I met Sparkle Hayter 15 years ago or more. My brother Shayne thought it would be a good idea to broaden his horizons so he arranged for me and him to go to a book reading.
Andrew Miller, Bryce Courtenay and Sparkle Hayter. They would speak about their latest work and then answer questions. All in one of the conference rooms of the King George hotel in downtown Toronto.
I liked Andrew. He roamed the world for years while he wrote his book “Ingenious Pain”. He seemed uncomfortable in a room full of people and I can’t remember what was asked of him but he did not seem eager to speak. Without going to the internet to double check my internal knowledge, I think he only has one more book to his name. “Casanova”. I am sure, at least, about that book. I bought it the day it came out.
Bryce came next. I think he was talking about “Tommo and Hawk”. What I remember from his talk was that he started with “Well, I don’t know about taking years and years to write a book like Andrew. I wrote mine in 6 months, writing for 10 or 12 hours a day, 7 days a week until I was done.” And that earned him a round of applause.
Now, after the fact, I learned that Courtenay wrote the world-changing novel “The Power Of One”. I didn’t know that at the time. At the time I thought he was an arrogant sonovabitch who was elevating himself at the expense of another. I don’t care who who are, but that is underhanded and offside.
Courtenay went on a journey of storytelling about his life in South Africa. He told it in what I can only call a booming fashion. Lots of gestures, a very loud voice, but I cannot remember a word of what he said. What I can remember is that he made me feel uncomfortable. He was talkimg about how much he thought of himself and not about his book.
After Courtenay was done there was a short break. Drink coffee. smoke cigarettes (yes, that’s how long ago this was. You could smoke indoors and not feel like a fucking leper. I don’t smoke anymore, but still, I think smokers have the message. Please. if they are respecting the distance between your lungs, the lungs of your loved ones, and their own lungs, then leave them be, okay?) and then when you are done relaxing you could go to the author’s tables and get a signed copy of their book.
Andrew’s table didn’t have much of a lineup. I got a copy of his book. I still have it. It is kept next to my Bodley Head edition of James Joyce’s “Ulysses”.
Courtenay had a mob of people, most of them had many copies of his books and they wanted for them all to be signed. I’ve seen copies of his books on sale since then. Big, mammoth books that they would make excellent doorstops or paperweights. I’ve not read one of them. Not even the famous ”Power Of One”, which was made into a movie starring James Earl Jones. And, for the record, even though James Earl Jones has been in a great number of my favourite movies, even though he is the voice of one of the greatest movie characters in the history of movie characters, I have not seen nor made an effort to see “Power Of One”.
After I got my paperback signed by Andrew, I went for a smoke. My brother Shayne has kept to himself the whole time. I think now he enjoyed more seeing me watch other authors than anything else. I don’t remember Shayne ever being much of a smoker. At this point in his life. I think he worked hardest at making a name for himself at his chosen career.
An older woman controlled the attention of the people at the smokers table. She described how as a manager it was her job to size up people and determine their character in a short period of time.
“As a matter of fact, I can tell a lot about a person based on how they smoke a cigarette.”
This person then went on to perform a detailed examination of a complete stranger. Everyone else remained silent. I kept quiet because I was embarrassed and aghast that someone would do such a thing in public. Reflecting on it now, I wonder if everyone kept to themselves to avoid being subject to the same examination.
“So,” the manager smiled when she finished. “Did I get it right? Did I describe you to yourself accurately.”
I don’t remember that the person answered or not.
I do remember the look on the mamager’s face was that she felt her question was rhetorical. She went to put out her smoke when an attractive blonde lady spoke up.
“Say,” the blonde said. “I think I’ve got the hang of this.”
“Really?” the manager said.
“Yeah,” the blonde lady said. “I bet, based on how you mashed out your smoke just now, and your posture and the way you’re standing, that you’re a real bitch.” The blonde smiled. “Did I get it right?”
The manager was stumped. She put out her cigarette and left.
The blonde shrugged and went on to chit chat with us for a while but the buzz sounded and we had to go back into the conference room.
It’s no surprise to you now but imagine how agape I was when Sparkle Hayter was introduced and it was the attractive blonde who stumped the bitch. She was funny and engaging onstage and talked about her book and her life and I crushed on her large, although I was light years out of her league.
When her bit was over I made sure to rush to her table and get her to sign her book for me, “The Last Manly Man”. It’s generally regarded as ‘chick lit’, but as a young man who proudly read “Hello, God. Are You There? It’s me, Margaret”, I can safely tell you that ‘chick lit’ is a ridiculous classification of literature and it should never be pigeonholed like that and anybody who does, mashes out their smokes like an asshole. I know. I can tell. I’ve been trained.
I still have my signed copy along with the rest of her Robin Hudson mysteries.
The book is packed away for now. And I think I can remember what she wrote, mostly because I was trying to be as witty and clever as her in hopes of getting her attention and wanting her to remember me.
“What’s your name?” she asked. At this point, she remembered me from the table and her smile warmed the cockles of my heart, let me tell you.
I told her my name.
“And how do you spell that?” she asked, smiling again.
“I’m not sure, ” I said. “Try spelling it with a silent Q”.
A line from “Who’s Harry Crumb?” was the best I could manage.
So, that’s how she signed it.
“To Rob, spelled with a silent Q. Who now has a degree on the psychology behind putting out cigarettes”.
Since that time I’ve met quite a few other authors, and studied for a very short time under one if them. By and far, they are all good people and treated me and my feeble storytelling skills with dignity (but they always didn’t go so far to say I was any good, which means they are an indulgent and honest lot, to boot) but, man, not a one of them hold a candle to Sparkle Hayter.
You can google (sic) her or wiki (sic) her but whatever you read of her will forever be a fraction of who she is.