Are there any authors you would stay up all night for the chance to meet?
Are there any people you would sit on a stool outside a central London shop for the opportunity to say hello to?
I can’t think of many, but when I saw that elusive Japanese author, (and one of my favourite ever writers), Haruki Murakami was going to be meeting and signing books for the first two hundred people to cross the threshold of Waterstone’s Piccadilly branch, (and on a morning when I was actually in the country no less), I knew what I would be doing to make sure I was one of them.
A few weeks earlier I had arrived at the same shop an hour before opening time to be one of the first to buy a copy on the morning of the release of his latest offering, ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years Of Pilgrimage.’ I had considered staying out until midnight the night before when several shops held special late-night openings, but decided to settle for Cava and fresh pastries at 8am instead.
The book is gorgeous, Waterstone’s offering a limited edition white cover version with some special stickers, and I was happy to pay £20 for it. I was even happier to be still awake at 8:30am last Saturday, August 30th, when my book and I were ushered up to the second floor, presented with special MURAKAMI wrist bands and allowed to pass out on carpet after an all-night vigil.
I had arrived in London by bus from Oxford the evening before, unsure how many people would be there: could I have just shown up around 7am? Or would the 200 spaces already be filled when I showed up at 7pm the night before? Would I be camping in the street in central London alone, which would be pretty scary? Just how many people even knew Murakami, let alone cared about him enough to camp out to meet him?
It turns out I timed things perfectly: at 7pm, I was number 20 in the line, which grew steadily as the night wore on. At around 6am, the magic number of 200 was reached: we would be the lucky ones to meet the elusive author, whilst the 200 after us were promised a signed edition of the book but no access to the man himself.
Some came with sleeping bags and duvets; others simply stood and waited for morning. I took a middle ground, parking myself on a jealousy-inducing stool (borrowed from my grandmother’s shower) and not getting a single minute of sleep, entertained by my fellow literature lovers and a 600-page edition of ‘The Complete Dorothy Parker’, (a wonderful collection). I was also lucky enough to have a friend drop by and discuss literature, football and jazz, which passed the early evening nicely.
Passers-by, on foot or in cars, demanded to know what we were doing: was the new iPhone coming out? Or, closer to the mark, a new Harry Potter release? Some got bizarrely indignant at how we had chosen to spend our time, whilst others invariably answered with: “Arooki ‘oo? Never ‘eard of her…” But one or two understood what we were so excited about, and even joined the queue.
By morning, we were a team: sharing tips on which toilets may be open, debating what time we would be allowed entry to the shop, swapping literature tips, (I was wonderfully sandwiched between a father-and-son from Dorset, and three family members from Iran-via-Manchester). As the security roused the sleepers at 6am, the gorgeous weather briefly turned on us, offering an unrequested morning shower, but soon we were all led into the shelter of the shop.
As 11am drew closer, and activity picked up around the signing table where we were all kept penned up, workers came to tell us how things would work: books open to the signing page, no photos, make sure your wristband is visible, put away your phones there are no photos, say hi to the author, don’t take any photos, get the book stamped by someone who was either his assistant or his wife, (depending on who you listened to), and seriously there will be absolutely no photos.
For once, I followed instructions.
Luckily, one of my fellow campers didn’t, and may have been the only person to fire off this snap before security (who you can see at the front of the queue there) gave him The Look, and all mobiles were sheathed.
Suddenly, like a roller-coaster you have waited hours to ride, things flew into fast-forward and we were all suddenly swept along by events: a ripple of applause broke out as the diminutive Murakami-sama appeared and took his place; we all rose and shuffled into a make-shift line; and before we knew it, we were in front of him, one by one, shaking his hand and saying a few words.
Most of us had spent a fair amount of the 16-hour vigil trying to think of something fun, interesting or at least different to say that he may not have heard before: like me, everyone I spoke to on the way in had come up with absolutely nothing. But as it turned out my choice of clothing proved to be our talking point: I had dug out an old Japanese t-shirt from Oita, my old hometown when I lived there, and he asked if I had been there. He looked genuinely surprised and delighted when I replied in Japanese that I was Oitian, (more or less…) before continuing in his native tongue that it had been an honour to sit in a street all night in order to meet him.
He seemed genuinely surprised to hear that anyone had sat in the street overnight for him!
With a few more Japanese words to the beaming Japanese lady stamping our newly-signed books with a HARUKI MURAKAMI stamp (which is only present in books signed in person, and makes our copies extremely rare, apparently), I was spat out the other end of the conveyor belt where I collected my belongings and, saying a few words of farewell to my fellow adventurers, staggered out into the sunlight to queues of people presumably still trying to get into the event.
Too late, guys…far, far too late…
Come back soon for a review when I finally get around to reading it, (probably not my signed copy: I will have to wait until I buy another one, as this one isn’t going to leave my shelf!).
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