Jane Westaway sells a book and wonders how.
Eleven years ago I published a novel. Last Wednesday I received my latest royalty statement. Somewhere out there, I understand, are authors who, along with their statements, get cheques that go some way towards paying their power bill. I’m not one of them. Forget the regal connotations of the term: the sums involved would scarcely buy a couple of lattes, let alone pay a king’s ransom.
This particular statement bore the astounding news – albeit couched in sternly businesslike terms – that in the six months ending September, some bookshop somewhere in the country had sold a copy of Good at Geography.
I had to find a chair. What on earth could have prompted this unknown buyer to approach a shop counter with cold hard cash in exchange for an efficiently wrapped copy of 280 11-year-old pages of adult fiction?
Had Mystery Purchaser actually wanted Fifty Shades of Grey, and a sly assistant slipped them my novel instead, just to get it off the premises? It seems unlikely. My cover is blue. No, the only convincing explanation is that Mystery Purchaser bought the book because he thought it was written by the other Jane Westaway.
You see, I happen to know that the OJW is well-read and popular, with friends eager to support her creative endeavours. My proffered library card once brought onscreen the impressive list of books currently on loan to her. And, even more tellingly, I was one day waiting for some unpleasant medical procedure or other when a nurse bounded into the waiting room and swept me into a warm embrace before realising she’d got the wrong one.
The OJW used to work with her, the crestfallen friend explained, and had left routine employment to do something arty. Given the nice nurse’s disappointment, is it so unlikely that, her departed friend still on her mind, she wandered out at lunchtime to browse the shelves of the local bookshop and picked up and paid for my novel in the belief that it was penned by the OJW?
I can only imagine the depth of her regret when she slipped into bed that night with her hottie and my novel to discover she had got the wrong one yet again. Yes, the flyleaf bears an author pic, but it’s the size of a postage stamp, its poor quality further undermined by cheap paper. Besides which, people change. Especially if they have to earn a living as a writer.
Scenario two, however, isn’t beyond the bounds of possibility. This time Mystery Purchaser is a man. And he isn’t browsing the bookshop shelves so much as dashing his head against them. It’s her birthday tomorrow, he’s got to get something, and he’s got to get it now. This one has her favourite colour on the cover and is respectably substantial. Do they gift-wrap? Thank God.
Sorry, Mystery Purchaser’s wife. It wasn’t my fault. And books do furnish a room, you know.
My last attempt to account for the inexplicable features a schoolgirl sulkily trying to divest herself of that most tedious of birthday presents, the book token. The whole thing is just like so boring and she’d much rather just like give the dumb thing to Mum or whatever, and what’s wrong with money as a present, but Mum says no, she has to choose a book because that’s what Auntie Joan wanted and part of the pleasure of giving … blah blah blah.
She’s way too old for the kids’ section. And she’s not going to even look on the young adult shelf because they don’t really believe you’re a young adult or they wouldn’t keep telling you what to do and what to think and it’s just, like, so patronising.
This name’s vaguely familiar. The weather girl? Someone’s mum? A New Zealand Idol finalist? Whatever. Let’s get out of here.
Mum is delighted – “Terrific,” she says, turning the book over. “She wrote that one you read in year nine, didn’t she.”
Teenage Buyer opens her mouth to utter something scathing. Then shuts it fast. Oh god, she’s gone and bought a book written by someone she had to read for school. That’s just like so dumb.
And with that, I’m afraid, we reach the limits of my imagination.
Nevertheless, I’ve decided that whoever you are, Mystery Purchaser, you deserve recognition. So, on presentation of proof of purchase, I will offer you the choice of any one of seven drafts of my novel (produced at the rate of one per year between 1993 and 2000). Overseas libraries pay for this stuff, you know.
But hang on, it’s just occurred to me that the person who bought my book might be the OJW herself. Now I come to think of it that’s the obvious explanation. She was curious to see what her namesake had produced. Eager to discover what had been published in her name, while she had wisely – as I discovered on the back of a Christmas card from a friend – taken up illustration.
If you’re reading this, OJW, and it was you who bought my novel, don’t think you’re exempt from my offer. One day those drafts could be worth real money, you know. In the meantime, perhaps you’d be willing to teach me how to design greeting cards.