Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Naughtie, Naughtie

What a dreadful heading! But it was 4.45pm this afternoon and I was, at last, completing my magnum opus - a spreadsheet showing all 400+ titles for the Conservative Conference, their quantities and prices - when the phone rang. A publicist from John Murray, Publishers, asking whether or not I was planning to take James Naughtie's new book to the conference as Mr Naughtie would be in attendance for all four days and would like to sign some. "What book?" I asked, reckoning that I had exhausted every avenue of recent political publishing. "Ah, his new book on Music", came the answer.

How could I refuse? I like James Naughtie's style of interviewing and would have probably accepted a book on pig-farming if he would turn up and sign a few. However it means collecting them from Abingdon en route in my trusty (I hope), rented, long-wheel-base Ford Transit.

Yes, tomorrow's the day I leave the safety of Petersfield and head North for Blackpool. I've got the showcards, the shelving, the cash float. I've got a stapler, some bookmarks and an electric screwdriver. I have a period of peace from the lady co-workers who do not arrive until late on Saturday. And I will probably spend most of the journey northbound fretting about "Les Oublis" - and wondering about what important items have been left behind.

Almost all the expected books have made it, but we are just a tad concerned about Matthew Elliott and Lee Rotherham's new 'Bumper Book of Government Waste, 2008' which has been the subject of heated exchanges with the printers recently. Both authors are at the conference and my modest expectation is that we might sell up to 200 copies. But the books remain stubbornly absent ... as do my credentials and "pass".

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

In search of Boris

Well, I've got Peter Oborne pinned down (thanks to pronunciation advice from a reader well used to frequenting Fleet Street hostelries), and there's still no sign of my Conservative Conference "accreditation". We've agreed that a VW Golf will come to Blackpool as well as the Transit van, and an elderly gent called by the office to personally deliver 25 copies of his self-published book commemorating the life of the late Rt. Hon. Peter Thorneycroft. It is a really excellent-looking book and seems absolutely ideal for my vision of the conference. I therefore doubt that we'll sell a single copy.

My lady co-workers have been busily emailing me to complain about the early starts (8.30am each day) and to suggest that they are allowed to sleep in (to around 2.00pm). The wife has been quizzing me as to whether or not the carer (see passim) is one of the lady co-workers (she is).

Meanwhile Boris remains the problem. Will he sign, and when? I have the mobile number of his PA who likes the idea of a flexible timetable, but I worry that we'll either be over-flexible and miss out altogether; or, worse, that he'll come crashing in at one of my rush hours (on Monday morning I have three signing sessions within a three-hour period).

Looking at the conference timetable it all looks rather tedious. Cameron is not scheduled to speak until 2.00pm on the Wednesday, and the only bright spot looks to be the celebrity appearance of the Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, on Sunday afternoon. At least he once wrote a book (before he became Mayor) and I have ordered up ten copies just in case he passes by the bookshop and cares to sign them. A bit sad in some ways, though, as at my preliminary meetings with the organisers we had been led to expect a visit from big Arnie Schwarzenegger and I had lured the lady co-workers because of this. Better keep quiet.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Nerves Creeping In

Still no sign of my security pass and credentials for the Conservative Conference in Blackpool. One publisher has managed to double their order which means that I have so many copies of Douglas Hurd's 'Robert Peel' that the van's rear axle is likely to break. My boss is agitating about whether we need to bring his car (yes!), and my lady workers are agitating about having fish and chips on the seafront one evening (yes!).

My main concern is finishing work by 8.00pm on Friday night (constructing the bookshop/stand) and finding a decent pub showing England's World Cup match vs Tonga. Somewhere that serves a good pint of Guinness is called for.

Other concerns: I must phone Peter Oborne about his signing at the conference and I'm uncertain as to how to pronounce 'Oborne'. Will Boris finally come to heel? A nice email from William Hague's p.a. who seems to have her master under control. Suddenly Francis Elliott and James Hanning authors of 'Cameron: The Rise of the New Conservative' are available for a signing. I have plenty of books but no showcard. Why wasn't I more forceful with the "party" about the 2008 Conservative Diary? They have some printed but want to sell them all from the party stand. Blimey, am I losing control?

Then there is the small matter of my breath! I must buy a bucket-load of mints, and bottles of water. Fortunately the new shoes which I have been wearing all day (running-in) are not too uncomfortable, but I must "run them in" for at least another day. I'm worried about parking in Blackpool. I'm worried about how I'll keep up the blogging momentum from Blackpool. And the wife is giving me a bad time for rashly "organising" a visit to the new house by my mother at the end of next week - "much too soon, we won't be properly prepared, most of the house needs redecorating and we haven't even finished unpacking from the move in April".

Oh, woe!

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Ranting No Longer - Just Rambling

It's been a year since I last blogged, and much has changed. More grey hair, another grandchild, a new house, and a new job. I'm still selling books (mostly online) but I do so on behalf of others and receive a monthly salary - a big change from running my own business and paying for the privilege.

I've become involved in different book "specialities". The "ranting" version of me just sold computer books (and still does), but my new persona specializes in books on investing and politics. The cast of characters from the old blog are still intact - the wife, the cat (just), the daughter - bless her.

Returning to someone else's payroll after fifteen years was an odd experience. The new employers have a swish open-plan office in Petersfield and the 10-12 employees all work together. To my surprise I am the oldest employee by a factor of about 30 years (my managing director is younger than the daughter), and a carer had to be appointed to help me through my first months and to teach me how to use an Apple Mac.

We work as quietly as possible (exciting ring-tones on mobile phones are not encouraged) and employees largely communicate among themselves by email - even if the person they are emailing is sitting only three feet away. When conversation does break out it is sotto voce - meaning that the hard-of-hearing Nappa cannot hear a word of what is being said to him. But we've all learned to co-exist relatively harmoniously. For a while the wife got a little agitated about my seemingly close rapport with the young carer (slightly saucy exchanges of text messages out of office hours), but all-in-all it has been a good move - even if it has led me down some strange paths.

Possibly the strangest of the strange paths is my being responsible for the bookshop at next week's Conservative Party Conference in Blackpool. This is a bit of a worrying call as none of us has ever been to a party conference before and I have brought in some 3,500 books to try and sell to the 10,000-odd delegates. The booklist probably includes lots of really unsuitable stuff, but the given wisdom is that author-signings work really well. Accordingly I've got lots of copies of new books by William Hague, Boris Johnson, Sandra Howard, Douglas Hurd, Peter Oborne, etc., and just hope that they all turn up. I've also had a lot of advice from Iain Dale, the political blogger-in-chief who once ran the conference bookshop operation. He too will sign copies of his new books - 'The Little Book of Boris' and 'Iain Dale's Guide to Political Blogging 2007'.

Anyway, four pallets of books and merchandise are heading north already, and I'll be following them in a Ford Transit on Thursday bringing my electric screwdriver, my security pass - if it ever arrives, my camera and a new suit (having embarrassingly burst the trousers of my last suit whilst unpacking books for an investor's event in Docklands last week).