Book Clubs and Covid-19, by Andy Griffee
Tiller Thriller author Andy Griffee describes a close encounter with a book club.
In the year BC (Before Coronavirus) a neighbour ambushed me at our farm shop. Would I join her and her lady friends at their book club to discuss my debut novel Canal Pushers? They would ply me with decent white wine and promised to read my crime mystery in advance. It’s hard to say no when you are standing in a queue with a boxful of vegetables and anyway, it sounded like it might be fun.
But then, several months later, the plague descended on the land and I had an email telling me the book club had been postponed until the curve had been flattened. I wasn’t surprised. All of my scheduled talks to mark the launch of my second book, River Rats, had also been scrapped. Libraries and bookshops were shut, literary festivals were being cancelled and the University of the Third Age in Ludlow definitely didn’t need me to turn up, thank you very much.
All of the invitations to the launch party for River Rats at Mr B’s Emporium in Bath had to be torn up too. My latest book is set in the lovely Georgian City and, as a former journalist on its local newspaper, I had been really looking forward to the event.
But then the fight back started. If I couldn’t have a real launch party, I’d bloody well have a virtual one. Orphans Publishing hastily publicised a Facebook Live event and it went really well. Lots of people logged on at the appointed time as I donned a velvet smoking jacket, poured myself a ‘quarantini’ cocktail and waxed lyrical for 15 minutes before being joined by my wife who had been monitoring incoming messages and questions. At one point, even our three dogs charged in on the act. It was fun. Check out the video at orphanspublishing.co.uk if you don’t believe me.
My wife, Helen and I, had also begun to use Zoom for video conferencing for a regular Friday evening ‘Zoom Bar’ get-together with six other couples. Although, our daughter, who is furloughed and home from Cornwall, told me off for calling it a ‘hook-up’. Apparently, that means something very different to the millennials and is something the couple in the BBC’s adaptation of Normal People are filmed doing a lot in a horizontal position! Anyway, we enjoyed our regular Zoom Bar chats at the end of slightly non-eventual weeks and then branched out and started using Zoom for quizzes. A friend’s son borrowed a BBC studio back drop and put on a dinner jacket to ask the questions and it was a triumph (although we came a poor fourth – not enough questions on literature).
So, I should have been prepared for the message that suddenly dropped into my phone from the book club friend. “We’re going ahead after all on Zoom. Can you join us?” The only problem was, she had given me an hour’s notice and I was already scheduled to mark my mother’s 81st birthday with an on-screen family gathering. Reluctantly, I declined. But I had forgotten the 40-minute time limit and, as we are too tight to pay for extra minutes, the family gathering ended in time for me to crash onto the book club members’ screens with virtually no preparation.
This is only the second book club I have faced. And although my publishers tell me there’s nothing like face-to-face feedback from your readers, it’s still quite scary. This time, I was confronted by a screen full of women who had all read Canal Pushers. (Do any men take part in book clubs?) Some seemed to be sitting in the dark. Were they saving on electricity bills or was the hairdresser too much of a dim and distant memory?
Some had glasses of drink in front of them and some were hiding their tipple of choice out of shot. I had joined them twenty minutes late but the general verdict, I was told, was very positive and they had some great questions. Were my hero and heroine going to eventually become romantically involved? How would I feel about writing sex scenes? Where would they take their narrowboat for the next adventure in the Johnson & Wilde series. How did I make sure all of the boating aspects of the novels were accurate? What comes first, the plot, character or setting?
I hope I didn’t talk too much. And choosing the moment to leave takes fine judgement. Not too early, but not too late either. It’s important to let the club members talk amongst themselves too. But, all in all, I thought the technology enabled the virtual book club to work very well and there is another enormous advantage. You don’t have to drive miles, you can drink (exactly what you feel like) and, should the conversation take a really bad turn for an author, I suppose you can always fake a power cut!
In fact, I think I’d like to do a few more! No charge. If anyone is interested in inviting me along to their virtual book club, please email me directly at email@example.com or via my website www.andygriffee.co.uk. Canal Pushers and River Rats are available directly from www.orphanspublishing.co.uk and from all good book retailers. A paperback edition of Canal Pushers is being launched on June 4.
Read more about Andy and his novels here