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Kate Sidley

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

High Times for Ladies who Launch

I’ll never forget the London launch of Salman Rushdie’s Joseph Anton: A Memoir. There’s Ian McEwan. Stephen Fry.

Kathy Lette. Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour. Ruby Wax. And the catering! Gordon’s gin and elderflower cocktails, delicious little meatballs, crab tartlets and butternut squash risotto. Yum. To be clear, I wasn’t actually at Rushdie’s launch. I saw the pics in Tatler.

I’ve been to plenty of other book launches, some of which featured meatballs, but none of which featured Stephen Fry. Sadly. A good book launch is a fine thing. For most writers, the launch party represents a high point in their lives and careers. Leading up to this pinnacle there were years, decades even, of writing, thought, disappointment, hope, negotiation, pride, editing .

On the other side of this marvellous, happy interlude (although most new writers don’t know it yet), there’s likely to be disappointment. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Your reviews will never be as many and as glowing as you’d hoped, your sales not quite as marvellous. But in that space in between, for those few happy hours, there is The Book Launch.

The basic formula is this. The author and the publisher gather as many warm bodies as they can muster at the chosen venue, often a book shop. It’s generally a case of the more the merrier here, but overseas the big launches are strictly invitation-only affairs and competition for invitations is fierce. The formalities include an intro from the publisher, an intro from a chosen speaker (get a charming, generous-spirited, famous-ish person if you can), and a speech from the proud author herself, followed by snacks and drinks. When they start packing up the wine, guests know it’s time to go home. Or to a restaurant. Or on a two-day pub crawl.

I’ve had my own book launch, spoken at other people’s and been one of the milling throng celebrating an author’s happy moment, and I can tell you with certainty that you cannot have a successful book launch without a striking frock.

When Pippa Middleton launched her party guide, entitled Celebrate: A Year of British Festivities for Families and Friends she wore no fewer than four different outfits. I am reliably informed by the Daily Mail that they cost, cumulatively, £2959. Which is small potatoes, given that her advance was rumoured to be a whopping £400000. (Let’s just take a moment to consider the fact that if you added up the royalties of all South African authors last year it probably wouldn’t come to £400000. A moment’s empathy for, oh, say, Ivan Vladislavic, who has to struggle on, crafting beautiful sentences and sensitive stories, knowing that this a world in which Pippa got £400000 for Celebrate).

Let us not be bitter. Let us dwell, instead, on memorable book launch moments in South African history. The arrival of the beréted Julius Malema and about 400 other people at Frank Chikane’s Eight Days in September. Nigel McGurk, Mikey Schultz and Faizel “Kappie” Smith arriving at the launch at the Lister Building in downtown Jozi to autograph hot-off-the-press copies of Mandy Wiener’s Killing Kebble. Rian Malan’s Resident Alien at the Radium Beerhall.

Some authors have virtual launches. The whole thing takes place online. There are videos, author Q&As, prizes and competitions. But no snacks. No wine. No bumping into old friends. The author probably doesn’t even get a new frock.

Kate Sidley is the Sunday Times Books Columnist


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