The good, the bad and the lovely: signing coeliac books at the Allergy Show

Today sees the publication of my book, Coeliac Disease: What you need to know. It has slightly crept up on me, as it was unclear when exactly in May it would hit the shelves, but my publisher has confirmed that today’s the day.

As I recounted a few days ago, last weekend I was at the Allergy Show, selling advance copies. It was my first ‘book signing’ (of sorts) and it was great fun. When my first two books on food intolerance and on food allergy came out, I didn’t get the chance to engage directly with readers, and probably wouldn’t have had the confidence to do so even if I had, given I was new to authoring. But with several books now under my belt it felt surprisingly natural to both meet and talk to potential readers about my book, and promote it.

The event was extremely busy – ten thousand visitors over three days – and our modest stand did get a bit overwhelmed at times. But it was invigorating to be so stimulated and questioned by curious coeliacs. Lots of people flicked through the book when invited, and many made positive comments even if they didn’t buy a copy. “It feels good in my hands,” was perhaps the oddest complement I got!

I was asked a lot of questions about why I wrote the book and what it contained that was new and important – and rather than repeat what I’ve already said elsewhere, see my article on Foods Matter in response to those questions, and which seemed to satisfy most sceptics.

I was also asked what qualified me to write the book. There were raised eyebrows when I told visitors I wasn’t coeliac, but I’ll repeat what I said: it’s an advantage, to my mind, to write a self-help book on a condition you don’t have, because it compels you to research it in great depth and interview many sufferers and experts – and you’re unable to fall back on your own thoughts and experiences, which may not be representative of those of others.

Not everything went swimmingly and there were some amusing moments… I forgive the lady who thought I was a woman (before she’d met me, I might add); I forgive those who were clearly fishing for a free copy (if only you knew how much I earn…); I forgive the lady who took one flick through the book, went “Urgh – no pictures!” and promptly dropped it like a nuked potato (I laughed all day); and I forgive the girl who got sticky chocolate fingers all over a copy (we’d given her the chocolates, after all).

But I can’t yet forgive the lady with sticky fingers of a different kind. A writer colleague of mine, Simon Whaley, had warned me that, very occasionally, books were prone to go missing in action at such events, and one dutifully took its leave. It’s fair to say I was pretty upset, given I’d paid for the copies, was making little on them on the day, and put four or five months of my life into writing the book. If you’re reading this, madam (for I was surrounded by madams at the time, without a sir in sight), I hope you find what you’re looking for and then realise that a donation to Coeliac UK might be in order.

Enough of that. Everyone else more than made up for it. I felt humble when some took the time to thank me for taking an interest in the ‘unsexy’ subject of coeliac and for raising awareness of the disease. And the delight of people when I offered to sign their copies will stay with me for a long time. I was really quite touched – especially by those too shy to look me in the eye.

My highlight? Undoubtedly the lady who mistook me for the author of the book’s foreword, Dr Chris Steele. I thought she seemed a little too happy to see me…


  1. Emma

    I have been on both sides of the book signing table now, and I think they can be equally nerve-wracking! Especially if the author is someone you really respect…. My worst experience was a very popular author, and the first time I'd queued to have a book signed. When I shyly asked him if he would sign my book (which was for someone else, in fact), I got a very terse "that's why I'm here". I realise a sense of humour failure can set in after a long day signing, but I don't think I've bought one of his books since!

  2. Alex G

    He sounds rather miserable. He'd probably had a long day not-signing rather than signing and was grumpy because of it!


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