Martin thought the line would stretch out to the crack of doom. Dozens upon dozens of eager parents with their eager kids, all holding copies of his latest picture book, waiting for a magic moment with him, an autograph, a photograph, with the man who created the international best-selling hit, Tinsel the Christmas Manatee. He checked his smile was turned up to full and beckoned the next fan forward.
He opened the cover and, pen poised, asked what name.
“Marigold,” said a red-faced girl with an earnest expression.
“To… Marigold…” Martin narrated as he inscribed, “Best wishes…from Martin Murdock and Tinsel…Kiss, kiss.”
Behind her, Marigold’s parents went aww and ahh. Their daughter was not so easily impressed.
“Where’s Tinsel?” she asked. “I want Tinsel!”
Her parents pulled an apologetic face. Martin waved.
“It’s OK,” he said. “Tinsel can’t be here today. You know where Tinsel lives, don’t you, Marigold?”
“In the ocean,” said Marigold.
“And where are we now?”
“Exactly. We’re a bit far from the ocean, aren’t we? You don’t want Tinsel to get ill, do you?”
Marigold narrowed her eyes. “Tinsel is magic. It says so. In Tinsel and the Christmas Fun Run.”
“Ah, yes. But that was just a story. And I hope you’ll enjoy this new story just as much.” He tried to hand back the signed copy but Marigold swatted it away.
“I want to see Tinsel and I want to see him now!” she stamped her foot.
“Come on, darling,” said Marigold’s mummy. Marigold shrugged free of mummy’s hand.
“I want to see Tinsel!” she roared.
“I want to see Tinsel!” cried the next child in line. In no time at all, every child in the bookshop had joined in the chant. The manager hurried over to Martin and whispered urgently in his ear that he had better take charge of the situation or the event was over. And that means: no more sales.
Martin tried to placate the crowd with gestures. He climbed onto the table and waved. He appealed for quiet at the top of his voice.
“Ssh! Ssh!” he put his finger to his lips. “Right. Now, listen, everybody, boys and girls. Tinsel isn’t here because Tinsel is a water-dwelling mammal. Besides which, Tinsel isn’t real. He’s made up. I made him up. I had the idea. I wrote the stories. I drew the pictures. But it was only when I put ‘Christmas’ in the title that the character really took off. It seems people will buy anything if you say it’s for Christmas.”
Marigold was beside herself with rage.
“What do you mean? Tinsel isn’t real?”
“It’s just a story,” said Martin.
“So, there’s no magic manatee who teaches orphans to swim, who rescues shipwrecked sailors, and who delivers presents to all the children at the seaside?”
“Of course not!” Martin snapped. “There is no Tinsel. There is no magic. It’s your parents. They buy you everything and tell you all sorts of lies to make you behave yourselves.”
A collective gasp almost sucked the air from the room.
Marigold turned to confront her parents.
“Is this true, Mummy?” she put her hands on her hips. “Daddy?”
“It’s just the silly man being silly, darling,” said Daddy, sending Martin a threatening look. “Isn’t it, mate?”
Martin climbed down from the table.
“Yes, yes, of course. Sorry, everyone. Tell you what: half price off the books. My agent won’t like it but hey, it’s nearly Christmas.”
That seemed to appease the parents at least.
Marigold snatched up her copy with a haughty sniff. She tucked the book under her arm and took her parents’ hands in hers.
“I don’t care if Tinsel is a silly lie,” she announced. “Now, let’s go and see Father Christmas and after that we can go to church.”