The Lavender Heckle…or: The Perils of Book Tours…in a Tutu
12 min ago
The year before the plague, I opened the Essex Book Festival with My Tutu Went AWOL. I also closed the festival (just call me the Maria Callas of touting the memoir subgenre Drag Meets Marine.) Patricia Wells, author, also appeared in the closing event: playing the hose continuo.
I met Patricia again at Wilderness.
Having just appeared in Brunch Cabaret, in full tutu and tights, I ran across the festival grounds to the book tent for a Travel Writing round table. A smell of beer, hay, new books and what comedian Archie Artington describes as, ‘A tang, is it, or a pang — not quite a pong — the tang that after a weekend under tent: of dawn and dusk wet-wipe licks and promises: creeps from campers’ crannies.’ To stage left, the round table set up, mic feedback being rectified; to stage right Dorling Kindersley executives berating Clara (BSc MBAcC RYT) for, ‘Such heinously undermining snoring.’
Apparently, Clara, festival book curator, had fallen asleep during the DK talk on thermodynamics.
I shouted at them in a Russian accent, ‘Stop that caterwauling. My audience is here, and so am I.’
They ignored me.
Smiling uncertainly at the laughter, the round table host strode front and centre. In a denim bib dress and racing green DMs, she pushed a coil of auburn hair behind each ear. ‘Welcome ladies and gentlemen. I’m Bettine Rowlands…’
The DK and Naomi huddle subsided, chuntering. I made for the free chair at the table.
Patricia was primed to go onstage. In dungarees and a donkey jacket, she tamped down a purple cloche hat, giving me a look that was friendly while expressing uncertainty.
‘We’re in for a very interesting discussion,’ Bettine said.
Someone, heckled, ‘So we imagine from the fairy-in-residence.’
‘So, without further ado, let me introduce Patricia Wells…’
Wait, actually, didn’t Patricia write about — ?
‘…our first speaker today on gardens through history.’
Gardens? I leapt from my chair.
Patricia began, ‘I’ll just tell you something about myself.’
A man in khaki shorts and an open neck shirt, thighs that wide I suspected to appease a hernia, shouted, ‘Patricia Wells, sorry, but I haven’t driven two and a half miles to: one, be confronted by an irrelevance in a tutu, two: to hear you talk about yourself. Kindly tell us about the distillation of lavender in Medieval times.’
Patricia, distraught, tried to tear her plastic author’s pass. ‘Oh, God, I hope none of this lot were there.’ This lot being authors falling on the green room rider and trying not to think about low sales. ‘And the ghastly heckler man didn’t buy my book. Said he’d ordered it at his library. Bloody libraries! He leant so close over the signing table, he could probably smell my upset. At any rate, I could smell his athlete’s foot powder. I feel vaporous. That’s exactly the word. How would you have dealt with him shouting out?’
I said my own put downs would be overkill for a touring author per se, as in cabaret I dealt with Friday night stag dos at the Volupte Burlesque Club, Royal Marines in their Mess, and, on its own converted Nissan Hut territory, the East Suffolk WI.
‘And do you think up silencing lines on the spot?’ Patricia asked.
‘Very occasionally. Usually, I have a “Wish I’d thought of saying that…” moment on the night bus.’
‘But what would you have said just then?’ Patricia was close to wailing. People were looking over.
‘Patricia, it’s not going to happen to you again. When has it happened ever before?’
She threw her author’s pass on the table. It just missed landing in her wine. ‘I could develop a whatever phobia it is of giving book talks. So, will you please suggest?’
Automatically, I had picked up Patricia’s pass. It felt warm and puckered. Holding it out to her, I suggested…
‘Oh, my goodness, really?’ she wondered. ‘About his thing?’
I nodded, adding, ‘Just never use that line before midday.’