The Godfather: Peter Corris on book tours
I’ve never heard an author say, ‘I’m really looking forward to my upcoming book tour. Can’t wait to go to five or six cities in a week and give talks and do signings. Let me at it!’
The book tour is very common in the United States and, by all accounts, it can be quite gruelling. Authors criss-cross the country, changing time zones and climates and staying in hotels of varying quality. Writers who happen to be drinkers, like Norman Mailer, have been known to finish a tour as a total wreck.
Book tours are not as common in Australia for local writers, but the country is often on the agenda for an even more horrific ordeal – the world tour. Some of these result in spectacular events. At the height of her dubious celebrity, Jackie Collins held a signing in an arcade and the queue stretched the length of the arcade and for a block down George Street.
The egregious Jeffrey Archer appeared at an event in Sydney where an ice sculpture of him melted away through the proceedings. A journalist whose name would be known to all readers of the NRB commented that Archer was the worst human being he’d ever met and he’d met some beauties.
I recall only two tours, both some years ago. One was to Melbourne and several Victorian country towns. I forget which book I was touting but the experience was good, in the company of Tony Wilson. He was a successful children’s writer and former Hawthorn football player, and a highly efficient member of the State Library of Victoria, which had organised the tour. All went well until we gave a talk in an RSL club. I was just getting into my stride when a voice came over the PA system: Number 37, steak and chips. Someone in the audience jumped up and fetched his order. For the rest of the time Tony and I were interrupted by similar announcements, people filing past others and going behind us to collect their food and the clatter of knives and forks. And they didn’t buy many books!
Another time, back when publishers spent more on promotion than they do now, I was taken on ‘the Ray Crawley tour’ to promote one of the eight novels I wrote about secret agent Crawley. In Adelaide I was plonked down outside a bookshop at a table with a stack of the books and a pen. A spruiker was working that part of the mall. He sported a striped shirt and a bow tie and was having great fun outside the pet store: ‘Beautiful puppies and pussies …’ and the fashion boutique, ‘Look your best, girls, in these designer dresses …’ but he was nonplussed when he got to the bookstore.
He asked me a few questions about the book but my answers didn’t seem to inspire him.
‘Do you write on a computer?’ he said.
‘Do you use the spell checker?’
That gave him his cue. ‘Come and get Peter Corris’s latest book. Not a single spelling mistake in it!’
My next Cliff Hardy novel, Gun Control, will be published in January 2015. The publisher has undertaken to make a fuss of it as the 40th Hardy book. I wonder if they’ll offer me a tour. I wonder if I’d go.