Robert Glancy’s debut novel Terms & Conditions tells the story of a lawyer specialising in jargon-filled small print and footnotes no one ever reads, whose life unravels after an apparent road accident. He looks back with fond imagination on a book tour that turned out nothing like a car crash.
The launch of my first book has resulted in some amazing moments. The first thing that happened was that I started receiving invitations from famous people. Today I had dinner with New Zealand’s highest-paid athlete, Tiger Woods’ caddy, Steve Williams (that’s right: New Zealand’s highest-paid athlete is a caddy). Steve told outrageous stories and I was lucky enough to be seated between Eleanor Catton, who won the Booker, and Kiwi pop sensation Lorde, who won everything else. At one point I told a joke and, just for a second – in that warm moment when everyone was laughing at something I’d said – I looked around and thought: this is so incredible, I can’t believe it’s actually happening… 1
1 And that’s because it wasn’t actually happening. It was just my daft imagination blowing a fuse.
Once recovered from my delusion, I settled back to my present reality. Which is: far from famous friends, I’m a bearded recluse writing my second book in a shack in a coastal nowheresville called Opoutere. My only company is two sparrows that flit about my shack. I’ve named them Amis and Updike.
Drove to town to see if I had any post; maybe celebrities use snail mail. There were five people there (not in the post office; in the whole town). But I had mail! 2
2 From my mum saying if I was supposed to be this big-shot writer now, how come I couldn’t write her a letter from time to time.
I told everyone I didn’t want to do this diary because my day is this dull: woke up; wrote for eight hours 3; fell asleep.
3 Actually I spent eight hours rearranging a five-word sentence, then despaired, and cried a bit.
Found a dead shark on the beach! It was ten foot 4 and a Great White 5 6.
4 It was three foot.
5 OK, it was just a Reef Shark.
6 It was a penguin.
Walked an hour up the mountain trying to get reception on my phone; probably a lot of famous people trying to text me to say well done on the book. At the summit the endless pine forests stretched out like something from a Stephen King novel. Then I heard it: the sound of a text plopping into my phone. It was Vodafone saying I had such low activity on my account that they wanted to check I was still alive.
Started talking to Amis and Updike today. Nothing too odd, I just said, “Morning chaps.” It’s a perfectly normal thing to do when you’re lonely. 7
7 It’s only if they talk back that I need to worry.
Spent the morning pressing send/receive convinced all the incoming emails from Jay-Z and Obama must be stuck in my lame internet connection. To test the internet was working I sent myself an email: I instantly received my email. Bugger.
Spent all day playing Who’ll Blink First? with a colon. I lost.
Returned to town. On a scorching summer’s day I stood in a hot shop in flip-flops trying on scarves in preparation for my UK book tour. The wool felt like alien fabric. I put a beanie on and my brain began to melt.
Packed my bags for my UK book tour. Bit nervous. Not worn shoes for months and have only spoken to sparrows. Not sure how well this is going to go. I shaved off my beard, panic fluttered up my throat, and right then the sparrows flitted into my shack and I said “So long Amis and Updike, I’m off to make a complete fool of myself.” Updike said “Remember, Robert: celebrity is the mask that eats the face.” And Amis said “Hey Updike, stop being a pretentious butthole.” 8
8 Of course they didn’t really say that; Amis is an English sparrow and would never use the word butthole.
For Valentine’s I sat for 30 hours in a metal tube full of other people’s farts, otherwise known as the long-haul flight from Auckland to London. In Sydney I was informed that Australia’s summer bushfires are blazing; 26 hours later I arrived in London to find the UK drowning. Only a matter of time before IKEA starts selling kit arks. Great to be back in London though. 9
9 Just one question: Did another ten million people move to London while I was away? This city is full.
Good news! The Chiswick branch of Waterstones has already sold out of my book. 10
10 My mum bought both copies.
Did my first ever interview. It was a discombobulating experience. I sort of sat behind myself like a ventriloquist whose puppet had started chatting of its own free will, and thought, What the hell did that dumb puppet just say about me? They asked who’d play the main character in the film version of my book. I meant to say Martin Freeman (the chap from The Office) but I think I may have said Morgan Freeman.
Some people came to see my first ‘reading’, organised by the Edinburgh Bookshop. They braved the Scottish rain and sat gently steaming together in the room. I think most of the audience was awake most of the time, so that was a good sign. The Morningside Library I read in is close to where I lived when I was a student in Scotland. When I was 15 I left Malawi and moved to Edinburgh and the cultural shock was sharpened by the fact that my family lived in an all-girls’ school while I attended an all-boys’ school. Our accommodation was part of mum’s job as a matron. We lived in the sixth-form girls’ house and there were still fragments of the girls who once lived there. A little graffito in the loo: Mel Kissed Matt. And a payphone screwed to the wall in the corridor which would ring and a guy would pant, What colour are your panties wee lass? I’d say, I am not a wee lass! And I certainly don’t wear panties! I wasn’t upset by the calls, but I could imagine how upset the pervert was. First off, how desperate must you be to resort to panting down a telephone line? His previous calls would have resulted in giggling girls, now he got me: a squeaky boy with a strange African accent. I’m sure the perv put the phone down, shook his head, yet another small pleasure taken from him, and said, Ah shite! I’m gannae have ta find a new school ta perve at! As the perv dealt with his own small life-change I was left to deal with some rather fundamental ones. 11
11 After my reading, I dropped past the school and it was not there. I thought maybe the whole thing was part of some weird false memory, but apparently it was shut down just a few years ago.
Forum Book Event, Corbridge. Met my lovely editor Helen and my amazing super-agent Stan for the first time and did a reading event in this gorgeous Northumberland town, where it seems everyone I met was a writer. Stan and his brilliant wife hosted the evening and I think it went well. Best question of the night: What is more important to you, breakfast, dry clothes or literature?
Bristol Festival of Ideas, Spike Island. An evening at Spike Island (which is not really an island) with the lovely people of Bristol. Best question of the day: Where did you get that weird accent of yours from? The last time I was in Bristol I was four and I was dying. A disease had infected my collarbone and was quickly killing me. I’d just had a botched operation in Zambia and then was flown to Bristol where they opened me up again and cut out an inch or so of rotten collarbone. So in the best possible way Bristol scarred me for life. I don’t have any long-term effect from the surgery; I’m just a little bit wonky. 12
12 The X-ray of my collarbone shows an unfinished pale bridge where the two sides have yet to meet. My right shoulder compensated for the lack of collarbone by building extra muscle. So I have a skinny Barbie arm on the left and slightly bigger Ken arm on the right.
The book tour is over and I’m off to France to live for a few months and divide my time between cat-sitting and writing Book Two. Who knows, I might even befriend a couple of French sparrows. I already have names picked out: Camus and Sartre. 13
13 Full Disclosure: Not every word of this diary is true. But I did live in an all-girls’ school, I did lose my right collarbone, and I was once on the same ferry as Lorde.
Robert Glancy was born in Zambia and raised in Malawi. At 14 he moved from Africa to Edinburgh then went on to study history at Cambridge, before working in London in public relations. He lives in New Zealand with his wife and children. Terms & Conditions is published in hardback and eBook by Bloomsbury. Read more.
“This great debut feels fresh and playful, and exceptionally readable… Every book seems to have ‘funny and life-affirming’ written on it but this one actually is.”
Matt Haig, author of The Humans
“Hilarious and heartbreaking in equal measures… It’s an assured first novel; engaging, absorbing and incredibly life-affirming.”