Wednesday, March 13, 2013

My Fifteen Minutes of Fame

By Jenny Hilborne
Author of mysteries and thrillers

"In the future everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes."

This is Andy Warhol's best known quote, and a prediction from the sixties that he claimed carried truth. True or not, I got my fifteen minutes earlier this month. It was more like five minutes, and I'd hardly call it world fame, but it was my own little taste of celebrity. I wasn't sure what to make of it. In fact, I'll admit...I was a little scared at first.

I was in my home town of Swindon, running errands and rushing around, standing inside a bank when it started. As I waited in line, a man appeared in front of me and reached over to claim an unopened sandwich he'd left on the counter, in the spot where I stood. Yes, I had noticed it and wondered what it was doing there, but I see a lot of odd things. As the man took his sandwich, and I half smiled, I noticed a particular look on his face, one I'd describe as confusion mixed with uncertainty. He hesitated, only for a second, and then went on his way. I thought no more of it.

Minutes later, as I left the bank and marched up the street to my next port of call, I became aware of movement in my peripheral vision, saw someone matching my stride and closing in fast on my left. Then I heard a male voice, turned my head in its direction, and saw the same chap from the bank.
     "Excuse me," he said.

     Now it was my turn to give him a "look". My mind raced. Being a crime writer makes that happen, and I immediately assumed the worst. As he was good-looking, and at least twenty years younger than me, I ruled out the idea that he'd stopped me just to chat, or took a liking to me and wanted to ask me out on a date. No...this man wants to rob me, I thought. He just saw me in the bank (I apologize to the young man in question, should he ever read this). A small amount of panic rose in my throat. I tried not to let it show, clutched my bags a little tighter to my side, and glanced around for potential witnesses.

     "Yes?" My reply was loaded with suspicion. Even I could hear it. Undeterred, the man fell into step beside me as I continued my march up the town.

     "You're a writer."

     Temporarily stunned, I stared at him, and tried not to drop my guard. "How...did you know that?"

    There was more. To my amazement, he knew quite a bit about me, such as how I've been living in the US and returned home to the UK to research and write my new novel, Stone Cold. He knew I gave up my job to focus on my writing. About now, I'm trying to decide whether to be flattered or alarmed. How did he know so much?

We talked for a minute, and I learned the young man had read about me in a featured article in the Swindon Link Magazine. He'd recognized me from the magazine and then spotted me in the bank (guarding his sandwich). As a relatively unknown author, up until this moment I felt safe in the bowels of obscurity. I prefer the attention to be on my books rather than on myself, so the encounter came as a bit of a shock. I'd never imagined what it might be like to be recognized and stopped by a stranger in the street. Now I know. It feels a tiny bit weird.

With the panic over, my thoughts turned to what might happen next. Had he read any of my work? Is this where he shows his appreciation...or not? I waited to find out. We chatted about the Link Magazine and the couple of recent workshops I'd held for local writers. Turns out he's a poet, he'd missed both of my workshops, and wanted to know if I planned to hold another one next time I'm home.

After we chatted some more, I gave him my business card and we parted. All the way home, I chuckled about my little brush with "fame", and realized I was actually quite pleased about it. Still largely unknown, I realized I must be building at least a little notoriety as an author. Although on a much smaller scale, I got a tiny peek into what life must be like for celebrities who are recognized and stopped all the time. On that level, I'm not sure I'd like it.

What about you? Have you had your fifteen minutes of fame? How did it happen, and did you enjoy it?


  1. Back in 2004, I had a story in the anthology MURDER BY MAGIC. In 2005, I attended a writers/readers convention here in Houston. One afternoon I needed to run up to my room for a moment, and met a lady by the elevators. She looked at my name tag (marked AUTHOR), and asked what I had written. I replied, "Well, I recently had a short story in MURDER BY MAGIC, and..."

    She looked at my name tag again as we were talking. A huge smile bloomed on her face and she exclaimed, "Jonathan and Emma! Yes, I recognize your name!"

    For a few moments there, I really understood why we do this...:)

  2. I love it, William. It's fantastic when our readers get so involved in our characters they become real.

  3. I think I'm getting my 15 minutes in 30-second doses. Mostly, it's folks from my community who read my column and tell me how much they love it. I won't lie - it feels all warm and fuzzy to have people say how much they like my words. Like being given a puppy - one I don't have to housetrain.

  4. As you write a weekly column, Gayle, do you ever get stopped by strangers out in your local community, or is the feedback received online? Either way, it's definitely lovely to have it. My first time being recognized and stopped in the street by a stranger was quite a tense experience for a few minutes.

  5. I do get a lot of in person responses, Jenny. Usually it's when I'm out in an official capacity as a library trustee, but sometimes people approach me in the grocery store, which is funny. They're usually women around my age, so I'm not that threatened - LOL.

  6. Good for you, Jenny! Enjoy the warm feelings you get from recognition by reader fans! And hopefully lots more of it to come!

  7. Your caution is understandable. Your elation delightful and you are to be congratulated. (I was going to write "congratulatable" but thought the tongue-in-cheekness of the neologism might be missed.)

    i get stopped by strangers all the time, but not because they recognize my face from a book cover. It's the beard. (Which you all could see if I could figure out how to get my picture into the comments.)

    You wrote: "Although on a much smaller scale, I got a tiny peek into what life must be like for celebrities who are recognized and stopped all the time. On that level, I'm not sure I'd like it." Of course writers and actors have talked about this, and how they deal with the public. (Some graciously, some not.)

    Thanks for sharing. And reminding me I must get back to Scotland one day.

  8. Thanks for the comments, David. Scotland is a wonderful place - I love it there. Now, I'm curious about that beard......


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