TWENTY TWO: LISBON AGAIN, AND AN ENDING OF SORTS

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.

TWENTY-ONE: BACK TO LISBON

I am delighted to be returning to Lisbon for two more events to promote A Year in Lisbon. 

The first one will take place in Fabula Urbis bookshop, just behind the Sé, close to Alfama in Lisbon’s old city. Fabula Urbis was the first bookshop to sell the book in Lisbon, and it is also in the heart of the part of Lisbon where the book is set, just down the road from Portas do Sol, Graça and the St. George Castle, all central locations in the book.

The event will take place at 6.30pm on Sunday, October 29th and all are welcome. As always, it is a free event. Link here.

I have also been invited to speak at the Universidade Nova, in São Sebastião. This will take place at 6pm on Tuesday, October the 31st. The talk is mainly for students and staff, but is an open event, so anyone can attend. Link here.

TWENTY – LAUNCHED IN DUBLIN

I had originally arranged a Dublin launch of A Year in Lisbon last September, but in the end I was so focused on organizing a series of launches in Portugal that I had to cancel the Dublin one. This July was the first opportunity that I had to properly arrange an event in Dublin. So finally, almost a year later than first anticipated, I managed to have a Dublin launch for the novel.

It took place in The Winding Stair, a cosy bookshop with a lot of character, just by the Ha’penny Bridge. The location is historic and attracts a lot of tourists, and the setting itself was perfect for the launch of a novel that is so concerned with the experience of being a foreigner in a strange city.

I am lucky enough to have a large, extended family on both sides, and a lot of them live in Dublin, so aunts, uncles, cousins and friends helped to fill out the crowd. The worst nightmare for anyone doing a reading or a book launch is that no-one shows up, so an audience of thirty or so people was a relief to see as I stepped up on to the slightly raised area near the window.

My brother introduced me, as he had done in Sligo during my first launch in 2016. This is my fourth event connected to the novel, and at this stage I hope that I am learning a little about how to conduct them.

One mistake that I believe I made when launching the book in Lisbon was sticking too closely to the script that I had prepared, and not engaging enough with the people who had come to the event. For that reason, this time I had prepared a few notes, but in general attempted to speak without notes and to talk naturally and freely about the book and its inspiration. There is a danger with this approach of forgetting something important, but I felt that it was a better way of doing it, especially in the informal setting of a bookshop where most people were standing.

I talked about the genesis of the book, my time in Lisbon and also about the self-publishing process, and in between I read extracts from the book that I thought represented what the novel is about. There were a few questions afterwards, which I always find interesting but challenging, and then, as usual, I signed a few books and chatted to people.

Only afterwards, a Latin American woman who had been at the front of the audience told me that she had Facebook Lived the reading and so I was able to track the recording down and put it on the book’s Facebook page. It can be found here.

It was an enjoyable, if stressful, event and went about as well as I could have hoped. I sold 11 books and covered the cost of the launch (the bookshop charges €100 plus VAT), so that in itself was a success. I also got some pretty good publicity: in promoting the launch I contacted all of the local papers in Dublin, and one of them – The Dublin People – made A Year in Lisbon its Book of the Week.

I had my doubts before I set about organizing the launch, but in the end it was worth doing. And again, it was proven to me that people will buy a book if they have a personal connection to the author. If they can see him or her speaking and hear something of the inspiration behind a book, then they are more likely to purchase it. I have done it myself after hearing authors speak, and it has always given a new perspective to actually reading the book when you have met who wrote it.

Hopefully I will be back in the Winding Stair next year to launch the next one!

EIGHTEEN – ELEVATOR PITCH

I was reminded recently of why I decided to self-publish A Year in Lisbon.

I was at a conference at the weekend whose focus was on getting a book published. It had nothing to do with self-publishing; this was about trying to get your book published with a mainstream, corporate publisher.

The focus of the conference was on getting an agent. Very few publishing houses now accept manuscripts from authors, and so they rely on literary agents to find and vet writers for them. So the first thing a budding writer needs to do is find an agent.

I was involved in a workshop with twelve other hopefuls and a literary agent from London called Simon Tremin. He had some useful advice about how to approach an agent, and about what to put in a synopsis and how to write an email to best get your point across.

There was also an agent panel which took place later, with five other literary agents who answered questions from the hundred or so assembled authors hoping to get published.

One of the aspects mentioned was the concept of an “elevator pitch”. This comes from the world of Hollywood movies and the idea is this: if you are stuck in a lift (or “elevator”) with a movie producer and you have an idea for a movie, you need to be quick and to the point in explaining your project. In fact, you need to be able to do it in two sentences.

We were given some examples of two-sentence summaries of various books. This was put forward as an important thing to think about when you are promoting a book, or trying for an agent or a publisher. The Elevator Pitch – 100,000 words of a novel boiled down to twenty.

I felt like asking – what if James Joyce had had to give an elevator pitch for Ulysses? How would that have worked? Two guys travel round Dublin separately over the space of one day, going to a funeral, doing a bit of shopping, going to the beach. What the fuck does that have to do with the masterful, complex world that Joyce created in his novel?

The point that was made seemingly over and over again was that agents are busy people and they have to be grabbed by your elevator pitch, by your 150 word summary in your email, by your first couple of pages. There was no real sense that books or writers deserved a bit of time and attention; you could spend a year and a half writing a novel, and it could be rejected in two minutes based on a short summary that doesn’t grab.

Earlier in the day, Simon Tremin had told a story about an unpublished writer that was on a well-known creative writing course. Apparently she was the next big thing, and so every agent in London was trying to get her to sign with them. Simon tracked her down, and managed to convince her to sign with his agency. She then told him that she had actually submitted a novel to him the year before, but that he had not been interested then. He seemed to think that this story was proof that you should keep trying, even if you get rejected.

To me, this did not illustrate what he though it did. To me, this was evidence of a certain amount of group-think in the world of agents. This unnamed writer actually submitted work to Simon in the past and he wasn’t interested, and it was only when he knew that every other agent wanted her, that he began to try to track her down.

The whole conference more or less convinced me that looking for an agent and a publisher is – at least for the novels that I have written and will write – basically a waste of time. So few writers actually get agents, and of them only 70% actually get published, and so the default setting of any agent is to simply reject your work, unless it is revolutionary, extraordinary or a sure-fire bestseller. And if it so happens that what you write does not fit into the typical genres of YA, fantasy, sci-fi, romance, crime, chick-lit or historical fiction, then your chances of success are miniscule.

Luckily, there is another possibility. Self-publishing is increasingly accessible, and is now a real option. Writers are no longer at the mercy of an agent somewhere in Haymarket or Whitehall, sitting in their office and rejecting your work when your 150 word summary is not mind-blowing enough. We no longer have to beg and plead to get past the gatekeepers of culture, who used to decide who could and could not publish their book to the world.

I appreciate that agents and publishers are busy people, and that they receive a huge number of submissions every week, but it is clear to me that the system is set up so that they will miss a lot of really good writing.

Bookshops are full of books that have been rejected over and over and over again by publishers and agents, until they finally found someone that saw something great in them. J.K. Rowling is the classic example. It was only because she was persistent that she has become the massive success that she has. But I don’t know if I could be bothered to go on begging and pleading to be let in to the magic inner circle of published authors, when the chances are that it is never really going to happen.

I would rather just put books out myself. It will be on a small scale, and I won’t make any money, but at least someone will read them, and I will have some control over the process. And I won’t have to prepare a fucking elevator pitch for anyone.

SEVENTEEN: FINALLY LAUNCHED IN LISBON.

I finally launched A Year in Lisbon in Lisbon itself last weekend. There were two events, one on the Saturday in Palavra de Viajante, and one on Sunday in Bookshop Bivar.

I had been a little worried about the Saturday event, as I had been attempting to promote it from Ireland and without any real connections. I had been having nightmares of speaking in front of 8 people. In the end the turnout was adequate, fifteen people showed up. It was always my intention to talk about the book in Portuguese in this bookshop, and so that is what I did for about fifteen minutes. Before I started, my Spanish friend Luis Gorrochategui introduced me in Gallego, the language from the north-west of Spain that is similar in many ways to Portuguese and which the Portuguese can understand quite easily.

Most of the rest of the event was in English though, and it turned out that the majority of people were English speakers there anyway. We had quite an interesting and relaxed discussion afterwards, generally centred around how Lisbon has changed, and how the city changed me personally, and Cian, the main character in the novel. One person asked me why I hadn’t just written a biography or memoir of my three years in Lisbon, and I told him that I didn’t think I had a very interesting life, and that fictionalising it was much more fun.

On the Sunday, I was in Bookshop Bivar, near to Arroios. The crowd here was better; about 24 people turned up, which was gratifying. Both the bookshop owner and I had done a lot of promotion of the event, so it was pleasing to see it come off. Twenty-four may not sound like a lot of people, but it filled the shop.

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Unfortunately, at that stage a flu, which I had first started experiencing on the flight over, was really kicking in, and I was feeling shivery and weak and ill. So I did my best, but was unable to put any real energy into the event or the reading, or into talking to people afterwards. I survived it, nothing more. There was an ok response, but not many people were interested in asking questions or knowing much more about the book. I think my lack of energy added to the dearth of engagement. Some people were kind and interested though, but in the end I just wanted to be out of there and back in bed.

So after a lot of build-up, the weekend was a bit of an anti-climax, mainly because I felt so ill during the three days I was there. I rented a small apartment in Lisbon on Airbnb, and basically didn’t leave it for three days, except to go to the two launches and have dinner on Saturday night.

Right now, I think it is time to concentrate on my work here, which really should be taking up all my time and attention, and to just leave the book out there to fend for itself. I have spent a lot of the last eight months, on and off, promoting the book, and it has been, in many ways, exhausting. Launching it in Lisbon was just something that I had to get out of my system, after the cancellations last year, so now I have done that, it is time to just let it go.

SIXTEEN – LISBON LAUNCHES

I will be launching my novel, A Year in Lisbon, in Lisbon itself on the 4th and 5th of February, 2017. Last year’s planned launches had to be cancelled, but they have been rearranged for this Spring.

The details are as follows…..

February 4th, 4.30pm (16.30): Palavra de Viajante bookshop, Rua de São Bento no.34, (opposite end of the street to Rato) Lisbon – a talk in Portuguese, and a reading of the book in English.

 

 

February 5th, 6pm (18.00): Bookshop Bivar, Rua de Ponta Delgada 34A, Estefânia, Lisbon, Portugal – the whole event in English.

FIFTEEN – POSTPONEMENT OF LISBON EVENTS

Unfortunately, I have had to postpone all events planned for the launch of the book in Lisbon next week. Because of a health issue, I am unable to travel at the moment.

However, some of the events have been provisionally rearranged for the first weekend in February of 2017, so the idea is this is simply a postponement, and not a cancellation. More info to follow.

FOURTEEN – A WEEK OF EVENTS IN LISBON

I am returning to Lisbon next week for a whole week of events to launch the book there.

I will be in the British Council on Thursday the 15th at 8pm, and then there will be two events in bookshops: in Palavra de Viajante on Saturday the 17th at 6pm; and at the same time the next day (the 18th) in Bookshop Bivar.

To be honest, I am stretching the idea of a “launch”. My original idea of a launch was that you do it once, and your book is then launched, like a ship sailing for the first time. You cannot officially launch a ship more than once, but it seems that a book is different; it appears that it can be launched multiple times!

Saying that, the three events that I have planned are all different. The first one is in the British Council, which is the British government’s official cultural body in Lisbon. I chose it as it was always the Holy Grail for English Language teachers when I lived in the city; they run high quality courses there, and were always reputed to pay teachers well. They also have connections with English speaking communities and organizations in Lisbon, which will be useful in promoting the event.

The second event will be in a bookshop specialising in travel books and livraria10literature; Palavra de Viajante (Word of the Traveller), in Rua de São Bento. This will be a lot more informal, in a room at the back of the bookshop where events and readings are held. The space is small enough, and so people will be standing for the duration of the talk. The key difference here is that I will be talking about the book in Portuguese. I have been working on my language for the last couple of months, with this in mind, and have prepared an explanation of the book in Portuguese. This is very important to me; obviously it will be addressed to the locals in their own language, and I would like the book to appeal to the Portuguese as much as to ex-pats.

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My final night there (the 18th), I will be in Bookshop Bivar, (near Arroios). This is a cool little English language bookshop that sells mainly second-hand books, run by a Finnish woman called Leena.  It seems to be a lively place, with regular cultural events and readings and talks by writers.

There is actually an Irish writer called Peter Murphy living in Lisbon at the moment, and he did a reading in Bookshop Bivar recently. I met him on my last visit to the city – he had been living in Canada, and was published there. He P8224800hasn’t lived in Ireland for while, (said it was too cold and too expensive!) though he is involved in an Irish ex-pat group there in Portugal and gave me some useful ideas for promotion and selling the book.

It is a fairly hectic week, to be honest, though I don’t really have a choice, I have to start back to work properly on the 20th of September, after which time I won’t have a second to be going over to Lisbon and launching books. So if I want to get the book out into the Portuguese consciousness, it has to all be done in this short space of time. It is my Portuguese launch window, and I have to take advantage.

One thing I am going to try and do above all else, is to enjoy the experience. I semi-enjoyed the Irish launch, but I was so wracked with nerves, and so afraid that no-one would show up, that I really didn’t have the opportunity to do so properly. And my previous two visits to Lisbon were all work really, promoting and trying to sell the book, so I haven’t really had a chance to enjoy the wonderful city of Lisbon yet.

Well, I have a week, starting next Monday. Most of the work and promotion is done; I can do no more. I have spent most of the last week in Ireland sending emails and messages: to newspapers, language schools, ex-pat organizations, libraries, Facebook pages, publishers, literary agents, and bloggers. I now just have to hope that someone shows up.

THIRTEEN – A YEAR IN LISBON, IN LISBON

I went back to Lisbon last week for the first time in six years. And this was only the second time I had been there since I moved away from Portugal, almost 19 years ago now.

The city began to feel very familiar, very quickly. I spent three years there, back when there was no Euro, back before the financial crises that both Ireland and Portugal went through, back in the twentieth century. So the streets that I walked, the smells that emanated from the shops and restaurants, the grand, old buildings, the bizarre tram rides that move through tiny alleys: all of this was part of a muscle memory that I wasn’t conscious of having but which was there, all the time.

I went there to work on my Portuguese and to try to see if there was any interest among the lisboetas in a book called A Year in Lisbon; a book that was set in their city. I concentrated at first on bookshops, more to look for somewhere to hold a launch than to sell the book. The first place I visited was this small-ish bookshop called Fabula Urbis, just on the edge of the historic area of Alfama and Graça that is so prominent in the book. It is a shop that specialises in books about the city of Lisbon itself. The owner there, João, had a quick look at the book and said that he would buy three, with a possibility of more if they sold.

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That was it, there was no great debate or inquisition. He told me that August was the month that most foreign language books were sold, as that was peak tourist season, so it was a good time to be selling an English language book about Lisbon. I had the same experience when I went to a large book and music store in the very centre, Fnac. I spoke to a manager there, and after a short debate with colleagues, said she would take 20 copies. I had to ask her to repeat, thinking that my ability to understand Portuguese had temporarily collapsed. It was true, they wanted 20. Though this time they weren’t actually buying the book, it was on sale or return. Still, I was a little stunned.

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I visited another few shops (including the amazing Ler Devagar, a bookshop based in a building that used to be a factory, with wall to wall books (pictured above)) and there seemed to be the same interest. It began to dawn on me that a book is a product like anything else (though maybe I should have realized this before then). I was talking to Pedro, a Portuguese friend of mine later, and he was astonished that a bookshop would take a book to sell from an unknown guy who has only written one book, without even reading it. But the fact is that it has “Lisbon” in the title and is written in English, and these two facts alone mean that tourists will probably buy it as a souvenir of their time in Portugal. And in August, Lisbon is full of tourists, and apparently they tend to buy books.

It made me think that this is a definite marketing opportunity for literature in general. My next book is going to be “A Week in Madrid”, followed by “Six Months in Paris,” “Ten days in Berlin,” and maybe even “A Decade in Moscow”! The advantage I have with my book is that there aren’t many novels written that have been set in Lisbon, so it seems to be a selling point.

There is also the fact that the Portuguese are aware that for most of the rest of the world, they are that anonymous country over by Spain. No-one really knows or cares much about Portugal, and the Portuguese know this. So when someone pays them some attention, and writes a book about their capital city, it is something. The book may be rubbish (mine is not), but at least it is about them. I think Irish people can identify with this a little, any little bit of attention we get from the outside world is noteworthy, and feeds into our semi-image. The Portuguese are the same.

I came away thinking that if I can only get a bit of publicity for this novel, I could sell a few copies in Portugal. I have since set the date of the Portuguese launch for September 15th, and am planning to hold it in the British Council there: the British cultural centre that is mainly involved in running English classes, though it is tied to the promotion of British culture and the English language. It is close to the perfect place to have a launch, with its connection to EFL teaching, and to the city itself. Most English teachers in the city know where it is too, which is an added bonus. If I cannot sell a book about an English teacher in Lisbon, to English teachers in Lisbon, then I am in trouble.

That said, there is a certain amount of bureaucracy in bookshops in Portugal that is not present here. For them to even take a few copies on sale or return they have to go through a whole process, with forms and tax numbers and paperwork. One shop actually wanted a few copies but the manager didn’t actually know how to organize buying from me. He had to write to their accounting department to find out. Here, if a bookshop owner wants to take a few books, they will take them and I usually give them a handwritten receipt that both they and I sign. And that’s it. Maybe officially they are supposed to go through more official procedures, but no-one does. In Portugal, it is all red-tape.

Still, there is potential there. I did well sticking “Lisbon” in the title, though I didn’t know it at the time. It has made the book into a saleable commodity, at least there in the city. It also gives me an excuse to go back now and then, to revisit my past, and maybe build something for the future.