Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Thief

I went to a party last week. It was held by Penguin in their Camberwell offices. They have these little parties twice a year, and invite all their authors whose books have been published recently. I scored a flag, because of The Life of a Teenage Body-snatcher. I knew most of the people there. I'm not big-noting, I'm just old. Jane Tanner, Sofie Laguna, Marc McBride, Terry Denton, Sherryl Clark, Margaret Clark, Graeme Base, Felice Arena, Gabrielle Wang and Craig Smith were all present and looking dandy. Especially Craig, who had ridden his bike all the way from Brunswick. Penguin editor and writer Jane Godwin gave a brief speech about what good books we'd all written, and I heckled only a little bit and everything was just fine. Except ... they didn't give us any free books this time. They did once. There used to be a lucky dip where you reached into a box of shredded newsprint and took out a mystery book, wrapped in brown paper, that was yours to keep. Since these books were always by other guests at the party, it was sometimes possible to pick out which packages might be more enticing than others. Graeme Base books were big and hard and highly desirable. At one of these lucky dips, writer and illustrator Alison Lester wanted a copy of my book, Siggy and Amber. This was very nice of her. I'd read her book, The Quicksand Pony, and enjoyed it.
But since Siggy and Amber was an average-sized book, B5 format with about 220 pages, Alison didn't want to risk picking the wrong book out of the lucky dip. So, she went up to the Penguin stand where my book was displayed, then she looked both ways and nicked it. After all, Alison reassured me, since it was a display book, it would undoubtedly be given away anyway. And it wasn't really stealing. There would be a spare book left in the lucky dip box that Penguin could keep. It was more of an exchange - and any bookstore lets you do that. Unless of course it's Borders, where you have to pay twice for the privilege. Anyway, Alison's minor act of civil disobedience is one of the sweetest things that anyone has ever done for me. I signed the book for Alison then went back to the queue for the lucky dip. But it occurred to me, did I really want an Aussie Nibble? There were at least three of them left in the lucky dip box and I just didn't want to ruin my chance of getting something really good, especially as one of Sonya Hartnett's books was in there. And so, emboldened by Alison, I stole - or preemptively exchanged - the Sonya Hartnett book I wanted from the display shelf and pretended I had been lucky enough to find it in the lucky dip. I asked Sonya if she would sign it for me. Ah, but Sonya had already signed a copy of The Ghost's Child that someone else had plucked from the lucky dip. She knew that something was amiss. And so, this is what she wrote:
It's my favourite inscription of all time. It's also one of my favourite books. But I think that Alison Lester and I might be the reason why we didn't get a lucky dip this time. We nobbled it, and I do apologise. Especially to Craig, who rode all the way from Brunswick.


Dmetri K said...

Dr Mr Doug Marc McBride was not at the recent Penguin party, though his gorgeous wife and child were. You must have seen a spirit projection. Do you also see dead people?

DougMacLeod said...

I don't see dead people. Well, not many. I could have sworn I saw Marc, but maybe because he's Sofie Laguna's handsome fella and they are so often together I just envisaged him as being present. I really must start looking at people as individuals. After all, repeat after me, 'We are all individuals!'