My heart sank.
I prepared myself for the usual routine in which I try to politely explain that self-published poetry doesn't sell and no, a signing session wouldn't be a good idea unless they like sitting at a table for an hour being ignored by customers.
The other problem I have with local authors is that many of them have stretched the dictionary defintion of 'local' to include the following categories:
- They live 27 miles away but occasionally shop here
- They live in Scotland, but their daughter-in-law attended a local school in 1974
- They have a friend who used to live here
- They are local, but to somewhere else
At the counter stood a man who was so old that his spine had contracted to a height that made him resemble a hobbit. His frail, purple-skinned hands were slowly shuffling some papers that he had produced from a bag and although I was standing right next to him, he seemed unaware of my presence. I introduced myself and shook his hand, trying to give him the sort of firm handshake that men of his generation like, without inflicting any damage.
He had written a book called Beaufighter Over the Balkans recounting his experiences as a fighter pilot during World War Two. I knew nothing about the Bristol Beaufighter and was fascinated to hear how he was sent on missions to destroy strategic buildings and ships, most of which required him to fly at a dangerously low altitude so that he could fire his rockets with a reasonable degree of accuracy. In addition to flying fast and low, he had to take photos to prove that he'd hit his targets and he showed me examples of his work. One picture showed a Nazi headquarters before and after he'd fired rockets at it. Another showed an attack on German shipping.
Unlike most of his colleagues he survived the war and went on to play a crucial role in the Berlin airlift of 1948. He slammed the book shut and asked if I'd be interested in doing a signing. I had a better idea - how about a talk? If anyone had a story to tell he did. He seemed pleased to be asked and next month, if he's still alive, Steve Stevens DFC will be speaking at my shop.
I have tried to find a photo of Steve Stevens, but it wasn't easy. First I found this...
For all his strutting, male posture, if this Steve Stevens was involved in any action he'd probably start crying
This Steve Stevens does look like he's seen a bit of action, but unless he's done a Michael Jackson, I think that my Steve Stevens was always white...
Steve Stevens: The Rotary Club Years. No, I can't imagine him firing rockets at Nazis either. There are many other Steve Stevens on Google images, but only one of them has been awarded the Dinstinguished Flying Cross...
And here he is: Steve Stevens DFC, standing in front of one of the best-known photographs from the Second World War.