Well, what a disappointing day the first of January 2014 was. After spending all December reading the tabloid press (and the Telegraph as well), I’d whipped myself up into a state of some excitable frenzy at the thought of 50,000 Bulgarians trooping past my door from the first of January. So in the spirit of Anglo-Bulgarian friendship, back in December I ordered in five thousand copies of my Bulgaria-based novel, The Descent of the Lyre. What a sales opportunity, I thought: fifty thousand homesick Bulgarians filing past my door, finding their feet in a new country. They would see my book, feel a pang of nostalgia, and snap up a copy.
So on New Year’s Day, I set up a table outside my house, with Bulgarian and British flags flapping in the January breeze. I made a sign in English (and Bulgarian too — thanks to Google translate, as I’ve sadly forgotten most of the Bulgarian I once knew) reading “Welcome, fellow citizens of the EU!”, followed by a brief outline of the book, and a special celebratory price in UK pounds and Bulgarian levs. Then I stacked up my five thousand books, ready to make some sales, made myself a big plate of shopska salata to chew on as I waited, poured myself a glass of good rakiya, and sat down to wait.
A couple of neighbours passed walking their dogs. They asked me what I was up to. I told them I was waiting for the Bulgarians. One of my neighbours shrugged and said, fatalistically, “We all are, mate! We all are!” The other neighbour just looked confused. A little later, some kids came past on skateboards. “What are you doing?” they asked. “I’m waiting for the Bulgarians. I’m going to sell them some books.” “Are they your books?” they asked. “Yes,” I said. “Are you famous?” one of them said. “Of course he’s not fucking famous,” another one said. “He’s sitting outside a house in Leicester trying to sell books. He’s not famous, he’s desperate.” The kids went on their way.
By noon, no Bulgarians had appeared. I decided to plug in my laptop speakers and blast out Valya Balkanska’s famous tune, Izlel e delyo haydutin, the one that Carl Sagan liked so much that he put it on a golden record on the Voyager 2 space probe, so that aliens could listen to it as well. I wept a little to hear Valya’s voice: it is a very sad tune. Then, as I sat there sobbing into my shopska salata, my next-door neighbours came out and told me to turn down the music, because it was new year’s day and they were hungover. I wiped dry my eyes and turned off the music.
By three thirty in the afternoon, the rain started. By three forty-five, the books were getting wet. By four o’clock, it was already dark. I finished off the rakiya (had I drunk the whole bottle? How easily it slips down!). I saluted the British and Bulgarian flags and carefully furled them up. I folded up the table. And I took the boxes of books inside.
All that effort and not a single sale, I thought. How dare they!