The last couple of years have been tough for those in the world of books. Publishers have struggled with manufacturing and shipping problems, as well as a dramatic drop-off in sales from bricks-and-mortar bookshops. There have been fewer opportunities to promote new books. Magazine sales have suffered, which means fewer avenues for book reviews. More obviously, talks and other events came to an almost complete halt. This affected writers directly as well as publishers.
So, tough times — but this year things have begun to turn around. Publishers have adapted, shops have reopened, magazine sales have stabilised, and writers are starting to do talks again.
When it came time to launch my new book, The Farthest Shore, I knew that a real talk in front of real people at a real bookshop would be the only way to do things. Launching a book online is fine if there’s no alternative, but online talks are nothing like in-person ones — I find that there’s a disconnect between me and the audience, perhaps due to a lack of feedback. The value of human connection versus digital connectivity is one of the core themes of the book, too, and so it only seemed right to communicate my ideas to a live audience. I was delighted, therefore, when Sarah-Lou at the Highland Bookshop in Fort William responded positively to my request to launch the book there.
It would be my first live talk since the start of the pandemic, and also this bookshop’s first author event in as long. I’d previously attended the launch of Sky Dance by John Burns at the same bookshop, back in September 2019, so I knew that the venue was ideal, with a large upstairs room complete with projector. The other reason why I was keen to choose Highland Books is that Fort William is the start of the traditional Cape Wrath Trail. Oh, and it happens to be a cracking bookshop for lovers of nature and the outdoors, and a real asset to the Fort William high street, which has experienced something of a renaissance in recent years.
I wasn’t sure what kind of audience size to expect, as Sarah-Lou had told me that a few people had understandably decided to cancel their tickets due to Covid concerns, but I’d brought along my wife Hannah as well as my brother James and his partner Nicole. They browsed the bookshop while I set up my equipment.
There was unfortunately a technical hitche during setup, namely that my laptop wouldn’t talk to the bookshop’s projector. I tried multiple HDMI cables, but nothing worked — possibly due to the fact that I was using a newish MacBook equipped with nothing but USB-C connectors (I needed an adapter for it to talk to HDMI). Fortunately, I’d had the foresight to load my slideshow onto my phone, and also carried a small Lightning to HDMI adapter. This worked fine. I was a little concerned about doing the talk without easy access to my presenter notes, but in the end I barely needed them.
People started to arrive. To my delight, several were people I knew: old friends Tom and Isi from our Clachaig days, and also Mark and Edita Horrell, who were on holiday in the area. I’ve worked with Mark on countless projects for years now so it was very good to finally meet him! I also felt that I knew Edita, his wife, from reading Mark’s books, so it was a pleasure to chat with them both.
The Highland Bookshop made a great job of presenting their copies of The Farthest Shore, both right in the entrance of the shop and also upstairs. Seeing your published work in print and for sale in a shop is a feeling that never gets old!
In the end, I think we had an audience of about 16 — certainly no more than 20. This is nowhere near the venue’s capacity, but it made little difference to me, and in the end I think that the more intimate setting helped to put me at my ease despite the technical hitch. Once I got going, I found myself speaking fluidly about the context surrounding my winter Cape Wrath Trail and also the journey itself. (I actually overran slightly, leaving no time for the short reading from the book I’d planned to include, but that made no difference in the end.) There were plenty of interesting questions from the audience and I believe that everyone present bought at least one signed copy of the book!
I can’t help thinking back to my first book launch, which took place at the Clachaig Inn, Glen Coe, in February 2013. I was a completely different person then, and the book, The Only Genuine Jones, was a very different kind of book. Before that launch, which was one of my first public talks, I felt nervous. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, though, and I hugely enjoyed my talk launching The Farthest Shore into the world. Thank you to everyone who attended, to everyone who has read the book and posted such lovely comments, and to everyone who has written a review.
All images © James Roddie Photography. Please don’t copy these images without permission.