Sunday, 4 August 2013

Butterfly thoughts

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Last month, Anne and I finally cleared the old books out of the garage and took them to a car-boot sale. You can learn a lot about people at car-boots - the tryers, the observers, those who know exactly what they want, those who are open to anything that catches their eye and the browers - who want nothing more than a brief distraction in their day.

As luck would have it - and the luck was mine - we waited almost two hours to be allowed on-site, were allocated the final spot in a dead-end and the weather wasn't entirely kind to us.

All that said, I rather enjoyed the event. It was a great opportunity to let the books see daylight and to appreciate some of them again, and the stories that lay behind them. A holiday book inevitably brought to mind that holiday in Turkey - the one where I not only had the trots, but also wrote three short stories (one of which was subsequently published). 

Some were books I used to favour, but had chosen to release them into the wild; likewise a Christmas gift or two from long ago. There was also an esoteric volume, bought to research material for my magical fantasy, Covenant. Away, away all, and sendback a quid.

And the people...

Some would-be purchasers spent time chatting and befriending us, before clearing their throats and asking for a friendly discount. The books were all £1 each, just so you know.

Other customers rifled through the piles of books, couldn't find what they wanted and sniffed derisively as they left me to tidy up the display in their wake.

One person paused to pick up a book and then waxed lyrical about how much he hated the subject. My suggestion that he buy the book and then turn said person's face to the wall, as a sort of protest, fell upon deaf ears.

I met a man on a mobility scooter, joyous and witty (though alas, not in need of a book). I also met people who, to quote our late mum, were probably enjoying themselves, deep down, but had forgotten to tell their faces.

And as we tried to shelter from the rain, while simultaneously holding down the plastic sheet over the books, three thoughts came to me:
1. It's time to pack up.
2. Let's never do this again.
3. This is a lot like being a writer. (Although, to be fair, I think that about pretty much everything. I'm a little like The Fast Show's fabulous character, Swiss Tony, only with writing.)

How so, I imagine you asking.

Well, some writers will cosy up to you and loiter in your presence precisely as long as it takes to extract whatever information they're after. And then they're off, like a fart in a packed lift.

Others know exactly how they see themselves - and what they want - and have no time for anyone or anything else. They stick to their genre and whatever rung of the ladder they believe they're on.

There are writers, too, who make time for criticisms rather than critiques. They'll rush to Amazon for the latest bestsellers, only to read the worst reviews - and perhaps write a few as well.

Now, I'm not saying that the world of writers is an egalitarian utopia and that we should all hold doors (and windows) of oppurtunity open for one another. Although, frankly, it would be a nicer landscape if we did. I'm not that naive, as the woman with the $4trillion dollars for me in an offshore account discovered when she emailed me.

However, when we're busy writing and rewriting, pitching, submitting and smediaing (neat word, huh!), why not make the best of it. Tell your face, and tell your face to tell the world.

In the car-boot of life, even being able to pick up a pen and write whatever you feel like writing about, is a bargain. Even if no one may be buying right now.

4 comments:

L said...

Love your Mum's quote! I must admit I try not to give eye contact or start conversations with stallholders at car boots as I don't like to walk away without buying from a pleasant seller.

Gillian McDade said...

I've never been to a car boot sale but your informative post has persuaded me to re-consider, Derek. Sounds like a minefield of books - good times!

Sandra Davies said...

I used to sell children's book, party plan and the occasional stall. The remark which most flummoxed me I heard several times: "Books? Oh, no, we've got a book at home ..."

Derek Thompson said...

Thanks all for your comments. I think the folk at car boots are a good deal more aware of the value of everything now, thanks to programmes like cash in the attic and bargain hunt. I like to play 'spot the James Herriot book' as I promenade around.

Sandra, your experience is a tragic one. Reminds me of a terrible story I heard once where school children were all asked to bring in a book from home and one wee soul brought in the Argos catalogue because there was nothing else in the house.