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Nightwalk Booksigning & tea with Chris Yates - 13/06/12


JUNE 2012


Saturday 9th June, 2012


Notes from a Fishing Widow’s journal


A Red Letter Day for Torrington


It was 10.00 a.m. in the morning and as if to celebrate the occasion, the sun put in a long-awaited appearance following the dreary days and 70 mph gales which lashed the UK.  We drove the short distance from home to River Reads and Keith parked the car across the road from the bookshop; Chris nipped into the Co-op to buy his newspaper, and a group of people waited patiently outside the shop for his arrival.  A young photographer from our local paper, The North Devon Journal was on the doorstep.  We were just a few minutes late.

            I’m sure Chris won’t mind when I write that he’s not known for his punctuality.  He smiled wryly when I quoted from Peter Jackson’s epic film version of Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’.  One of main characters, ‘Gandalf’, says something along the lines of: “A wizard is never late, nor is he early.  He simply arrives when he means to”.  Hmmm … who does that sound like I wonder!?  And there is definitely something of the “wizard” about Chris - rest assured, time spent in his company has a magical quality and is undoubtedly worth the wait.

            On this occasion, he was in Torrington to sign copies of his latest beautifully-written book: NIGHTWALK: A Journey to the Heart of Nature and from the moment we opened the door of River Reads, to the moment the last person bid a reluctant farewell following “Tea with Chris” at The Globe, the whole event was just sheer pleasure spent in the company of one of the UK’s foremost authors of fishing and nature books.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many smiling faces in one place at any one time.

            People queued, at one point, out of the door and along the High Street.  When I spoke to Chris afterwards, he said he didn’t feel the pressure of the queue because he couldn’t see it – he was tucked away in my work area in front of the Angling Heritage photo gallery.  However, I could see the queue, and did my best to keep things flowing – difficult when Chris has a genuine interest in the people he meets and wants to spend as much time as possible chatting and listening to their stories.

            A quick scan of the visitor’s book afterwards confirmed that people had travelled miles to see him – and it was good to see local people there too.  One family came from Fremington; their young son was recently filmed with John Bailey for the Mr. Crabtree series, so we had a star in the making in our presence.  The same young man came to Jeremy Wade’s book-signing last December and impressed him greatly with his knowledge of fish.  Something tells me that we may see more of him – will he gain fame in angling.  Who knows?

            Others travelled the previous evening and stayed locally, which is great news for Torrington; a true Red Letter Day.  The knock-on effect of Chris’s presence was definitely good for the small shops and local accommodation providers; people smiled and the atmosphere buzzed with happy anticipation.  As I chatted to people in the queue, I learned that some of our visitors were discovering Torrington for the first time.   It is a unique working town; added to which, we have two of the best views from car parks in the entire country.  Both look down on the glistening River Torridge in the valley and out towards the woodlands and gardens of RHS Rosemoor; simply beautiful.  One visitor from Manchester wrote: “7 hour trip to get here – well worth it – Brilliant!!”  Lincolnshire, Bristol, Dorset, Hampshire, Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Berkshire, Birmingham, South Gloucestershire, Somerset, Plymouth, Cornwall were just some of the places from which people had travelled and the comments in the visitors’ book were great to read.  Here are a few more.


“EXCELLENT DAY!  RED LETTER DAY” – that comment was written by “Badger” Walker of BB fame – he drew his trademark of a badger’s paw on the page!


“A great little treasure trove of a shop”.


“Fantastic.  Thank you”.


Personally, I met some lovely people; made some great new contacts; talked to “Badger” about recording some of his memories of BB for a book I’ll be producing, and most importantly, witnessed the pleasure which Chris gave to his fans – that alone was priceless and on that matter, I must comment.


I gather from a close contact that certain book-dealers elsewhere in the country thought the journey to Devon not worth the effort, and the price of £12.50 for a ticket to see and listen to Chris at The Globe Hotel, Torrington, too costly! I’d now like to put our point of view.

            Firstly, I believe the chance to spend any time with Chris; especially chatting to him as he signs copies of his books is invaluable.  Added to which, it was a fund-raising event for Angling Heritage (UK) – Chris is a Trustee – he believes in, and supports the work we do, and we were more than happy to raise money for the North Devon District Hospital in the process.  They are appealing for funds to provide a Chemotherapy Unit at the hospital.  Patients currently have to travel many miles for treatment.  From NIGHTWALK sales and additional signed books, River Reads has donated £361 to this appeal.  To make a donation, please visit:

            Thankfully, not everyone was of the same mind as the book-dealers.  It was commented that one of the several heartening aspects of the event was the fact that the majority of visitors were genuine fans of Chris, who appreciated the rare opportunity to spend a little time with him.  I sincerely hope those people enjoy reading his book as much as I do.


The morning signing was soon over and was followed by lunch and chat about The Golden Scale Club and Ed Whitby’s ice-cream “lorries”!  At 2.00 p.m. (approximately!) we joined a packed room for “Tea with Chris”.  I opened with a brief witticism about Chris miming an extract from his book, which floated around the room like a lead balloon (it followed a jokey conversation we’d had about him being an internationally acclaimed mime artist in an earlier life).  Thankfully, this was rapidly superceded by his talk on the night and our seemingly irrational fear of the dark.  It was fascinating and he wove his magic; people were spellbound.  Even our youngest visitor appeared enthralled; although his mum later assured me that he was very focussed on the cake!  After an hour or so, Chris ended his talk to a round of applause, and this was followed by a brief Q & A session before the auction started.  He donated some especially quirky items for inclusion and Keith and Ed were in charge of the bidding.  The items auctioned were:


An Eydon Storm Kettle donated by the company in response to my request; this was signed by Chris in silver: “Redmire forever” and raised £185.  If you visit their website, they’ve included this photo of Chris with the successful bidder, Paul Simpson, so congratulations to him for winning this unique item.


I digress here in response to a comment from one visitor; the reason I asked Eydon to donate a Storm Kettle, apart from the fact the Chris uses one when fishing, is because I won one from ‘Waterlog’ and that was the beginning of my privileged friendship with him.  He was so amazed that someone had paid three figures for the postcard he’d written to Rod Hutchinson detailing the capture of his monster carp, ‘The Bishop’ (I was the latest purchaser) that he wrote about it in ‘Waterlog’.  Chris is an exceedingly modest man and does not place any value on his ephemera, so the short article stated that people would be buying his used tea bags and underpants next!  I couldn’t resist a response, so wrote a spoof letter which Chris thought funny, and it was published in the magazine ahead of Jeremy Paxman’s much more literary letter to the editor.  The result was that I won my very own Storm Kettle.  This now resides in the locked display cabinet in the shop – one day, I really must ask him to sign it for me!  Anyhow, that was the start of a very special and enduring friendship with Chris and the kettle inspired the event: “Tea with Chris”.


The latest black and silver Storm Kettle donated by Eydon looks stunning; Chris signed it in silver and it’s a great companion to Paul’s other kettle which he brought for signing.  I’m thinking of stocking the kettle in the shop and if I do, I’ll be the first customer, as, much to Chris’s disdain I’ve refused to use my shiny ‘Waterlog’ prize because I don’t want it to get dirty!


Quirky items donated by Chris were:


Two floats – one mouse-eaten! – each of which has been used to catch memorable fish.  These raised £80 and were accompanied by a hand-written letter of provenance – lucky bidder – he’s planning to use them to fish on the 16th June and hopes they’ll bring him good fortune.


Six Devon Minnows - part of a batch which had once belonged to Bernard Venables.  Chris agreed that I could keep just one as a memento from the day, so five were offered for sale and the winning bidder paid just £50 for this great piece of angling memorabilia.  That too is accompanied by a signed letter of provenance.


Other items included two books from Chris’s library, signed by him with a special drawing; one back issue of Waterlog signed by Chris; proof dust-wrapper for “How to Fish” sent to River Reads by Chris before the book was published.  This was signed by him and bought by a very charming young lady … and the ones that got away? …


 … a print of a painting of Chris fishing the dam at Redmire … he signed the print but in the bustling activity beforehand, it was left behind in the shop, as were the signed posters advertising the event.  No worries; they will undoubtedly resurface at some point in future fund-raising events.


What I really must do here is thank everyone who worked as part of the team for the signing.  Many won’t realise the amount of time devoted to planning such an event.  Special thanks to Ed Whitby of Whitby-Morrison, who worked alongside Keith at the front desk, kept tabs on tickets sales and collected the money from winning bidders at auction;  Roger, who stepped in at noon to give Keith the opportunity to join us in a packed room at “Tea with Chris”;  Peter at The Globe Hotel who charged us just £2.50 per person for tea, coffee and his delicious home-baked cakes – he made a fruit cake especially for Chris (lemon drizzle is my favourite and I just managed to snaffle the last slice, which Keith promptly ate when I turned my back to talk to someone!).  Peter also allowed us free use of his lovely function room.  It was full to capacity with more people joining us on the day than anticipated - I think we might need the ballroom next time Peter.

            Incidentally, £10 of the £12.50 ticket price was the charge made by River Reads for the event – not for the tea and cake – well worth it to see Chris and hear his fascinating talk on night-walking in the natural world.  Also, the event was filmed by James of AJB Videos, Bideford.  Hopefully, the DVD will be offered for sale as part of a commemorative booklet for Angling Heritage.

            Ticket sales raised £430; the auction £429, and the signing, £361 for Angling Heritage and £361 for the chemo appeal – that makes a grand total of £1,581 raised.  Fantastic!!!  Sincere thanks to everyone who supported the event; particularly when it used to aid charity and to fund future recordings for Recollections; next week, Keith and I will be travelling to record The Times’ correspondent and angling writer, Brian Clarke and John Goddard for the fourth in the Recollections’ series.  Recollections III - Len Arbery and Bob Buteux are next on the list for publication.

            As mentioned above, “Tea with Chris” was filmed and visitors to the book-signing were advised beforehand in case they had any objections.  There were none.  Please let me know if you would like a planned commemorative copy of the DVD and a cd of the recorded telephone interview given by Chris to Mark Barnes, at The Voice, our local radio station.  The reason we were running a little late for the signing was that the interview was roughly ten minutes in duration; Chris succinctly gave an overview of his career and nightwalking – it was great – so natural.  He was unaware that I was listening in the background as he was seated in a high-backed chair looking out over the fields and didn’t see me – it was a fantastic interview and I really enjoyed listening to the full version later on.  Should the project come to fruition, copies will be produced to order and will accompany this journal entry to generate funds for Angling Heritage.


Finally, my sincere thanks to everyone who took the time to visit Chris and purchase signed copies of his book; it has been nominated for The Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction 2012; it is the UK’s most prestigious prize and we wish him every success.  On the day of the signing, customers received a commemorative flyer produced by Harper Collins for River Reads, together with a postcard to company each book purchased.

            Well - it was really great to see you all, and whilst we will assuredly luxuriate in the prose of Chris’s latest literary masterpiece, I hope it won’t be too long before he visits us again for another truly wonderful book-signing.  He is a great man; long may he continue to write and to delight his audiences.


If you would like to read another account of the day, simply go to Wayne Thomas's blog on

Sandy Armishaw




Last jottings:


PS:  The deluxe edition of NIGHTWALK will be available towards the end of 2012 and it’s hoped that those lucky enough to have reserved a copy may be able to join us at an ‘invitation only’ signing event.  I’ve seen the first illustration for the book drawn by Chris’s son Will and if that’s anything to go by, I really can’t wait to see the rest.  His drawings will be a stunning addition to the book and well done to those people who’ve reserved a copy with Will’s original artwork – it’s very special.  Please keep checking the website for details of this special edition.


PPS: Chris has foolishly agreed to allow me to record him for a 70th birthday edition in the Recollections’ series – you were serious weren’t you Chris???  Naturally, this is some years away and the problem with that is, each recording is currently taking me three years to produce, and since I have three in the pipeline, I told him that I could well be dead before I finish those – his response?  “I’m banking on it!!”   Hmmm … do I sense an air of reluctance here ‘Gandalf’???


PPPS:  When we returned home after the event, we had sandwiches, tea, cake and just a tiny glass of champagne to celebrate Chris’s book.  Keith and Chris watched footie for a while and just as the light was fading and it was time for him to return to his family, a young hare appeared, as if my magic, and sat on the patio looking around him.  The hare is a mythical creature and a favourite of Chris.  According to “Badger” – it’s a good year for hares and it’s certainly the first time in 19 years that we’ve had them settling in our garden but … he disappeared with Chris’s departure and we haven’t seen him since.  Come back soon Chris, and please bring Eric the Hare with you!


Sandy x