Tuesday, 11 February 2014

To sign, not to sign, or what to sign

When I was a child I went to brownies and every year the local church, to which our pack was affiliated, held a Gang Show. This was an entertainment filled with songs and sketches and all the brownies, guides, cubs and scouts took part. I remember being slathered in garish make up and having a lot of fun. I was once a 'diddy man' when someone sang a Ken Dodd song and another time I had to dress as a, what we now call, Native American, but I've no idea why. After one Gang Show I remember my Uncle Bill asking me for my autograph. I had no idea what that was and said so, I was only about eight. He asked me to write my name on the programme and said I should practise signing things for when I was famous in the future. I know he was joking but it made me feel very special (for half an hour) and this was great as I was the youngest of four children so didn't often feel special. (I'm not looking for sympathy, put the violins away.)

 My business partner, Shalla Gray has a great signature. Being the daughter of a famous comic book writer, Alan Grant, she'd also been advised, as a child, to create a great signature. As an artist as well as a children's writer, Shalla's signature is a lovely thing, neat, attractive and well designed. Mine is still a sprawl. I never really expected to need to produce an autograph or signature so I didn't prepare one. I was taken aback when I was asked to sign my first book, "what? You want me to scribble my name over this lovely book?" Despite having now signed a number of books, I don't find it any easier. My signature looks pretty awful and I'm always incredibly unimaginative with the dedication. I usually just put 'best wishes' or if it's a children's book, 'happy reading.' I'm not the only one to find this difficult. American novelist and humourist Laurie Notaro had the same dilemma when her books were first published. In her hilarious book 'We thought you would be prettier' she writes about the suggestions she received from her family. When she was criticised for simply signing her name Laurie suggested "Well, I guess I could add 'Stay Sweet' or '2 Good " Be 4 Got 10' or 'Have a bitchin' summer dude,'" Her Dad thought she should sign it 'Thank your for being a fan.' 

I have a particular difficulty with my new book. It's impossible to write, or even say, 'I hope you enjoy this book' given that it's subject matter is the execution of a young mother of four, the last woman to be publicly hanged in Scotland. Of course I want people to feel it was well researched and compellingly written, but 'enjoy' what is such a gruesome subject? One reader told me that although she'd been reading Road to the Gallows in the evening, when she reached the description of the execution she had to wait and read it in daylight. It was just too harrowing for bed time reading. So I'm back to just signing this book, best wishes. Not very imaginative I'm afraid, but it will have to do. I'm open to suggestions, but not 'Thank you for being a fan.' 

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