I have been back to Lisbon this week for two more events in connection with the book. With the completion of these two public appearances, it feels like an end has been reached now, a kind of natural finish to this particular adventure. In a way, it is a relief.
I spent five days in Lisbon this week. The first event took place in Fabula Urbis, a bookshop on the edge of the Alfama area of the city. Cian, the protagonist of A Year in Lisbon, lives in Graça, about a ten minute walk from the bookshop, and spends a lot of time around Portas do Sol, which is just up the road from where I did the talk.
So as I was reading a piece from the novel about Cian’s experience of living in that area of the city, and specifically reading about the famous number 28 tram that goes up and down from Graça to the centre of the city, the very same tram passed just below us, scraping and screeching its way down the hill, ringing its bell, rumbling and groaning. This little piece of serendipity made me, and those in attendance, smile, at least.
The only slight snag was that there were only ten or twelve people there. The event itself went quite well; I felt relaxed and confident, the people there were engaged and we had a good talk afterwards about Lisbon, how it has changed, the impact of tourism on the old parts of the city. I have put an enormous effort into promoting the book, the readings and the launches back in February, and each bookshop I have read in has also promoted the events, yet I have not managed to capture the imagination of either native lisboetas or of the many foreigners that live there. There are some exceptions, of course, and people have bought, read and liked the book, but the response has been disappointing, taking into account all of the Facebook ads, emails, blog posts, personal visits, messages, calls and networking that I have attempted to put into practice in the last year or so.
So I enjoyed the Sunday night, but I was quite dispirited afterwards too. One question I still cannot answer is where all of the ex-pat English teachers were. In the four launches and readings that I have organized in Lisbon, I think only two or three English teachers attended, in a city where there are hundreds working. I have contacted all of the English language schools on every occasion that I had a launch, have put up posters in schools, have used every means possible to try to interest them and it has mostly been a waste of time. The book is about them and their life in Lisbon, and it seems that I have failed to tempt them into even listening to me talk about it, never mind buy it.
On Tuesday evening, I spoke to students in the Universidade Nova, a new university on Avenida da Berna in the newer area of Lisbon. It is a more informal institution, in comparison to the traditional Universidade de Lisboa which is close by. I spoke to students on the Literature course, mostly first years – some of whom have only themselves been in the city for a month or two – and some Masters students.
I found out just before the event from Rogério, who is their teacher and the person responsible for inviting me to speak, that some of them were doing an assignment on a Year in Lisbon. It is one of the books among a number that they can choose from to write an essay on. One student, apparently, is writing a piece on public transport in the novel. There are a couple of others who chose it too.
This, I was not expecting. I had imagined a number of things for the book when I started into this whole adventure, but it being studied in a university was not one of them, and did make me smile when I heard. So that gave the event a different feel to it; what I had to say was not just me waffling about this personal project that I decided to embark on, it was now part of a syllabus that some of these students were being marked on. That single fact made up somewhat for the lack of response from other directions.
The talk itself went well. At this stage I have lost most of the nerves that almost paralyzed me during my first launch, back in July 2016, and I can now talk about the book and its origins with something close to fluency. The students also were happy to ask questions, make comments, start discussions afterwards. We talked about the view of the Portuguese that people in Northern Europe have (where unfortunately Portugal is largely anonymous), Portuguese literature, the change of Lisbon, the culture shock of coming to a large city, to a different country, Portuguese identity. The whole event helped dilute some of the disappointment that I had been feeling all week.
A Year in Lisbon and the whole adventure of publishing the book has given me a lot. I have learned how to promote and talk about a book, a little about marketing, the importance of personal contact to get people interested in a book. I have managed to reconnect with Portugal and the city of Lisbon once again, after a gap of a decade or more, and connected to this I have resurrected my Portuguese, which had been very rusty. I have met a lot of people, made a significant number of contacts, and been helped by bookshop owners (João in Fabula Urbis, Leena in Bookshop Bivar, Ana in Palavra de Viajante), friends, readers and teachers (Rogério in U.N.). It has been an experience.
But it also has to be said that, apart from a few notable exceptions, in general Lisbon is not very interested in A Year in Lisbon. I was expecting more interest from ex-pats, which did not come, and there may be more potential for this tight-knit market in the future, but for now at least I have been largely ignored by newspapers, radio stations, ex-pat groups, Facebook pages, tourists and locals in the Portuguese capital.
So that is that for now. I have done all I can. At least I can leave my Lisbon adventure behind with the knowledge that I have done my best to promote the book. It may not have worked fantastically well, but that was all I could do in the situation. I have to let the book go now to fend for itself, like a child that has grown up and leaves home. I have other fish to fry, other books to write, other projects to attend to. This one, for now, is at an end.