Diary Of A Short Book Tour - Tom Cox

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Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Diary Of A Short Book Tour

8th October, 2015
My new book is out today. This coincides with the nominal birthday of my cat The Bear (all I really know is that he was born “around this time” in 1995, as he’s a rescue cat). In the post, with perfect timing, The Bear receives a celebratory bottle of champagne and helium-filled balloon. I, meanwhile, receive a reminder about the upcoming renewal of my car insurance. 

The publication of this book feels very different to that of my seven previous ones, and especially the first six. A few months ago, I gave up journalism and I’m aware that, partly as a result of this, the book is going to receive almost zero media support. I’ve done just the one interview, with the Liverpool Echo, which has yet to be published; there will be almost certainly no reviews in national newspapers or magazines; no big name writers have blurbed the book or raved about it on social media; the amount of copies ordered by Britain’s biggest national chain, Waterstones, has been bafflingly low, and neither of my two nearest branches have it in stock. I know my publishers tried to get an extract published in the Daily Mail, which is the biggest sales boost a book can get in UK newspaper world, but I wrote to them saying I wouldn’t let that happen, as I don’t want to feel like I have filth all over my body. No other extracts will run. I’m on my own, in other words, relying on my existing readerhip and strong word of mouth. Yet there’s something very liberating about this, early sales have been promising, and I’m looking forward to launching the book with a small tour of independent bookshops, cafes and bars over the next month. The first leg begins tonight at Totnes Bookshop, a couple of miles down the road from my house. The evening seems to go well: the signing queue is long, all the chairs are taken and those who arrive late have to stand or sit on the floor. But I notice just a slight dampening, compared to the atmosphere of my previous few events. I decide it’s because I’m wearing a hat: a wide-brimmed sort, of the kind a pilgrim or 17th Century witchfinder might don. I worry that it hovers over the daft words coming out my mouth like an incongruous black cloud, sombering up the room. Of course, this might be total bullshit. It could just be that a) the plentiful laughter in the tent at my last event, at the Green Man Festival, was more down to alcohol than my comic talents, or b) I’m quite plainly not being funny enough.

9th October, 2015
My dad is arriving today to look after my house while I’m away doing four events in London over the course of three days. This is reassuring in a few senses - The Bear is no longer always brilliantly confident about using the catflap - but also comes with its own worries. I am perhaps chiefly thinking back here to the time my dad broke my shower or the last occasion he visited, when he arrived downstairs, red-faced and coughing, and announced, “I’VE JUST SWALLOWED A LOAD OF RADOX BUBBLE BATH BY MISTAKE.” Later on the second occasion I had rushed down to the kitchen, having heard the raised voice of a female adult, possibly in a state of some upset.

“Who was that?” I asked my dad. 

“WHO?” he replied. “I DIDN’T HEAR ANYONE.” 

“I heard a woman outside. She sounded angry.”


On the plus side, The Bear is almost totally deaf now, so my dad’s noisy freeform outbursts don’t bother him, and before my reading in West Hampstead Library tonight, I receive a text from my mum* to say that the cats have all been fed and are all happily asleep, which relaxes me before what turns out to be a thoroughly enjoyably evening. Danny, the organiser, from the excellent West End Lane Books, says some flattering stuff about me and introduces me as “the cat world’s answer to Robert Plant”. As she does, I stand behind her, shaking my head. I worry, instantly, that this could be perceived as false modesty but it’s all I can think of to do in the situation. I’ve waited years for my writing to improve and be appreciated, almost giving up on several occasions, but now I’m finally getting praise for it I find I don’t really know how to handle it. I suppose another term for this, perhaps, is “being British”.

*My dad avoids mobile phones wherever possible and has never sent an actual text to me himself, apart from one in 2011 which said “HAVE I LFT MY TRSRS AT YR HOUSE”.

10th October, 2015
A reading at Bookseller Crow On The Hill in Crystal Palace this evening: a majestic shop, packed with much of my favourite overlooked American literary fiction, whose events are always attended by people who look like they have impeccable record collections. I’m joined by my friends Alison and Mark, otherwise known as the slightly gothic (but not goth) folk band The Left Outsides, who will play three songs in the gaps in my digressive, shambolic anecdotes. I am a bit concerned about this: what Alison and Mark do is very beautiful and what I do is not. But somehow my silly stories about badgers, cats and my dad, and their gossamer tunes about deserted windswept beaches don’t make for an incompatible union. I’ve been running a fever in the night and barely slept but somehow, I rally, and manage not to fall over, but, starting as I mean to faff on, I realise as soon as Bookseller Crow owner Jonathan introduces me that I’ve left the reading copies of my books in his office. Afterwards, I do an hour’s worth of signing then I and a few others are invited back to the house of a friend of a friend, Pam, who lives on a road behind the shop. For this trip, we are joined by Chuck and Sophia, a slim, impeccably matched couple who look straight out of an early 1970s knitwear catalogue. It’s only upon arrival at the house that I realise that nobody - including me - has actually met them before. Fortunately, everyone loves them. I also meet Rachel, who turns out to live nextdoor to the house I lived in in Blackheath (borders) 15 years ago, near the descendants of a fox I wrote about in a couple of my books. This makes my night.

11th October, 2015
Two events today. The first, to a small crowd at a cat cafe London Cat Village, with diffusers and ventilators rendering the air hazy and pedigree kittens sprawled on the floor, feels slightly surreal: like a not completely fitting attempt to bring somewhat animated and profane literature to a feline opium den. I love being around cats, but I worry that they are whispering about me under their breath, so in a public speaking context, I’m more comfortable directly afterwards, across the road at The Strongroom Bar, where I’m again joined by The Left Outsides, and by Jack Sharp, the singer of my favourite modern band, Wolf People, who plays exquisite Nic Jones-esque songs about hares, dogs and the Bedford lace industry. Some of the proceeds from this event will be going to help homeless cats at the Celia Hammond Animal Trust. I’m aware Mark and Alison heard me talk the previous night so, in an attempt not to bore them, I change my story about badgers slightly, and do a new bit about a hare, to try to fit in with Jack’s song. It is possibly my favourite event all week, but they’ve all been great, in their own way, and pleasingly packed out. 

There are so many nervous moments and frustrations involved in having a book published. Books that don't get off to a quick headstart can suffer a commercial death very quickly, and be forgotten forever: I've got dozens of in them my collection, all by writers more talented than me. There’s still not a sniff of a review in a newspaper or magazine and, as I haul my bags around London and check my phone for the first time in several hours, a stream of tweets come in from my readers telling of not being able to find the book in their local branches of Waterstones all over the country, but I’m struck again by that freeing independence I mentioned earlier: I’ve set these five events up myself, plus three more next month, and I’ve promoted them myself on Twitter. I would like, ideally, to be the opposite of “big on The Internet” but I am glad of the way Twitter and Facebook have given me the chance, as a stubborn country bumpkin outsider, to find a small group of (at least for now) loyal readers who relate to what I’m doing. I’ve still got no guarantee that this book will be successful enough to keep me writing the books I want to in the future, which is my main aim, but there’s something very reassuring about finding such a nice audience without going through any channels I’m uncomfortable with. The high regard that I had for independent bookshops has also increased: each of those I’ve visited this week have been staffed by brilliant, passionate people.

I’m exhausted but relaxed on the train home, only really chiding myself for the moment this afternoon when, in tiredness, I suddenly forgot how to pronounce the phrase “Toyota Yaris”. My mellow bubble is punctured by the train conductor, who tells me off, quite rightly, for leaving my wallet in a bag in another part of the train. I like trains and wonder about whether I’d make a good train conductor, imagining the greater security and more regular pay cheques, compared to the life of an author, but I decide I’d be crap. “Is this ok?” I could imagine passengers asking me, as they handed me bits of lint or old raffle tickets. “Yeah, fuck it,” I picture myself replying.

As usual, late on a Sunday evening is a hard time to get a taxi in rural Devon. The first three companies I try all just give me an out-of-office voice message. “Sorry, we’re all done for the night,” says a man who works for the fourth. 
“Oh no!” I say, hoping he’ll take pity on me. “I was really counting on you, as I’ve got four really heavy bags and no other way of getting back.” 
“Let me call you back,” he says. 
Two minutes later the phone rings again. “Ok, look. We’ll send Steve,” the same voice tells me.

I cannot help but speculate who Steve is: An actual taxi driver? A sentient car? Or perhaps an overenthusiastic fox who just happens to have his own vehicle and helps the company out of a tight spot from time to time? I am slightly disappointed to find that he is just a man, albeit a very personable one. After he drops me off, I stagger up the path to my house. It is nearly midnight on a windy autumn night and the Devon countryside seems amazingly dark and mysterious, after two nights in London. No household appliances are broken in any obvious way, although some brief detective work suggests my dad has eaten at least one of his evening meals out of a cat food dish. I am reassured to find all four of my cats present and correct, but when I look out through the living room window I jump in terror, as I see a human head, apparently disembodied, staring into the room at me. Looking again, I am relieved to discover it is only The Bear’s birthday balloon, bobbing about gently in the breeze.

Read my new book. 

Listen to the music of The Left Outsides and Wolf People.

See a list of my other talks.

Diary Of A Short Book Tour Reviewed by Tom Cox on 11:31:00 Rating: 5 8th October, 2015 My new book is out today. This coincides with the nominal birthday of my cat The Bear (all I really know is that h...


Lesley Bourke said...

Nicely put Tom. The Liverpool Echo is the only paper I look at these days! I think you will soon discover you don't need any of the others anyway, you are doing just fine with things as they are.
Can't wait for your 'oop north readings to happen, and I heard on the grapevine they are likely to be very well attended!
Don't lose heart, The Bears Army publicity machine is working overtime!

Squirl said...

Tom, I so wish I could come to one of your talks. I am, and will always be, one of your very loyal and faithful readers. I love your writing style and the way you make me feel as if I'm an insider, as if I really know The Bear and his furry housemates. I hope you get the sales you need to continue to write as you wish. Your integrity is so high, we need more of this in this world.

Thank you so much for the joy you bring, with your books and your tweets. May you continue to do this for as long as you still love it.


fifowkes said...

Well Tom, all I can say is that they don't t know what they are missing. I am trying to eke out Close Encounters of the Furred Kind out on my daily commute as I have already read and re-read the other 3 and been classed as a fookwit & loony on the train!

Pepsiwoo said...

Tom, I have read all 4 books in the series , they make me laugh, they make me cry, they leave me waiting avidly for the next book !!!!!! Love your easy style of writing, the way I feel I know your cats as well as I know my own. A true joy to read, the literary press don't know what they are missing !!

Kitcat. said...

Tom, this may seem a slightly sicophantic, but your books, are the only books I've managed to read and enjoy for a good many years. I was able to devour a book a day,until a chronic illness left me with a cognitive defecit. Tom, your tales manage to sustain my attention and imagination. Keep on doing what your doing, so long as it makes you happy. Thankyou, for the tales and take care of yourself.

Katie said...

Hi Tom,
Just a thought, but I run an independent deli/café in a small town on the coast in Essex - if you were looking for more venues we would love to host you. Our town also boasts an incredible independent bookshop, and I think you would approve of the general socialist air of the place.

Jaimaia said...

Hi Tom,

I'm a recent convert to your blog, though a long-term reader of your books and articles in Your Cat magazine and, more recently, Devon Life (having moved to Devon 4 months ago I was very pleased to find you there!). I can honestly say that I've never found anyone before who seems to think about cats and animals the same way I do (clearly there are more of us, but you're the only one brave enough to advertise the fact, so thank you for representing the rest of us fookwits), so I really appreciate your view of the world. I know you said you'd given up on journalism, but I'm hoping the magazine articles still count (am hoping you're not giving them up too?)?

I read somewhere that you'd given a talk in Exmouth (sadly before I moved here), so just wondering whether you might make a return visit?

Yours hopefully!

Jaimaia said...

Hi Tom,

I'm a recent convert to your blog, though a long-term reader of your books and articles in Your Cat magazine and, more recently, Devon Life (having moved to Devon 4 months ago I was very pleased to find you there!). I can honestly say that I've never found anyone before who seems to think about cats and animals the same way I do (clearly there are more of us, but you're the only one brave enough to advertise the fact, so thank you for representing the rest of us fookwits), so I really appreciate your view of the world. I know you said you'd given up on journalism, but I'm hoping the magazine articles still count (am hoping you're not giving them up too?)?

I read somewhere that you'd given a talk in Exmouth (sadly before I moved here), so just wondering whether you might make a return visit?

Yours hopefully!

Tom Cox said...

Hi Jaimaia. No, Devon Life will still publish bits from my diaries. Feels far enough away from mainstream media for me at the moment, and they are published just how I'd write them elsewhere (except for lack of swearing). Hopefully more talks in South Devon in the future. Will post here when I've sorted them.

Hello Katie. Can you email me using the contact form on this site? I would like to get to Essex some time.

brett-michel said...

Please do not ever give up Tom.
I appreciate what you do and you you give me hope.
xoxo Brett-michel

Anonymous said...

Dear Tom
Feeling cross about the mainstream bookshops not stocking CEOTFK. (That looks like a strange science fiction acronym. )I went into Exeter Waterstone's yesterday to see if I could find it and it was nowhere to be seen in their New Books section just inside the main door. So I went upstairs and managed to find The Good, the Bad and the Furry in the Pets section but no Furred Kind. I was going to ask someone why your book wasn't there but seeing as I had already purchased two copies of it from the Totnes Bookshop I couldn't be bothered to interrupt the very private party the staff seemed to be having which made customers look most unwelcome. On the way out I couldn't help noticing all the books which were taking up space that should have been given to Ralph, Shipley, Roscoe, The Bear and of course your Dad.
The book review bubble which is part of conventional newspapers is shrinking in its influence, I think. I love the comment here about The Bear's Army publicity machine - it is working underground (not so secretly) and will reach out around the world.

Dr Cake said...

Hi Tom,

I was lucky enough to attend the event that West End Lane Books hosted (I was the one whose husband had been chased on his bicycle by a badger), and am very much enjoying reading your stories about your dad, The Bear and the rest of your furry crew.

Have you thought about using a system such as Patreon? You provide us with daily tweets and other nuggets of humour, perhaps that would be a nice way for us to give something back beyond book sales.

Maybe some reciprocal promotion with other cat authors (I know fellow cat lover Simon Tofield has a new book coming out soon) would improve visibility as well. It's a shame that the mainstream media isn't paying attention, but the great thing about being in this day and age is that it doesn't necessarily need to matter as much as it used to.

All the best!

Anonymous said...

Just Googled 'CEOTFK review' and found one! Followed a link to the Shepton Mallet Journal and read Laura's lovely funny positive 'buy this book' review. Don't give up Tom.

Lisa Wrench said...

Great blog post, Tom. I love reading about your life as a writer/cat man in rural Devon and very much looking forward to reading the new book. I hope your readership stays loyal and continues with the 'word of mouth' for many years to come as I greatly admire your ethics. You are one of those people who send out great rays of light into a dark world. Thank you.

Antonio said...

We love you here in Northern California and await the arrival of your new book, as we have loved the first three. Birthday greetings to The Bear from our four cats, Jose, Caspy, Dalai and Yogi who range in age from 12 to 17 (or maybe 18).
Keep up the good work; great stuff.
Antonio and Mary

Denikatcase said...

Close Encounters of the Furred Kind is doing well on the shelves in my local Asda in Broadstairs, Kent! :-)
A belated Happy Birthday beep for the Bear! xxx

Squirl said...

Tom, I've bought and read Close Encounters of the Furred Kind. But now I'd like to buy a signed/paw-printed one. Are there any left? Wasn't sure how to contact you from here.


My Sew Imperfect Life said...

Tom, come to the US!!!

Roberta said...

Saw Close Encounters of the Furred Kind in my local WHSmith in Blandford, Dorset today, have made a hint to mum about it being the kind of book I would like for Christmas - will you ever do book signings in good old Dorset?