Media: Howard and Penny, Roddy and Nancy go joint-signing

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The Independent Online
Eight authors go book-signing in south London. Nicole Veash went for the whirl with Penny Vincenzi, blockbuster novelist; Roddy Llewellyn, former royal paramour turned gardening author; Roy Carr, veteran music writer; Frank Collins, SAS hard man turned vicar; Bernard Cornwell, creator of the TV character Sharpe; Nancy Lam, Channel 5 celebrity cook; Howard Marks, notorious cannabis dealer; and Lindsey Davis, creator of Falco, the Roman supersleuth.

The night before the marathon signing session, I got a call from a worried PR.

"I've had Roddy Llewellyn's agent on the phone," she said. "And she doesn't want you to ask about Princess Margaret. Talk only about gardening, otherwise he's liable to get angry."

10am Bromley Waterstone's

Penny Vincenzi, Nancy Lam, Bernard Cornwell and Howard Marks are sitting in the Waterstone's staffroom sipping cups of coffee.

To break the ice, Penny says: "What did you make of that funny letter from Waterstone's about vetoing any author you didn't like." There was silence. "I didn't get that," says Bernard, "Nor did we," chorus the others. (Penny sells an awful lot of books.)

10.20am

Once on the shop floor the authors get down to the business of signing. There aren't many customers so I pretend to look like an interested third party to drum up interest.

10.33am

Several shady people approach Howard Marks, causing a small flurry of signing excitement among the others.

11.05am Bromley High Street

I decide to speak to Roddy Llewellyn: "I've been told not to mention the you-know-what," I say, "I can't make any promises because it's a bit like not mentioning the war to the Germans."

Before I continue my explanation he stops walking. "Oh my god, will you look at that vulgar thing," he says pointing at a white, stretch limo with shaded windows. "They can't really want us to get in that?"

11.10am

The amazing thing about stretch limos is that they are even more tacky on the inside than on the outside. This one has well-worn black leather seats with white leather trim and a rather ostentatious green marble bar.

"Would anyone like a glass of champagne?" says the man from Waterstone's. Howard lights his first joint.

11.30am

Frank reveals he is carrying pounds 8,000 in cash to fund an aid trip to the Sudan. Given he is ex-SAS, we agree he's definitely the best person to carry that kind of money around south London. As far as I know, the residents of Croydon have never been known for their love of literature. But Howard assures me he's got a lot of fans here.

12.15 pm Croydon Waterstone's

The manager is very excited. He's uncorked a couple of bottles of Chablis and opened several packets of Skips.

He makes an announcement on the store's intercom. "Ladies and gentlemen we have eight outstanding authors in the store today, ready to sign their books just for you." A few shoppers look bemused.I see a nervous-looking man near the signing table.

"Can I help you," I ask.

"Yes, my name's Clive, I'm an autograph hunter."

Clive is clutching a eight pieces of blank card. "Do you think they would mind signing them?" he says. "I don't want to buy their books, I just want their signatures."

12.23pm

The Croydon manager is obviously not impressed with Clive. He repeats his earlier announcement.

"Ladies and gentlemen. This really is a one off opportunity for you to meet eight outstanding authors. They don't have much time so do hurry to the front of the store." Several suspicious people approach Howard.

1.05pm

Howard rolls another joint. Roy Carr, a music journalist since the dawn of time, tells me: "You really should think about giving up journalism and becoming an author. It's much more profitable, you know." Howard interrupts, asking me to hold his half-rolled joint while he finds his lighter. Nancy Lam tells me she has "wobbly tits".

1.45pm Wimbledon Waterstone's

A Waterstone's photographer asks the outstanding eight to wear reindeer hats from Woolworths in the group photo. "It's the only way to get the story into the Christmas issue of the trade paper," she confides in me. Only Howard, Nancy and Penny agree. Bernard reminds me that four times as many signed books are sold as unsigned.

2.15pm Wimbledon High Street

"I was just standing by the limo having a cigar when this bloke came up to me," says Bernard, "and said `What kind of wanker would go around in that? I totally agreed with him, of course."

2.18pm

Howard, on the back seat of the limo, starts rolling another joint. Frank pours us another glass of champagne. Roddy and Howard discuss the best ways of growing marijuana. Roddy - breaking off his discussion - tells the Waterstone's man that after the signing he wants to be taken to Paddington. "Actually," he says, "I want to be taken to Oxfordshire."

2.45 pm Kingston High Street

I tell Roddy to give a royal wave from the limo to the citizens of Kingston.

Surprisingly, he agrees and gives a very convincing flutter as we glide through the town centre. I am about to ask where he learnt such art

2.55pm

A photographer from the Surrey Comet turns up.

"I want you to hold copies of your books and grin," he says.

"That's fucking insulting," says Howard. A woman, standing near by asks me "Who is that rather unsavoury character?" I tell her he was a dope dealer." She moves away quickly.

3.05pm

The red carpet treatment continues. The Waterstone's staff crack open several more bottles of wine. A woman comes up to Penny and says: "My sister-in-law went to school with you. Do you remember her?" Penny, rather apologetically, tells the woman she doesn't, but she buys her book anyway.

3.07pm

More strange looking people sidle up to Howard.

3.40pm Richmond High Street

As the night draws in, the interior roof of the limo really comes into its own. Tiny fairy lights, embedded in the padded velour ceiling, flicker off and on: not all of them work.

3.45pm Waterstone's, Richmond

Pile out of the limo

"I'm sad," says Nancy. "We all get on so well and now we have to go."

Everyone of the eight outstanding authors agrees and to prove a point they all sign books for each other.

Taxis arrive at the bookshop to pick us up and we say drunkenly fond goodbyes. I tell Roddy I'm rather proud of not having mentioned Princess Margaret or her thighs.

He agrees.

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