So The Unquiet has at last found its way into stores, in Ireland, at least. By this point, I should be used to everything that goes with publication, but I'm not. I think I forget just how much time I'll be giving over to promoting the book, and how the whole operation gets a little more complicated each year. I have a diary on my desk, and if I glance at it I can see that my movements from next Thursday until the middle of July have pretty much been scheduled in advance for me.
It's still mildly terrifying, to be honest. I'm not one of those authors who insists on being chauffered around, with someone else on hand to carry my bags and feed me grapes and strawberries, although sometimes I think that might be nice. Mostly I do my own driving, unless one of the sales reps fancies a day out, and I'm not really a big grape fan, come to think of it. So, for the next few months, I'll have a file full of flight reservations, hotel addresses, car hire reference numbers, media interview requests, and all of the other bits and pieces that I'll need if things are to run smoothly. That file will swell with each passing day, clogging up with receipts, faxed pages of schedule changes, scribbled names and addresses for thank you notes, CDs, apologies . . .
Every evening while I'm touring, I'll set my alarm for some ungodly hour, and ask the hotel to give me a wake-up call just in case, and then I'll lie awake worrying that neither will work. I'll pray that flights aren't cancelled, that my car starts without trouble, that I don't get a puncture. When I check in at airports, I'll try to be as polite and unassuming as possible, so I don't get marked down as a potential terrorist threat and find myself hauled off to the 'special line'. I'm a bad packer, so I'll always have too many clothes, but not enough of the right kind. My bag will start to weigh more as I gradually accumulate 'stuff' along the way, and I'll have to buy another one. Every time my big metal suitcase appears on the belt, I'll heave a sigh of relief that a) it's there and b) it still has all of its wheels. A year or two ago, I lost two wheels over the space of three days, and as a result my bag became about as mobile as a dead elephant.
There will be many stores I'll visit where the staff will be welcoming, and in which someone may even be familiar with my books, and there will be others where my arrival will be greeted with, at best, suspicion. To be fair, I bring the latter on myself, to some degree. I don't tend to have escorts with me in the US in particular, and I'm not sure that stores are entirely used to writers wandering in unaccompanied. I've even been asked to show some identification on occasion, just to prove that I am who I say I am. It makes me wonder who would bother to pretend to be me. Surely, any self-respecting fraudster or out-and-out nutjob would pick someone rather more high-profile. ("Hi, I'm Charles Dickens. You may remember me from such novels as Bleak House and Oliver Twist. I'm happy to sign whatever you have, except for Hard Times, as that one's a bit dull . . .")
Then there are the events. Thankfully, by this point I'm usually hopeful that someone will show up, especially at the mystery stores. Then again, there will be at least one event that's a washout, accompanied by the embarrassed shuffling of the bookstore manager and the knowledge that one of us is to blame for this travesty - probably me. Sometimes, life will throw a spanner into seemingly trouble-free works. I once spoke to a large, enthusiastic crowd at a library, only to discover afterwards that the bookseller involved hadn't ordered books in time, so there were none for anyone to buy. Even today, I discovered that one of the stores hosting a major event was giving out the wrong date to callers, and I had visions of disappointed people arriving a week late for the event. Worse, I had visions of nobody arriving on either day, right or wrong.
I'll feel guilty about the money I'm costing my publishers when things don't go well, and I'll end up paying for stuff myself to ease my conscience. I'll wait for news of the book's placement on the lists, and I'll be disappointed if it doesn't make a dent on them. If it does make a dent on them, I'll feel a moment of elation, followed by the realisation that now I'm going to have to worry about whether or not it stays there, and if so for how long. Someone will spot a mistake in the text, and will write to tell me about it. As a result, I will want to beat my head against a wall. I may even want to beat their head against a wall, but I won't be able to find them.
And yet every day there will be at least one moment when I will give grateful thanks for what I do. A reader will say something about my books that touches me deeply. I will enter a bookstore to see people waiting to hear me speak and sign, and each of them will be enthusiastic and supportive and more kind to me than I can ever deserve. In every town there will be a little time to sit down for a drink or a coffee, and to talk about books and writing and movies and little things that are hugely important with people whom I know and like, or with people whom I am just getting to know and like. I will visit new places. I will make new friends. My store of good memories will increase. I will be happier far more often than I am unhappy, and every evening my tiredness will dissipate as I stand up to talk and realise that the people listening are also tired, and perhaps could be doing other things, but have instead taken the time to come along and offer support to a relative stranger.
And I will know that I am lucky to be doing what I do, and that I should never take it for granted.
But I'm still going to complain occasionally. Otherwise, I'm afraid someone will figure out what a great life I have, and make me work for it . . .
This week John read
Echo Park by Michael Connelly
Prince: A Thief in the Temple by Brian Morton
and listened to
Ghosts of the Great Highway (reissue) by Sun Kil Moon
Saltbreakers by Laura Veirs
Under Giant Trees by Efterklang