I head off to Auckland. The conference goes very well. While waiting for my flight back to Wellington, I sign the copies in the Auckland Airport Whitcoulls. There are less of them, and they are modestly hidden on the shelves. It’s still good to see them, though, these old friends in unfamiliar places.
I’m aware this is all rather pathetic. I’m aware I should get over myself. Just as a watched pot never boils, so a watched book never sells. But whenever I walk past a bookstore that stocks Transported, I find it very hard not to go in and see if any have sold. Half the stock in the Wellington Borders has sold – joy! None have sold in Dymocks – damn, if only I’d been able to give a more exciting description of the book when Bruce Caddie asked me how they should describe it to customers.
The world faces multiple, interlocking problems: peak oil, climate change, food shortages … the list goes on. I have work to do, a family to love, and a novel to be getting on with. But I took some visitors to Wellington Airport today, and – I stopped after farewelling my visitors and counted – now there are only 15 copies on that display. Two more copies have sold – yes!
Even the outrageous carpark fees (if only we had light rail out to the airport!) can’t dampen the feeling, so precious, so fleeting, of success.