It's a tough life being an author. First you have to write a book, which isn't easy. And then you have to sell it. Often, I suspect, that's the harder part.
Dee sits at a wooden table in a bookshop doorway, waiting to be noticed. Her book is piled up beside her, and she has a pen in her hand. Maybe some of the Christmas shoppers passing by will eventually notice her. She takes another sip of her Costa Coffee and waits.
Romford's festive crowds are out in force. Most don't bother looking into Waterstone's, let alone stepping over the threshold in search of hardback gifts. Even when they do, Dee's presence is mutely stated. No posters in the windows, nor any announcements in store. Only a few leaflets strewn across the tabletop reveal who she is and why she's here.
Dee's book is one of those nuggety informative volumes filled with snippets of historical trivia. The picture on the front cover shows an apple and a pear, although that's probably too subtle for most. Or it would be, if only anybody was looking.
If shoppers are interested at all, it's in Dee's companion volume stacked up to one side, published this time last year. That's 'The Little Book of Essex', which is packed with bite-sized trivia about "one of England's most colourful counties". The people of Romford still like to believe they live in Essex, even though the town's been part of London for the last 45 years.
A lady finally pauses to say hello. She sports a warm woollen hat, and there's a silver twig-like Christmas decoration sticking out of her shopping basket. Two companions join her, and Dee chats politely to the group. Suddenly one whips out a camera and asks if they can have their photo taken with the famous local author. One sale guaranteed.
I follow up behind and greet Dee with a question. I ask how broad her geographic definition of 'the East End' is. To my delight she gives the suicidal answer and admits that her book only covers Tower Hamlets. Nothing within is of any relevance whatsoever to Romford, located eight miles to the east. Her publisher would scream. But that's fine, I'm probably the only Eastender shopping in The Liberty mall today. I'm target audience. What are the chances?
Dee says she's done lots of research. She hopes there'll be lots of East-End-related things in the book I didn't know before. I'm not immediately convinced, because the last time I bought a book in "The Little Book of..." series I was hugely disappointed. But Dee gets the benefit of my doubt, because she didn't write that particular book (or nick bits from this blog to fill it). And because she's charming. So I'll have a copy, ta.
She signs my purchase with a smile, and hopes I enjoy the read. I wish her luck and retreat out into the plaza. Looking back through the doorway I see her sitting alone again beside her tower of unsold books. She sips her coffee, and the rest of the shop buzzes obliviously around her. Only two more hours to go.
The good news is that Dee was right, and her book is indeed Tower-Hamlets-tastic. It delves down into seriously local trivia, not just the obvious Ripper stuff but delightful minutiae about everywhere from Bethnal Green to Docklands. She's included the Blackwall Tunnel pillion ghost, Bow Road's Victorian teenage gangs and Mile End's circumnavigating goat - all of these were new to me. As an Eastender, that's ten quid well spent. Residents of Romford, however, might want to look elsewhere.