Feathers, Inspiration & the Importance of Bryony Evans

My first signed book came from Paul Coelho, bought at my first ever author’s event. The evening is memorable for his wide smile and statement that, for him, the appearance of a white feather was auspicious: it was time to write a new book. With feather cushions in our sitting room, I frequently see some floating about, yet sadly, they haven’t encouraged me from my sofa sprawl and lockdown Netflix addiction to the keyboard. But perhaps they do engender a frisson of guilt that I should be trying to create something more useful than a cup of tea…

Since that signing, I’ve been to many more author’s events: slick professional interviews with confident bestselling greats, eager to commune with their fans: reticent, uncomfortable novices (like me), unsure what they’re doing onstage, trying not to burble inanely: emotional outpourers: scathing deprecators of other writers. Such vitriol is pretty low guys, surely? The world is full of people with differing tastes. Quite a few popular novelists don’t float my boat – but what’s to be had from denigrating them on a public stage?

Author sessions can be new book specific launches or general discussions of an author’s work, but special are the wacky free-ranging ones I’ve come to associate with Tartan Noir. Authors plotting on stage by the seat of their pants, collaborating in mock court room dramas and even involving the audience as judge and jury. Still possible now online, they can be more entertaining than stilted pontificating soliloquies without physical audiences. Sigh. Book Festivals are not the same ‘virtually. ‘

Then there’s the queue for book signing. I’ve acquired many. My expansively signed Paul Coelho book came during a lovely chat he initiated on witch persecutions – sadly cut short by a pushy PR person barking ‘Next!” He rolled his eyes, shrugged, and shook my hand. A nice chap (although that Witch of Portobello novel turned out to be my least favourite of his books).

So, why do we want signed books? For some, it is an investment. But returns will depend on what you have. Expert book dealers recognise four different types of signature. There’s the Flatsigned, bearing the author’s name on a page, the Inscription having a personal message e.g. To Peggy plus author’s name, the Association Copy, inscribed to someone close to the author e.g. from Harper Lee to Truman Capote, or the ‘cheating’ Autopen signatures, said to be commonest in US Presidents which (some may say like them) add little value. Nor do Facsimile stamped or bot graphic signatures. Beware if buying at auction- even a Certificate of Authenticity can be bogus. There is an industry appraising authenticity, charging from $100 an hour to do so. Websites like www.books tell you why. Famously Maya Angelou signatures on a copy her first book, Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey, proved fake and worthless. But for the validated signed copy, auction rewards can be incredible. An early  James Joyce signed Ulysses fetched $500,000, a Fleming signed Moonraker, £30,400.

For others it’s knowing the book has actually been in the author’s hands, has a ‘connection,’ even that it is somehow ‘blessed,’ that matters. I could see the value of one from a historical ‘great,’ but wonder at a Frankenstein copy dedicated to Lord Byron by author Mary Shelley fetching £300,000 or a novel dedicated to Dickens by George Eliot realising £200,000. Rarest and most valuable of all, I am told, is a copy signed to the person a book is dedicated to.

Until the end of the eighteenth century, books were not signed, though there were 13 ‘Presentation copies’ of Jane Austen’s Emma. Dickens himself was a prolific signer on his tours. Values may vary depending on which particular author’s book you have with a signature: a signed War of the Worlds fetched £25,000,  but other H. G. Wells volumes? Much less.

Today many authors like JK Rowling only sign for charity. The nicest signing story concerns her. She caused consternation by leaping up to hug a women in a signing queue hearing she was Bryony Evans, the office manager who rescued her novel from a slush pile and persuaded her agent boss to take it on. No idea why they’d never met, but just think – without her the world would never have seen Harry Potter!

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