It has been a pleasant day. After a private, and unusually delightful, gig in Stockholm, I gave myself and my extensive team of Coops (PA) and Iain (writing partner) the day off and painted. I have been painting a friend, the free-runner and general embodiment of all that is astonishing Chase Armitage (yes, a par-court giant called Chase: living proof of the maxim that after years of primary-school teasing and slow-burn comfortable associations, people tend to be attracted to careers which suit their names.) Following that I visited an artist friend Patrick Hughes, and had my head cast in plaster in order for a reverse-sculpture of your apologetically infrequent blogger to be created. It’s a little difficult to describe, and I shall blog the results along with the pictures that were taken along the way, but imagine a portrait which, through a compelling trick of perspective, unfailingly shifts and turns to follow you around the room.
I thought I should also drop you a line about the new book, Confessions of a Conjuror which will soon be piled high and wide deep within those warehouses of Amazon, sometimes glimpsed on the way to Swansea, and prominently displayed in the erotic poetry section of Waterstones, whichever you prefer. As an ardent Amazon-hound and a loyalty-card-carrying lover of all things Waterstonian, I wouldn’t be able to decide. Every couple of years or so I seem to get a month or so put aside to concentrate exclusively on ‘breaking the back’ (or at least bending the spine) of a new book, and it’s quite the finest part of that particular two-year period. I can, without guilt, spend my afternoons in the cafe across the road, guzzling cappuccini (with or without a panino), forgetting the cares of the rest of my career and ruthlessly clicking any TV-related phone-calls to answer-phone where they are left to rot and die. It is an unmatched pleasure to live that life for a brief period, to wear clothes that are beyond squalid, to daily secure ones favourite table by the window and for there to be, for the time at least, no deadlines or pressure.
No pressure because one cannot write a book in a month, so the spread of the upcoming tour is always there to supply ample time to get within sight of the end and get ready for the far-off and very comfortable delivery-date. On tour it is again a delight: the show is up, running and well-received, so what could be nicer than spending ones days discovering further glorious cafes around the country or tucking oneself away in a hotel bar until the time comes to show up and show-off on stage? Bit by bit, the book is fleshed out in-between shows, and then, if a West-End run follows, frantically during the days at home or even – bliss upon bliss – lengthways upon the dressing room sofa, lemon and ginger and honey brew an arm’s reach away.
After the show is struck for the last time, and the mixture of sadness and relief has been shared and enjoyed by our little crew, I then have what time I can steak here and there to finish and polish and edit and tidy. The favourite month to release a book is October, as, I am told, you and yours get ready to think of Christmas gifts and start browsing the foyers of All Good Bookshops for that very special gift. Perhaps it also gives you time to read it yourself before buying for another, I’m not quite sure. I know the second favourite release month is April. The tasteful hospitality quarters of Soho hotels and private club function rooms, decked out with tiny makeshift stages just large enough for a publisher and then an author to stand upon, heave and swell during those twin months with celebrities, the buyers from Waterstones and Tesco (who sell the largest number of books in the country, so there) and other outlets, publishing staff, friends and family and new literary product being released to the market. I have never quite made my peace with these functions when they relate to my own scrawny output. After months of enjoying such a private pleasure as writing a book, it is quite another thing to hand it to the world, let alone the in-between world of book-people so ready to throw a party in your honour. One moment you are completing an entirely private enterprise which has become synonymous with a quite lovely way of life, and the next you are drinking champagne and helping yourself to dolly-food, mingling at what feels like someone else’s event and even stranger, meeting people who have actually, to your stuttering bewilderment, actually read the book. Until then it was only your editor and your friend Iain who had read it – and your Mum, because you wanted her to be happy with a few bits – and now here is the guy from Waterstones telling you that the book is like such-and-such, and you think Is it? Is that a good thing? and feel like the most laughable fake and wonder how you ended up amongst all these people. Somehow, I suppose, these evenings much achieve what the publishers intend: they have learnt (due to my uneasiness) to put on very modest ones for me, so I am unsure how they achieve the important ‘noise’ that is desired, but hey ho. I like book-people and they are always a very pleasant bunch.
After some backs-and-forths over stylistic queries, formatting points, cover design, and what should be written on the back cover to immodestly celebrate author and book, there is a quiet period while it all gets printed. This year, I went off to record an audio book of the whole thing. For two days I drank warm water, more honey and lemon and ginger and chatted to the nicest trio of professionals I’ve come across in my career. I might, if everything goes boobs-up, get a job in an audio-suite and record such things along with them. We did a chapter together, then broke for tea and chat and M&S sandwiches, and then did more. On one such break, Joseph (the editing member of the team) brought out his gramophone and we listened to a glorious 78 of Ella Fitzgerald and the Ink Spots crackle away through a song which would have sorely disappointed had it appeared on a CD bought from a motorway service station, but which enthralled us played on his handsome 1930’s HMV, which bore the scars of the Blitz. My voice just about held out for the only two days which my schedule allowed, and minus a few footnotes which could not be made to slot in easily, a slightly abridged version of the book was read by the author and recorded for posterity. The less welcome result of this reading-aloud of ones own book is the spotting of errors and oversights which had been missed by both author and proof-readers. Hopefully the second printing will be all the finer for it.
Soon – and my heart leaps giddy with anticipation – a box will arrive with my designated dozen or so copies of the book itself. I will toy with it, flick through it and place it around the flat on coffee-tables and sofa-corners. I will smell it, put it on the shelf next to Tricks Of The Mind, see what it looks like without the cover, find a place to leave it almost out-of-the-way when guests come over. And I shall hand a few copies out to friends when invited to people’s houses. I shall not read it, at least not for now, because the fear of finding further mistakes saps any enjoyment from such an act. A copy may make it to my small lavatorial library and be leafed through during bottom-visits, but mostly I will not quite know what to do with it.
I shan’t read reviews – this I have learnt. I shall ask my publicity gentleman and editor what the response is to it, and if there are any lessons worth learning from it. But that is all. I have recently done an interview with the Times Literary Editor, a very nice lady called Erica, and I may break my rule and read her write-up (Oct 9th I think) because I liked her. But even this is dangerous ground: it is a cruel glitch in the human mind that compliments tend to be glossed over whereas any negative comments stick in the mind and can ruin a weekend in an instant. Even the nicest journalists tend to feel that it is part of their job to take a swipe at their interviewees, or even in those rare cases when this is lacking, have a habit of re-wording one’s verbiage – for perfectly understandable reasons of clarity and space-saving – into the smuggest, naffest awfulness that one would never dream of uttering. It’s all very uncomfortable. Possibly – though I very much doubt it – this becomes a little easier to deal with when one is a seasoned author, but despite four books already under my belt, I feel very new to this malarky and anyone’s criticisms have me wanting to go back and re-write the entire thing.
Worse, today, we have blogs and Twitter and whatever else to cause upset and confusion if one is looking for it. At least newspaper reviews are easy to avoid: the unthinking spite of those who anonymously express themselves online is impossible to miss. Who imagines, when casually slagging off some celebrity online, that the slaggee in question will actually read those words? They quite possibly do. And if you’ve ever overheard friends talking nastily about you, it’s like that but much worse, and it feels like loads of people. And at times coupled with a real, boiling anger on their part.
Sadly any performer, however successful, is likely to be a sensitive soul. Witness the other week. Hero airs: by far the most ambitious and personally joyful of all my projects, and is very well received. We all tried to do something genuinely not-done-before on television, both technically and editorially, and on top of that to genuinely change someone’s life (and for real, not just for telly). I, my team, and Matt, our subject and now my friend, are all very excited when it transmits. The show is a success and the feedback is very positive. Some, of course, don’t like it, or think it a scam, and some of these people take to their computers. After the show, Matt, on a high and (perhaps for the first time) bursting with deep pride, reads the popular but joyless Guardian blog and its spiteful comments that make fun of him, his relationship and his clothes: things a person should never have to read about themselves. They angrily call him a fake, and his very real experience a worthless sham. It ruins his weekend and upsets him deeply, denying him the after-glow of the programme. His upset makes me very sad after all the work that we had put into giving Matt his experience. Meanwhile a popular magic forum wearily anticipates the programme with a thread called ‘Here he goes again’ and, when my masochistic urge propels me to see what they made of the show, I read such comments as “It was pure and utter rubbish… cringe worthy car crash TV at its worst.” Bang, there goes my week. Simply miserable for days. As if I’d personally gone round and popped my cock in their drinks. Rather than, well, I don’t know, had a bash at something ambitious and fun and even tried to do a bit of good, if that’s alright to say. Now, I imagine this sounds like I am criticising others for criticising. I certainly don’t mean that at all – I’m sure the very mention of my beard or a glimpse of the corner of my face is enough to infuriate any number of perfectly intelligent people after ten long years appearing on their televisions, and there’s no reason (unless they happen to be kindly disposed) why they shouldn’t shout and swear about it wherever they like. It’s just that it’s unfortunate that nowadays if you’re a known performer with an internet connection it’s very hard to avoid coming across, and it always hurts. Pah, I know, I know.
And those comments are so easy to make. Days earlier I had jokingly scorned Shutter Island on Twitter. I’m pretty sure Scorsese doesn’t read my tweets, but most likely someone involved with the film at some level will have read it in some form and it will probably have annoyed or upset them. And it’s the last thing I meant to do. I do apologise very much if that’s the case.
So I shall neither delve into my @replies on Twittelator nor seek out reviews. I’ll get the low-down, for what it’s worth, in a more arm’s-length kind of way, from the publishers and the sales figures, and then, once the book has disappeared into my library or propped up on my cistern, and my few copies signed and given as thank you presents for dinner invitations, start thinking about the next one.
Ah, now, I haven’t really said anything about what the book is. That’s a tricky one. I believe I have previously called it a ‘semi-autobiographical whimsy’ and that still seems to suit it best. I didn’t feel iconic or fascinating enough to write an autobiography, but this is perhaps a step towards one, but coming from my conviction that it’s the little, surface things that allow us to tell the most about a person. So it’s whimsical. And semi-autobiographical. The man from Waterstones thought it was a bit self-helpy. I didn’t think so. Well, Iain likes it and I hope very much that you do too. And if you really don’t, I’ll try not to find out.