I get a call from Trevor, my publisher, this morning. He invites me into the office so I can pick up the proof copies and discuss to whom we should send them.
I’d imagined the proofs to be ring-bound A4 folders, like the ones I used to use in my past corporate life when I wanted to divert attention from the fact that there was no substance to a presentation I was making.
As Trevor guides me to a leather sofa in Preface’s schmoozing room, he hands me a paperback book, only this one has a familiar cover: The Mango Orchard. It’s not quite the finished article, a point conceded by the disclaimer at the bottom of the front cover: “Uncorrected proof. Not for resale.” The opening pages are blank, they have lines of text that say “Maps to come” and “dedication to come”. But that, and a few typographical errors aside, here it is. My book.
The purpose of having these proof copies is to ‘create a buzz’. We want to send them to notable people – writers, broadcasters and journalists – in the hope that they will read it and say how life-changingly brilliant the book is. Trevor already has a Who’s Who type list of people who I can’t help thinking will be far too busy to look at my book. I rack my brain for any famous people I could add to the list. I once met Paul McCartney at a party and asked for his autograph. Probably not. I used to live next door-but-three to Sebastian Coe (me and my friend Patrick Edwards used to spit in his drive – not because we didn’t like him, we had just learned how to spit and that’s kind of important when you’re three). No, not Seb either. Then I remember my neighbour Ian had given me the address of a friend of his, both a famous actress and author. Trevor claps his hands together “Perfect!” he says.
I arrive home and write her a letter. Because of the postal strikes, and because it is a nice day, I decide to deliver the proof copy to her house myself. I cycle across North London and manage to track down her house. I am disappointed. This beautiful, classy woman who has worked with the Hollywood elite lives in what looks like a squat. The house number is written on the gate post in magic marker, there are no curtains and the only furniture I can see is a guitar. The paint is peeling off the house walls and the garden fence has been completely covered by car hubcaps. I check the address I had written on the envelope. It’s right: No. 25. I force the envelope through the letter box and cycle home.
Back at my desk, I begin to write this blog. I look at the post-it note with the address of the famous actress and author written on it and I wonder how I’m going to tell my neighbour that his friend lives in a house that looks like the set for Withnail and I. No.23. No. 23??
I had delivered the proof to the famous actress and author’s neighbour. Funnily enough, as a cycled away, I remember thinking what a nice house No.23 was.