This is a first-person account of an unusual evening...
It's the literary event of the year without doubt. Possibly the literary event of the decade. It's hard to gauge just how colossal the release of Harper Lee's Go Set A Watchman will be. But when the book went on sale yesterday, the rush began.
Initial sales are staggering. Nielsen Bookscan is reporting over 105,000 units sold in the first day in all formats (print and digital). And it's not surprising at all. Call it a sequel, a lost novel, or Lee's first creation finally made public, but Go Set A Watchman was always going to have such a huge reception.
What I didn't expect was my night grabbing a copy.
As odd as it was for me to be heading into London after 22:00 (I'm usually fighting off tiredness for a bit of reading time) I'd decided to attend Foyles's flagship store on Charing Cross Road. There, queueing just before midnight, for the excusive 'Midnight Watchman' event.
As I tried to entertain myself by browsing the books on the ground floor - mainly art history and photography, not my cup of ale - a fine jazz trio played as people milled about chatting.
Ah yes, I didn't invite company...well, as it turns out the evening wouldn't be boring. I'd not won the prize draw, but nevermind.
Tweeting and messaging alone in the store, a chap from LBC Radio possibly took pity on me, approached, and asked if I could move a bit away from the music to answer some questions. I get a little nervous when being interviewed. I'm not sure if my answers were used. But he asked to take my number.
I also do some work for BBC Radio 5...they might call after midnight. You know, to chat to you as one of the first people to buy it.
Fine, I said, secretly unsure how I felt. I get a nervous when being interviewed. I'd imagine I'd be worse on the radio. Of course I'm going to get a call...
We queued at the tills. At 23:40, patiently waiting til midnight for a countdown and 20 balloons to mark the occasion. A photographer was on hand, snapping first purchasers from more angles than looked useful. After a little wait I approached a till with my newly selected copy of How Music Got Free (buy one book? That's nto possible).I couldn't help but laugh as the member of staff rang up the book as the entire sale.
Err, one of those too please...
As I pointed to the copies of Go Set A Watchman out of reach behind the desk, we exchanged a look in which I inferred of course I want one, and his I didn't want to assume. "Sorry, of course" he replied. I paid, collected the spoils and headed for Charing Cross Road and a London exit on a final train.
Outside I was stopped and recorded again. (Again). This 'interview' for whoever it was interrupted by a man who said he was homeless. As tiredness got the better of me I forgot myself in offering some change...
Charing Cross Road.
In full 'Spoils collected, let's get home' mode, I passed a man and women appearing to argue. With a city stride and passive shoulders I sped past, only to hear the lady calling, berating me for ignoring her.
Turning, I quickly tried to assess whether man or woman was in danger. Interviewing briefly myself, it seemed each were the other's partner. They seemed to have been drinking, and they seeemed to be arguing over a rose - begrudgingly bought for the woman it transpired.
Satisfied neither was in trouble - but concerned I might be if I hung about - I clutched my Foyles bag tighter, turned and walked/fled.
More berating from the lady.
I made my train with minutes to spare, found a four-seat and set the bag down. Removing the books, I leafed them...and my phone rang.
Of course they'd ring.
A brief chat with a BBC researcher, and I was to be on air (if it was okay) on the Phil Williams show. My task was to answer some questions (an inquisitive evening!)...oh and read the first few lines of the first chapter of Go Set A Watchman. Live. On BBC Radio. On a train home at around half-midnight.
Summoning an escape plan, my subconscious suggested to my mouth that the train might mean the call would drop.
"Do you think that's likely?" the researcher asked. My honesty was too powerful.
"Probably not"... And actually I wasn't feeling as nervous as I thought I might be. A brief chat then with the producer, a small time to practice, with the show as clear in my ear as the producer's voice, and I was on.
*No spoilers, herein*
My clarity - or at least my not sounding nervous, but for the laughter, I can only put down to my brain being in 'phone call' rather than 'interview' mode. Either than or I'd finally accepted the oddity.
World exclusive? Maybe.
A solid radio debut? Possibly.
Bizarre evening? Definitely.
After the call I looked around the carriage. Nobody had batted an eyelid. But with the 14th of July now well and truly upon us, there'd be plenty of late night reading going on, and I was happy to be able o share snip of it with 5 Live's listeners.
No reading for me though. I was off home to contemplate an odd evening.
And, as is proving correct, a massive new release.
Grab Go Set A Watchman for your own reading pleasure!