St Patrick’s Day, 2000: Chris Evansis presenting TFI Friday live from Dublin. I’m doing Temple Bar with my mate, Gav, a brickie from Dundalk and Evan’s intrusion is an unwelcome reminder of the Green Green Grass of Home. In truth, I’ve encountered very little Anti-English sentiment, but the sight of a talentless media loudmouth flaunting his wealth and nodding his head to Ocean Colour Scene (1) might just be enough to sour things. Gav, sensing a change in the air and takes the initiative.
“Chris,” he shouts, “You’re a F___ w___.”(2)
There’s a brief silence in the seminary before the crowd erupts into applause and for a moment, all is well in the Celtic Tiger(3).
It is the turn of the century. This is how we civilians interacted with celebrities.
Move forward a decade or so and, as with so many things, the Internet has changed that. Such has been the democratising effect of the likes of Twitter and Facebook that members of the public can now connect with their idols by pointing out their grammatical errors.
When I signed up to Twitter my plan was that I’d use it to promote my book. I have done that, but with little or no success, and I’ve probably spent more time pouring over the scribblings of selected public figures. Much of what they tweet is banal. Musicians tend to plug gigs I’ll never see, whereas writers are more likely to crowdsource their research. If the Internet had been read-only, I’d have probably lost interest. I soon came to realise, though, that I could join in on the conversations. Mostly, as in real-life unless I’m committing some grave faux pas, my contributions were ignored. When I gently rebuked David Gedgefor referring to the Wedding Present in the singular(4), he didn’t thank me for pointing out his error and a joke about swearing at parent’s evening I shared with Sophie Hannahfell on deaf (virtual) ears. For all the misses, there was the occasional success. Toby Litt ‘liked’ one of my tweets and Ian Rankinactually replied to something I said. At the time, the acknowledgement really pleased me though with hindsight, I can see them as the Internet analogue of Paul McCartney’s thumbs aloft gesture. Mostly, though, there was silence. I was like Gav, back in millennial Dublin, only easier to ignore. I had become, I came to realise, a cyber irritant.
The natural thing to do at this stage would have been to quietly retire from this half-arsed trollery whilst I still had a modicum of self-respect. Instead, I decided I’d stop with the attempts to interact for interaction’s sake and plug my book like my future depended it (5). I started tweeting those celebrities whose names were mentioned in my book(6) in the hope that some of them would by it. Maybe some of them did, but I doubt it and when that failed, I decided to contact celebrities with big followings who had no connection with the book, asking them to plug it out of the kindness of their hearts. I even offered Jason Pegg out of Clearlakefirst dibs on the sound track if it ever got made into a film (7). No joy, there, either.
Yesterday, I reached my rock bottom. I’ve been trying to build up my Amazon presence by reviewing the books I read and I left a 5* review of Phillip Hensher The Northern Clemency. Without really thinking about it, I decided I’d tweet him and let him know. To me, this was the equivalent of Holden Caulfield calling up an author and letting him know he’d enjoyed a book (8) and if it had stopped there, maybe it would have been. Unfortunately, I then had a rather silly idea. Why don’t youI thought to myself, tweet Hensher again and ask him to look at your book?Or, put another way, why don’t you, Etienne, an anonymous member of the public, contact a Booker nominated professor of Creative Writing and plead with him to plug your self-published novel about talking goldfish(9)? I’ve had better ideas. To his credit, Mr Hensher graciously declined and I was left feeling a little hollow. I may have written a book, it may even be quite good (10), but the bottom line is that it’ll take more than bothering minor celebrities to make me into an author. I’m not sure what the next step will be in my campaign to achieve literary mediocrity. I’d like to think it might involve some writing but the only thing I’m sure of is that it won’t involve pestering public figures in the hope of some vicarious success. Some sort of plug perhaps, maybe involving some some sort of post on a web based log, perhaps with links. I wonder…(11)
(1) At this point, I’m obliged to say that the 2014 iteration of Chris Evans seems to be a genuinely decent chap. Ocean Colour Scene, on the other hand, are still rubbish.
(2) Though why he should have regarded “Famous Warringtonian” an insult, I’ll never know.
(3) Gav would later spoil things by swearing at a Garda. I decided to extricate myself from the situation after that and spent the latter half of St Patrick’s Day watching Destiny’s Child videos on MTV.
(4) He’s from Leeds, for heaven’s sake.
(5) It would, of course, be horrible if this were actually the case. Sales have thus far been so limited that Amazon haven’t even bothered to send the royalty cheque.
(6) Including, but not limited to Rory Delap, Rick Astley, Johnny Marr, James Blunt and him off Coldplay.
(7) If I’m honest, I was probably using him to get to his more famous brother. I want Verity Susmanto do the soundtrack, anyway.
(8) Obviously there are uncomfortable associations in referencing Catcher In The Rye when taking about reaching out to celebrities.
(9) Still available at the introductory price of 99p. After three months.
(10) It is.
(11) SPOILERThis daft meta ending is inspired by the daft meta ending in The Northern Clemency, one of very few week points in the book.