Francis Plug is a gardener and would-be author, preparing for the time when he will be meeting his adoring public at reading events (because being a public author is all part of the contract these days.) He’s doing this by attending the readings of Booker-prize winning authors, picking up tips and getting his first-editions signed in the process. The book proudly displays these trophies at the beginning of the story of each encounter. In all there are 30 chapters, 29 encounters and 29 signed editions. (Because Keri Hulme never visited Britain, hence no story.)
Now I’m fortunate enough to have a capsule collection of signed Booker-prize winning 1sts, so the envy induced by these was limited, until I saw this.
Because, until the publication of Wolf Hall, Sacred Hunger was my favourite Booker winner, and Barry Unsworth, the author I most wanted to meet. Unfortunately that was not to be, but I was delighted to hear about the grace of the man, polite and generous to a member of the public, who couldn’t afford the ticket, but who signed his copy of the book in the foyer pre-event anyway.
Not all of the authors featured come across so well … I won’t name them, but can i just say that the grumpy author was grumpy to me also, and the obnoxiously rude (non-Booker winning) author obnoxiously rude to her interviewer at the event I attended. It seems some authors have form.
But if authors can behave badly, so can the attendees, and Francis Plug has to be the attendee from hell.
It starts with the free wine at Salman Rushdie’s event, which Plug imbibes by the bottleful with inevitable consequence. (Cue gentle indulgant titters.) He progresses to attending John Berger’s signing, with some Buckingham Palace horse poo in his satchel. ( You cannot be serious, she cries in her best John McEnroe impersonation.) The high jinks continue. At one point Plug manages to get himself banned from the Hay-On-Wye festival. (That’s some feat given the size of the place.) At another point realisation dawned. Francis Plug isn’t just a madcap eccentric, but someone with a serious problem, and this apparent excursion into the genteel world of literary events and signings is actually an account of a downward spiral into the depths of alcoholic madness.
There are other gotchas as well. One of which actually took my breathe away. I should have seen it coming but I was blindsided. Should have asked myself where a penniless alcoholic got these books from earlier. But Plug is nothing, if not resourceful. And for his final hurrah, he wangles his way into the Booker-prize giving ceremony, complete with an acceptance speech for a novel he has yet to publish.
Now I’ve never seen what follows on the televised snippets, or reported on in the newspapers, so I have to ask how much of what I’ve devoured is true. Because I honestly can’t tell. For one Francis Plug is a pseudonym of Paul Ewen, an author from New Zealand, based in London. I’ve decided his book is an ingenious blend of fact and fiction, and one that had to have been years in the planning. Collecting the books, gathering those signatures …. or are those just photoshopped copies? A final twist in the tale, if you will.