I realise some of you may be fed up with reading about my book, but the rest of you might find this brief anecdote mildly amusing...
Whilst I was in Cambridge the other day, I decided to pop into the Waterstone's on Sidney Street to see if they had any copies of Le Snob: Perfume. Rather egotistical of me, I know, but it's my first book and I hadn't actually seen it on a shop shelf yet, so please forgive me.
As I neared the information desk, I was almost overcome by the urge to just turn around and walk out. 'After all, this is Cambridge,' I told myself. 'They've probably got PhD theses on their 3-for-2 table, so they're not going to want to spare any space for a slim volume on the subject of perfume.'
Thankfully, my legs refused to change direction, and before I knew it, I was standing in front of a Sales Assistant: a pale waif with smoky-mascara eyes and a disdainful expression that seemed to say, 'Whatever you're going to ask me had better be bloody good. I had three Iris Murdoch novels for breakfast today, so I'm not really in the mood for Nigella, Fifty Shades Of Grey or anything with hobbits in it.'
"Hi," I said, hoping she'd buy the Insouciance Offensive, "I was wondering if you've got a copy of a book called Le Snob: Perfume, please."
She curled her lip with distaste. "Le Snob?" I fully expected her to say that there was no way her Cambridge shop would stock any book with a title displaying such lamentably crass usage of a definite article in a foreign language, but instead she turned to her keyboard and began tapping.
"It's quite new," I told her, "so you know... you might not... I mean, there's probably very little chance that..."
"Yes, we do have a copy."
"Oh, ok, not to worry. I didn't think you.... Sorry? Did you... did you say you have one?"
"Yes. There should be one in stock. Upstairs. On the first floor. Beauty And Health."
"Oh right... First floor?"
"Those stairs over there?"
"Yes, those stairs."
"By the entrance?"
She sighed and gritted her teeth. "Yes."
"Oh right... thank you."
I tried to remain nonchalant, but the speed with which I found myself in the Beauty And Health section suggested that I'd probably leapt up the stairs with as much decorum as a stampede of H&M shoppers at the unveiling of the Versace collection. Still, I didn't appear to have attracted undue attention to myself, so I took a deep breath and began looking at the spines. There was no sign of my name.
I was about to give up and end my pathetic quest when another SA appeared, a middle-aged chap with a slight stoop and the same studied look of bored derision as that on his colleague's face.
"Le Snob," he muttered, "yes, that does ring a bell. Isn't it on the shelf?"
"No, I don't seem to be able to find it."
"But I'm sure I've seen it... Ah, yes! Come with me."
He started leading me away from Beauty And Health. 'Of course,' I thought. 'It's not going to be here, is it? It's probably been dumped with the other frivolous claptrap in the Superficial Nonsense section.'
"Here we go," he said, picking up the familiar Shalimar cover from a trolley by the till. "I thought I'd seen it. It's only just come in today. We haven't put it out on the shelf yet."
He handed it to me, and as I took it, I realised I couldn't keep up the pretence any longer. "Actually, I've been a bit cheeky," I said. "I'm the author. I just wanted to see if you had it in stock."
"Oh right." The matter-of-factness with which he uttered those words made it clear that this was the sort of thing that happened to him at least twelve times every single morning.
"You've ordered only one copy?" I asked.
"Yes. We usually like to start with one just to see how it sells."
"Oh." I couldn't quite see the logic of this policy, but I decided not to question him. I mean, this was a Cambridge Sales Assistant working at a Cambridge shop... in Cambridge. "Would you... would you like me to sign it?"
"Ummm... yes, I suppose you could." He looked around. "We'd better find a pen, hadn't we?" He picked up a black biro from his counter. "There we are."
'Hang on,' I thought. 'Isn't he going to ask me for ID? Is he just going to let me deface this book? How does he know that I am who I say I am?' But no, he watched me turn to page one, pick up the pen and start writing. For a split-second, the impish side of me (oh yes, it exists all right) wondered whether I should sign it "J K Rowling" or perhaps "Jackie Collins," but fear not, I did the honest thing.
"Thanks," he said. "I'll put a 'signed by the author' sticker on it later."
I gave the book back to him, and then I sailed down the stairs, glowing with the knowledge that at least one shop in the world had a copy of my humble little labour of love.