Thursday, 22 November 2007

Book signings

OK, today I feel like a real published writer – I’ve had my first signing gig confirmed. It’s at Heffer’s in Cambridge on the 10th of January, almost a week after Testament is published.
Sophie, MNW’s publicist has arranged for myself and two other MNW writers – Aliya Whiteley and Faye L. Booth – to meet the Heffer’s reading group for lunch and then sign some books. I say all this as if it’s an everyday thing but, clearly, it’s not. I get excited when I go to get a book signed by somebody so quite what I’m going to be like when I’m the one doing the signing, is anybody’s guess.

The last signing I went to was a Waterstone’s evening event at which the author spoke about his book and then stayed around afterwards chatting and signing. The author in question – Daniel Tammet - has Asperger’s Syndrome. He is also a mathematical savant and holds the European record for reciting pi to 22,514 decimal places. Committing this many digits to memory took him three months and reciting them took 5 hours and 9 minutes.
The thought of being able simply to read that many digits without error would be next to impossible for me (I hate numbers) and I have to stand back in simple awe at the thought of Daniel’s achievement.

One of the reasons he managed to do it is that he has synaesthesia – ie his brain processes information in terms of more than one sense at a time. His book is called Born on a Blue Day and Daniel begins his memoir with the words

‘I was born on 31 January 1979 – a Wednesday. I know it was a Wednesday, because the date is blue in my mind and Wednesdays are always blue, like the number nine or the sound of loud voices arguing.’

For Daniel, as a synaesthete, the thousands of numbers he recited to break the European record were like a landscape in his mind:

‘..as I recited I could feel myself becoming absorbed within the visual flow of colours and shapes, textures and motion, until I was surrounded by my numerical landscapes.’

Daniel was, in some sense, travelling through a country filled with numbers, a country he had travelled through numous times in the three months which he spent learning the twenty two and a half thousand digits and – in a way I find it almost impossible even to imagine– he was revisiting this landscape as he reeled off the numbers.

But for me, Daniel’s feat of memory is even more remarkable because of his Asperger’s syndrome. He did not sit in a room all by himself, watched by a monitor whilst he broke the European record. He did it for a charity – The National Society for Epilepsy – in public, with people wandering in and out of the hall the organisation was using for the event throughout the five hours of his recitation. Most people with Asperger’s syndrome dislike being watched and Daniel is no exception:

‘Though I had worried most of all about reciting pi in front of so mnay people, in the end I almost did not notice them as all of my thoughts were absorbed in the rhythmic and continuous flow of numbers.’

But he voluntarily put himself on the line for the charity and because, as Born on a Blue Day demonstrates chapter after chapter, Daniel Tammet has never let the fact that he has Asperger’s syndrome stop him from setting himself challenges (like learning Icelandic in a week and then going on national television to be interviewed in that language) and overcoming them.

He is clearly and amazing man and Born on a Blue Day is a moving and extremely readable book.

4 comments:

Akasha Savage said...

Ooooh...your first book signing!
How exciting.

Akasha Savage said...

PS. You've been tagged! Go on my blog for more details.

Leigh Russell said...

Oh wow! A book signing. Now that's exciting. Enjoy every minute of it - and the anticipation. You are the author!!!
Thanks for your kind comments on my blog.

Faye L. Booth said...

Small world, this internet thingy! Hello Alis, and welcome to the blog universe - I look forward to meeting you in January (although it's been pushed forward to later in the month now, hasn't it?). You'll love the booksigning experience, I'm sure, although if you're anything like me, you'll be a bit stunned by it all!

FLB