That went rather well. In fact, it exceeded expectations.
Today I attended the Appledore Book Festival Friends' Sunday Lunch - with renowned crime author Ian Rankin as the guest. That's right: Ian Rankin of Inspector Rebus fame. The privilege of being there was certainly worth the £20 paid for my 2017 Friend status - although that £20 also let me have first crack at booking tickets for the events on offer during the Festival, before the general public could apply. That was an important advantage to have. I booked a wide range of talks to attend, given by this year's authors. But some events do sell out very quickly, and it happened that tickets for the 'ordinary' Friends' Lunch - this year a yummy indian feast with chef Vivek Singh as the celebrity author - went very quickly indeed. The email to say 'Friends can now make their bookings!' came in as I was driving down to Kent. By the time I was home again that evening, the Friends' Lunch had sold out. Bugger.
Next day I phoned up to lament my bad luck, and ask if I could go onto a reserve list. 'Ah,' said local historian David Carter (he and his wife Jenny handle the Festival ticketing from their Gallery in Appledore, and they know me for a faithful Festival-goer), 'We may be able to arrange another lunch, not with Vivek Singh, but another author. Shall I put you on the list for that?' 'Yes, please, David!' 'And the Vivek Singh lunch too, in case there are any cancellations?' 'Oh yes please!' 'Done. You're seventh on the Vivek Singh reserve list. Sorry it can't be higher, but these lunches are always very popular.' 'I understand. Let's hope the alternative lunch takes place.' And it did get arranged, at the same limited-seating venue - The Seagate, Appledore's poshest hotel and dining spot on the quay - and I got my ticket as soon as the email came through.
So there I was, all dolled up in my best new outfit, at 2.00pm this afternoon. This is the outfit:
The restaurant at The Seagate is on a mezzanine section of the ground floor, towards the back of the building, and doors lead out onto a rear patio, where, if you don't mind the breeze, you can eat al fresco. There is a central round table, with several other tables around it, including one or two in snug alcoves. Mr Rankin was going to be on the central table. I chose the table with the best light coming from behind me, and therefore nicely illuminating anybody sitting opposite me on my table. In due course that would be Ian Rankin, for before and after the serving of the food he was going to visit each table in turn, sitting with its occupants and talking to them for a few minutes. I was keen to get a decent shot or two of him if I possibly could.
I was on my own, but there another person also there who was clearly not with anybody, so I caught his eye and asked him over. I didn't mind seeming to be Billie No-Mates, but it was better to offer company to another unattached person. His name was Chris. He lived in Bideford, and was actually married, but his wife was doing something else that afternoon. He was a very pleasant man. I had no problem at all chatting away with him. We faced two empty seats. Mr Rankin would sit in one of those. And if I dared to ask, and he acquiesced, I could nip into the seat beside him, and get Chris to take a few shots of us with Tigerlily. Serendipitously, it turned out that Chris was something of a photographer himself, and well-used to taking snaps with a phone. All set up, then!
And amazingly, I got what I wanted. Ian Rankin seemed to really enjoy meeting total strangers intent on asking him questions, and wanting a souvenir photo or two. What a top man. Mind you, I did wonder whether he was himself on the alert to discover people of singular personality or mannerisms whom he could use as models for characters in his books. Or at any rate, not get stuck with humdrum admirers. In which case, I hope he struck gold in my case. I may be mistaken, but (not unlike many of my friends) I am surely unconventional, and even frankly unusual, in the way I come across. And I wouldn't be offended if I were immortalised as a well-meaning but unbearable character in a future book!
Anyway, here are the shots of the man arriving - and giving our table a glance - and a little later, of him sitting with us, apparently in a high good humour. Many thanks, Chris!
Inevitability we concentrated on his creation Inspector Rebus, the Edinburgh detective with emotional baggage and a seriously unhealthy lifestyle. There wasn't time to enquire how much of the fictional character John Rebus was really drawn from the real-life Ian Rankin. A simple Jekyll-and-Hyde scenario seemed too glib. I wanted to know more. But I had a second chance to put a question to Mr Rankin after dessert, after Chris had left to have a walk around Appledore before catching his bus home. The restaurant was emptying, but the central table was still occupied with Ian Rankin, the romantic novelist Veronica Henry, and men from the press, one of them the photographer. There was one empty seat. Shamelessly, I walked over, asked if I could join them, and slid into that seat. I wasn't after photos now. I just wanted more conversation. Nobody seemed to mind. (You can never say of me that, in a situation like this, I lack bare-faced self-confidence)
I was sat next to the press photographer, and he was checking his recently-taken shots of veteran broadcaster Peter Snow and his wife. He let me see. I asked Ian Rankin what kind of shots he liked taken of himself. 'Well, nowadays I don't want any really,' he said, 'At least not the usual portraits you see on the covers of books.' And he told us how a writer friend of his - also in his fifties - went into contortions to make the paperback cover photo look good. He'd hide his sagging chin and throat by placing his right hand just so, then twist himself around to look over a shoulder. This performance (which Ian Rankin demonstrated) hid the effects of good living and encroaching older age, and it was what the publishers wanted anyway. When he had sat at our table, I noticed that he was drinking beer, and I'd said to him, 'I thought you were a whisky man?' And I'd offered to buy him one if he intended to linger after lunch. I now repeated that offer, but no, he was going for a stroll. Hey-ho, I tried! No chat at the bar then. It was however the nearest I'd yet got to securing a private interview with a celebrity writer.
Outside again, I immediately ran into Dave and Sandra, a couple from Milton Keynes who were holidaying in Appledore and staying at The Seagate. I'd sat next to them the previous day, at the Ann Cleeves event. We seemed to get on. We had apparently both visited Whitley Bay (where Ann Cleeves lived) on the same day last June. Then Chris arrived, his walk finished. Had I enjoyed my lunch with Ian Rankin? Oh yes! I showed them the best shot that Chris had taken of us together. Then I took a picture of the three of them:
Nice place, nice people.