The week before Monday 17th June, I had been asked to come back to Headline for one more mystery extra day. I almost declined because I was moving back home that weekend and preparing to get cracking with my Major Project. LUCKILY I had an inkling that something special might be happening, reconsidered and sorted out a train ticket for what was probably one of the best and most bizarre days of my life: being publicity assistant to Neil Gaiman. Having spent four weeks preparing showcards, posters, and bookmarks, packaging up review copies, and posting them out, collating press mentions, and desperately wanting to read The Ocean at the End of the Land, the book buzz was ever present and this day was the perfect culmination of an amazing month.
I hopped on a train from Oxfordshire to London in order to get to the office at 8.30am –and finally got to read bit of the book on the way. There’s nothing quite like not wanting to stop reading but realising that soon you’d be meeting the mastermind behind the book in which you became so instantly engrossed, despite the early hour!
By the time we were done at 9.30am we had filled the room. It looked pretty incredible.
Enter Neil Gaiman, who took a laughing stumble back upon being greeted with an Ocean of Oceans.
Beau set up a time relay camera to capture the next hour and a half, in which Neil would sign 1300 books with only a small break for a cup of tea and to refill his fountain pen. My role was to make sure the books were ready to be passed on, so I was corner shuffler in The Ocean at the End of the Lane production line. Hi ho.
Check out the video of the super speedy signing here!
In my role as assistant to Sam, we had to make sure things ran smoothly throughout the day. After a quick trip to collect the food for brunch, I set up the dishes ready for a small gathering of the department staff ready to drink a toast to Ocean. Mr Gaiman thanked his editor, managing director Jane Morpeth, and told us how patient she'd been in regards to the book’s evolution from short story, to oops a bit of a novella, to oh I have appeared to have accidentally written a novel. Sorry!
Neil was ready to sign another 250 books for his eagerly awaiting fans. I managed the queue at the desk, making sure everyone filled in the gaps and kept moving up the line. We flapped the books and got names on post-its to save time as we only had an hour to get through everybody waiting. There was huge excitement in the line, with people from all around the world who were lucky enough (or dedicated enough) to be nearby. Neil managed to talk to each person, recognising some fans and greeting new fans from young to old. I let people get their photos whilst they waited, but was also keeping an eye out for people trying to sneak in extra books to be signed as there was a strict one book per person rule. As the camera flashes from the rest of the customers behind the barriers kept popping, the ninja signing went lightning quick, and despite the fast pace, everyone in the queue had their moment.
And with that we were off to the next location, hopping back in the car. With a twenty minute break for lunch, there was just enough time for Sam to check emails and respond to urgent publicity requests, whilst I ran across the street to fetch us some coffee. This was the time to take stock and reflect on the morning, whilst preparing for the afternoon events.
Next up was a trip to the MagicFM studios, where Neil would be recording a podcast with Empire magazine. After another drive through London, we arrived at the studio and were greeted by the staff. It was fascinating to see all the different stations represented by the people at their desks, plus the tiny recording studio booths in which the interview took place. We could see through the window as the presenters spoke to Neil, but couldn't hear anything. For the publicity team, all there was to do now was keep an eye on emails and wait while the recording was done.
(At this point, Chris Colfer walked by to record his own interview for a radio book club discussion of The Land of Stories, I met some lovely staff from Atom publishing, and my star struck day doubled. Many many moments of muttering 'what is my life?')
This incredibly interesting discussion wrapped up at 5.30pm, which was when I thought the day would be over. But Sam was able to surprise me with an extra ticket for Neil's highly anticipated sold out theatre event that night, with the Royal Society of Literature.
We drove to the theatre and went backstage, where I got to listen to Claire Armitstead's sound check before finding my seat with the Headline staff. With wifi in the theatre, the event was being blogged and questions were live tweeted. The theatre filled, the atmosphere was buzzing with excitement. There were people dressed up as Neil’s characters in the audience, some familiar famous faces, and many noses buried within the pages of the book by people who simply couldn’t wait a moment longer. As Neil walked on to stage he was greeted by huge cheers and applause.
Neil also read an extract from the beginning of Ocean – the same chapter I had been able to read that morning. He discussed the mythology of Ocean and the dedication of his fans. It was an amazing event and I felt incredibly lucky to have been able to attend.
As Neil headed to a wrap party before catching his flight back to the USA to begin his American tour, I headed home, with my mind truly blown. It was very hard to stop smiling.
Whilst the day was surreal and extraordinary, I still learnt a great deal from Sam about how to run a successful publicity campaign, and how to execute it on the road. Running on adrenaline for most of the day, it is vital to possess the ability to respond to the unexpected. Being friendly and talkative with the client is good, as well as knowing when to give them space and let them catch their breath between appearances. A printed schedule definitely helps to keep on top of the day, but things WILL change. Don’t panic. On the road you get to meet lots of people. The most important thing is to help the client feel as comfortable as possible during a high pressure day. And wear comfortable shoes!
I had the most amazing time as an intern at Headline and would definitely recommend my fellow publishing students apply for their internship scheme.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a gorgeous, dark reflection on the gaps in childhood memory, the hazy recollections and frightening truths that you never knew were hidden from you. A world where grown ups are powerful, scary and in charge. The fantastic flights of imagination that can turn shadows into monsters. And just what, exactly, is in the bucket?