Saturday, 20 March 2010

My book launch 'speech'

I have had some kind of cold-flu-virus thing that has left me with a very flaky voice. People who know me well know that I am prone to coughing fits, which would make speaking tonight extremely risky! To cancel would have been difficult and disappointing so I decided to go ahead with this plan B in mind. Thank you and many apologies for not being able to speak to you myself. I have handed my notes to the very lovely John Hockley who is West Surrey Rural Communities Officer, has worked with Gypsies and Travellers for around 27 years – and has already read the book!

“Thank you so much for coming. If I had to define my kind of personal paradise, I think some key elements are here tonight – to be surrounded by books and so many people I recognise and a glass of wine! Welcome to everyone, those I know and a few I don’t. Family, friends, neighbours, people from the Travelling community, writers, members of the National Women’s Register (NWR), U3A, the allotment(!), Rushmoor Writers and the novel group, Society of Authors and Windsor Bookswap – and various other local people. Also some Twitter folk I’ve never met before but feel I know quite well! more about some of you later, maybe even mentioning names – this is a ‘hook’ to keep your attention … (dot dot dot !)

As a very young child I would put my hands over my eyes to hide, believing this rendered me invisible. Not that unusual perhaps – even one of our English Setters does the same thing with her paws! But then as a young schoolchild, the day the school photographer was due to arrive I would rush away to hide behind the coats in the cloakroom. Less normal perhaps!! I was very shy. My point is that many writers – and I heard one say the same thing quite recently – take to writing because they feel at an early age that they can be more creative and imaginative on paper than vocally. The irony of this is that once you produce a book, you find yourself constantly having to stand up in front a sea of faces to talk about it!! But tonight makes that an absolute pleasure – except I find myself unable to actually speak! I am so sorry about that.

A quick word about the book then!
Most of you know that my first book, Gypsies Stop tHere, as the title suggests, is something to do with Gypsies stopping, not being allowed to stop and so forth. I think most of you here have read it but if not, you can always read No Gypsies Served first. No problem – they standalone although they are connected. But you are allowed to buy a signed copy of Gypsies Stop tHere tonight as well!
No Gypsies Served, as its title suggests, goes back in time, events of the past throwing light on the present. It takes in also the relationship between Romany or English Gypsies and Irish Travellers, looking at this in historical context – recent history. It tries to answer some bothersome questions. For example: Why is there a mismatch in peoples’ minds between the old traditional romantic picture of a Gypsy in his wagon etc, and the modern image many people have? And how come that that second perception is so far removed from the Gypsies and Travellers I meet at events and in their own homes? Why would most Gypsies and Travellers choose not to live in a house, if they had that choice? Not going to say too much about it now – this is no time for a lecture! I hope the book helps, through entertaining storytelling, to answer questions such as these and more.

Now for the Oscar Bafta bit … the many thank-yous.

Special thanks to: Waterstone’s for making this wonderful gathering possible, for providing and organising when I know they are so short of time. Special thanks to Jan Russell.
Basil Burton, a Romany Gypsy, who at the age of 88 works tirelessly in support of his people and has driven up from deepest Dorset to be here this evening. I do appreciate this. He has helped me along the way checking over what I have written and, fortunately for me, has a very good memory of times gone by!
Other people who helped me in my research – so many not here this evening, eg Prof Thomas Acton, Dr John Coxhead and many other people – you can see who they are, and their comments, in the front of the book and in this leaflet.
John Hockley is here! West Surrey Rural Communities Officer who has worked with the Gypsy and Traveller community for over 25 years. Thank you John, also Ann Wilson and Charmaine Valler from Surrey Community Action, for their help.
My daughter Erica, who by day is a wallpaper designer and producer, but under cover of darkness found time to design both lovely, deceptively simple, covers. You can tell she actually read the books beforehand! I get many complimentary comments about the covers. They are, so they say, all about genre – to help readers gauge what they are going to get. So that it does what it ‘says on the can’. So this was not easy, for my books do not slip easily into a genre – say, romantic fiction, mystery-crime, historical, typical village-type story – yet they contain elements of all of these.
My husband for his support, not least of which is financial since – contrary to popular belief, very few published authors actually make a half-decent living from it. As most people know, writing novels is my retirement project and something that I’ve actually wanted to do from a very young age. Thanks to Steve also for his help with proof-reading and, though I think he still wonders what on earth I am doing up in my study for so many hours; for his regular if not constant reminders to turn off the Internet to save the planet. Probably not easy living with someone writing a novel who, by definition, tends to drift off into another world for long periods of time!
My local writer and reader friends, many of whom are here tonight – for their support by way of both encouragement and criticism, absolutely invaluable prior to publication. Rushmoor Writers and its offshoot the novel group, and my special writer friends. They know who they are!

Thought of changing my surname to ‘Awake Early’ - Awakerly – it has an alarmingly alert ring to it! but would have the added advantage of putting it at the top end of the alphabet on the shop and library bookshelves. With over 100,000 new titles being published every year in the UK alone, visibility on these shelves is a hard-won privilege!

So if you do enjoy No Gypsies Served then please don’t keep this to yourself. Keep the book to yourself, of course, but not your liking of it! Writers and publishers have to persuade other branches of Waterstone’s to stock their books. It does not happen automatically. So tonight with your help I hope we can give a healthy kick-start to make this happen. But if you could tell that cousin in Dundee, or old school-friend in Cornwall, (it doesn’t have to be that specific!! but you get the gist) friends, colleagues – really all booklovers and readers you can think of – well, you have no idea how helpful this would be. You cannot overestimate the value of good old word of mouth – we can spread awareness and hopefully get more books into more shops around the country. Take a couple of the leaflets with you. We all love to browse and pick a book. Well, bookshops do need our continuing support – what with the competition of Amazon and the rapid rise of e-books. Remember the words of that song ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.’ (not that Waterstone’s in Camberley is going anywhere!!) Libraries too – it helps if you and your friends ask for books in libraries, then they will order them in.

By the way, each book purchased comes with a most desirable and virtually indestructible bookmark (may not be dishwasher proof).

I am so grateful for your support and very touched that so many of you are here. Looking at this crowd here perhaps it’s as well that not everyone could come …!! You don’t look like a shy lot, but please if you haven’t spoken to the person next to you just ask them what their connection is with this evening and you may hear something interesting! Thank you again for coming and to wish it luck may I raise a toast to No Gypsies Served and all who sail with her!!”


  1. hI could we please have a comps copy for the magazine Travellers' Times to review cheers barbie smith e-mail at