Francis Plug is the fictional hero of the critically-acclaimed book Francis Plug: How to be a Public Author, by Paul Ewen. We are very privileged to have Francis write an original blog piece for us about his experience with famous authors.
“So funny you find yourself giggling helplessly long after you’ve passed the joke” … “Pure – and purely pleasurable – silliness”, said the Times Literary Supplement, of Francis Plug.
In the literary circles I tend to swing in, the opportunity to converse with famous authors arises often. The fact I have met over thirty Booker Prize-winners is very well documented. Not that I’m particularly charismatic, or socially blessed. Many people actually find me rather difficult to engage with, or, in their own words, “freaky”, “unbalanced”, and “a complete nutjob”. But this hasn’t prevented me holding conversations with the most respected authors of the present day and age. Because most famous authors are very freaky too.
This is to be expected. After all, much of their lives are spent in self-imposed confinement, engaging only with fantastical beings of their own imagination. Make-believe characters, fictitious creations. That’s why the whole notion of talking to these people is problematic. They’re simply not wired for everyday chit-chat with normal folk. If you hope to engage with them in conversation, it’s probably best if you come across like fragments of their inner imaginations.
Normally when you talk to famous authors, they are seated behind a signing table, as if on a throne, while you stand before them, a mere minion. Despite your height advantage, you are a real person and therefore mean nothing. Most famous authors will simply lower their eyes to your/their book, hoping that all the information they need for the brief transaction is spelt out on a pre-written slip of paper inserted alongside the title page. Telling them how much you enjoyed their book is a polite and well-meaning ice-breaker, but in truth, your presence and speech are creating that ice, and the only way to break it is by removing yourself from the situation as quickly as possible. Or by getting on the other side of the table, out of the author’s immediate vantage point, and whispering in their ear. If they can’t see you, your presence is better imagined, and your whispered voice can be attributed to any number of characters that already exist inside their head.
However, even by merely whispering to a famous author, you are prolonging their public spectacle and using up more of their valuable writing time. That’s why you’ll often see a famous author immediately reach for a glass of wine when a member of the public approaches. If they’re forced to listen to a real person, they may as well take their mind elsewhere.
If you still feel compelled to converse with famous authors, perhaps attempt to be constructive with what you’re saying. For instance:
“I have a bottle of Scotch in my bag. Would you care for some?”
“I know a very wealthy benefactor who supports authors who write books like yours.”
(Yes, even the famous authors are financially up against it in this day and age.)
But perhaps the best way to talk to famous authors is through the written word, by writing them a letter. It’s a medium they understand and respect, and you’ll spare yourself the disappointment of finding out that the author you much admire is actually, in real life, a bit of a shit.
Here’s an example of a recent letter I wrote to Richard Flanagan:
Hi, it’s me again. Sorry for the barrage of mail, but I still haven’t heard from you. You’re a busy chap, I understand perfectly, so I’ll try and keep this letter succinct – you already know all about my gastro/indigestion problems!
To recap, I’ve just written a book about Booker Prize-winners, but you missed the boat. I need to meet you at haste, to get my book signed. I was kicked out of my flat, so maybe we could meet at a pub? Could you bring a credit/debit card?
I’m rubbing my hands fervently in anticipation.
Richard’s response is undoubtedly imminent. In the meantime I take heart in the knowledge that I wasn’t freaking him out in person, thus causing him to lunge for his wine glass, while simultaneously blasting him with my own pissy breath.
by Francis Plug
Thank you to Text Publishing for arranging this blog piece to be written by Paul Ewen, author of Francis Plug: How to be a Public Author.