Awkward encounters with notable writers, episode 1: Uppity

It started about ten months ago at Book Slam, a West London event combining writers, comics, musicians, wine, a Serbian DJ and dim lighting. Book Slam self-defines as a ‘literary nightclub’, but, in reality, it’s better than that. Whenever I go, and for however long I stay, I become the cool kid I’ve always known that I am, in my heart of hearts, buried deep, deep inside, behind my habit of looking up the words I hear in rap songs on Urban Dictionary and even behind my clandestine spinning of Taylor Swift’s Fearless LP. I pay £8 monthly to participate in this coolness simulation, and, for a while, it was worth it to me.

Over time, though, the coolhigh started to ebb. The more Book Slams I attended, the more obvious the substrata of cool became. For example, did you know, it’s not cool to book in advance and thereby save £2 off the door price? Because it’s not. It’s just a longer line. The real coolkids breeze by, tenners in hand, never inconvenienced by discounting.

Enter David Nicholls. In July ’09 David was reading from his new book One Day and, when he finished, he was selling his new book , and autographing copies. I was in line (of course, in line!) to have him sign my own, fretting with my friend Sasha about what cool stuff we could say to show him we’re real coolkids, just like him. Sasha failed. Badly, but not epically. She asked David to sign her book ‘To Sandy,’ her mother. She explained to me it was cooler to have the book signed for someone else.

‘How does he know you’re not Sandy, though?’ I asked, eager to understand how it’s done.

And that’s when I realized it, watching Sasha’s cheeks burn up. We’re not cool. We book in advance, and we still show up early. We wear floral sundresses without irony, and we mostly see summer blockbusters. Sasha doesn’t even own Ray-Bans. We’re not cool at all. We’re something else.

So I walked up to David Nicholls and asked him to sign his new book One Day. Then I asked to borrow his pen, scrawled my own name on a napkin, and handed both back to him.

‘I’m gonna be a writer someday, too,’ I told him.

He just kinda laughed. Then he asked me my name and shook my hand. He turned to his wife to relate what I’d done or ask a question or something. I will never know because, not having anything cool to say, I promptly ran away.

Next up: Walter Dean Myers

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