Page Turner: A bribe? Oh, go on then, just a wee one

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The Independent Online

A snow globe. A packet of onion seeds. A small cotton sack with "Life's a beach" printed on the front, filled with jelly beans. A white T-shirt with a dinosaur on it. A "detailed scale replica" of a Harley- Davidson. Two mystifying balls of raffia which turned upon the application of hot water into cups of fragrant tea (good job I'd also been sent a china mug with a caricature of Princess Diana on it). A DVD of Dodge City starring Errol Flynn – these are just a few of the weird little gifts I've received from publicists keen to make their author's book stand out from the pile. But do they achieve their purpose?

The tea-flowers came with a little card flagging up an "epic adventure of spies and lovers in 20th-century China", so job done, but the bike, the beans and the onion seeds have all come adrift from their press releases. The T-shirts usually have the name of the book printed on them, which doesn't make Jurassic Pants any more wearable. I once complained to Mark Gatiss that Guantanamo orange was not the most flattering colour for the otherwise attractive T-shirt handed out with copies of his debut The Vesuvius Club. You can't go wrong with a simple black T-shirt – or can you? I recall the attempt to jolly up David Crystal's Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English Language. In descending type size on the front, it declaimed: "If I may venture an opinion, when all is said and done, it would ill become me to suggest that I should come down like a ton of bricks, as large as life and twice as natural ... at the end of the day, the point of the exercise is to tell it like it is, lay it on the line, put it on the table" on and ON right down to "Am I right or am I right?" What were they saying about poor David? That buying his book would render you boring, verbose and platitudinous? But brevity also has its drawbacks. I somehow never felt like putting on the T-shirt that celebrated a book of poems entitled A Smell of Fish.

So what does work? Those kind souls at Jura Malt Whisky once sent me a bottle to launch their Writer's Retreat programme. I never sample a tot of this sublime stuff without reflecting on their wisdom, insight and generosity in offering a series of writers a berth on the island, with the prospect of a dram or two to soothe those creative anxieties. (George Orwell stayed on Jura, apparently.) Apart from that: chocolate. Lots of it. Sticky tape it to the front of the book if you absolutely have to.

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