Saturday, June 30, 2007

On Journalism, and Interviewing Authors

This week, I get asked by a journalist how it feels to be interviewed about my books, given that I occasionally put on my journalist's hat to interview other writers about their books. I give my usual answer, which is that it's a little awkward. I tend to assume three roles in that situation: the subject (the writer being interviewed), the journalist (the journalist doing the interview), and some strange intermediate role somewhere between the two, where I look objectively at both people in their respective roles and find fault with each.

Unfortunately, the journalist who poses the question is on somewhat dodgy ground, as he confesses that he hasn't read my book. As always, a little part of me inevitably switches off when I hear that. The nature of the interview changes. To be fair, I don't expect every journalist or interviewer who speaks to me to have read the book I'm publicising, or even any of my books. When it comes to short radio or TV spots, it's the exception rather than the rule to encounter someone who has actually read the book. It doesn't really matter, as my role in that case is just to fill a few minutes of what might otherwise be dead air, and I try to be as general and as light-hearted as possible. It's usually early in the morning, and I tend to view entertaining weary commuters or those at home as welcome challenge.

A newspaper or magazine interview is a different matter, though. It takes longer to conduct, and reading such an interview is a less passive pursuit than listening to three minutes on the radio, I would argue. On a personal level, though, I tend to feel a sense of disappointment when a journalist makes such a confession. It's not that I find myself particularly interesting; at this stage, there can be few people who find me more boring than I find myself when it comes to discussing my books. I'm not even a very interesting person. I live a pretty normal life, all things considered, when I'm not touring, and touring bears little or no relation to my real, everyday existence. (For a start, I don't get a clean gown every morning when I'm at home, and there are no chocolates on my pillow. On the other hand, if I wake up in the night at home I know immediately where the bathroom is, and run no risk of walking into a wall or attempting to relieve myself in a sink . . .)

No, it's more that I wonder about the relationship between the journalist in question and his/ her craft. The subtext, when one is told that the journalist hasn't read the book, is that he/ she was just too busy to read it, and that the writer should simply be grateful that he is being interviewed at all. That may even be true, but what, then, is the point of the interview? I would no more interview an author whose work I hadn't read than I would attempt to describe a piece of music that I hadn't heard, or discuss a film that I hadn't seen. Professional pride, in part, wouldn't let me, but also I know that I would have nothing worth saying. That was as true when I was a struggling freelance, grateful for any work, as it is now. I would spend a week preparing for the interview, often reading not just the latest book but any other books I thought might help to fill the gaps in my knowledge. If I thought it would help, I would browse the cuttings files (in those pre-Internet days). I might even make a start on the piece (itself a flawed exercise, as it's a virtual admission that one has already begun to form an opinion of the author before interviewing him or her). Inevitably, I would throw most, if not all, of that pre-written material out. If I did not, I would doubt the value of the final piece.

Recently, an interview with me appeared in a major newspaper. I was quoted extensively, but none of the quotes were mine. The words used bore little or no resemblance to what I had actually said. Instead, "my" words were what the journalist presumably wished that I had said. I wondered if the tape recorder had broken down. I wondered if my words had just been unspeakably dull, too mundane to even waste ink and paper upon. And I wondered if, perhaps, the journalist just didn't care enough to transcribe them properly.

Transcription is tedious. Listening back to an interview one has conducted is time-consuming. Again and again, journalists cut corners. At least, they do with me. My bad, I guess. I really must be dull. When I've conducted my own interviews with writers, though, I've always been very careful to quote them accurately. I consider it polite, I suppose. It's also a courtesy to those who read the final interview. If they're interested enough to read it, they should be allowed to read the writer's own words, not mine.

So I don't think the interview with the journalist who didn't read my book will be particularly enlightening. I did my best, but there was a limit to how much ground I could make up on the initial lack of interest. Then again, I may come out sounding much more interesting than usual as a consequence. It's hard to tell.

Yesterday, there was a rather different interview. The journalist had read the book, and we ended up discussing whether or not I was a liberal, as The Unquiet is a political novel with a small 'p', I think. (I am liberal, although that word tends to have different connotations in Europe than in the US. Many of those accused of the sin of liberalism in the US would barely qualify as mildly conservative in Europe.); the nature of the US criminal justice system; the chaining of children in US juvenile courts in 27 US states; the relationship between genre fiction and literary fiction; British supernatural writers of the early 20th century; and a host of other topics that were linked, either tangentially or thematically, to my work. You didn't have to read my book to be interested in them, but you did have to read my book to be able to raise them to begin with.

I can't stress this enough: I'm not very interesting. My books may not be very interesting to everyone. But I hope that some of the issues they raise are interesting to people. It's why I write: to communicate things that seem important to me, or to explore them and, in so doing, come to some kind of understanding of them. I don't beat people over the head with the issues they raise (and it's curious to me that even raising them has left me open to attack in the past, as though the mere suggestion of discourse is unpalatable to some), and I recognize that a great many of my readers may not view them in the same way that I do, but I have faith in the fact that they are intelligent people, that they can make their own decisions about such matters, and that they understand that books are a forum for ideas as much as they are a conduit for storytelling. I read people with whose ideas I may disagree, for if I did not read them I would be less enlightened about the ways in which others view the world, and I would be guilty of a level of intolerance that I find abhorrent in others.

I still wish that journalist had read my book, though. Heck, he might even have liked it . . .

Since yesterday, John has read

Blaze by Richard Bachman

Friday, June 29, 2007


This week marked the halfway point on the tour - 29 days down, 29 more to go - and the shift from the US to Australia. The first half has been an interesting experiment in how much travel, etc. a body can take before it begins to exhibit signs of distress. The answer, it appears, is roughly 28 days, because meltdown has begun.

In part, the US was to blame. The first thing I noticed upon arriving in Australia was how much more pleasant and easy it is to travel by air here. They are still security conscious, but without the paranoia and borderline xenophobia that is so much a part of the way in which visitors to the US are treated now. In the US, this came to a head for me in Phoenix, Arizona, where I was hauled out of the security line and accused of altering my passport. The cops got involved, and calls were made to some unknown individual far away. The words "What's the ETA on that?" were used, and without irony. I had become, as if by magic, a serious security threat. Mind you, I didn't know this at the time, as nobody had bothered to tell me why I had been singled out. Still, there was nothing to do but be patient and polite. Getting bolshy gets you nowhere. In fact, it may even invite what is generally referred to as the Gloved Welcome, an intimate exploration of one's dark and private places without even the benefit of dinner or a quick snog beforehand.

Eventually, as my departure time loomed, I offered to try to clarify whatever the issue in question was if someone would be polite enough to give me a clue as to its nature. It was pointed out, after a lot of whispered consultations, that my signature was not actually part of the passport itself, but had been affixed separately to the relevant page. Ergo, I had altered my passport.

Not ergo, but er, no. In Ireland, we fill out a form for our passports, I patiently explained. We provide sample signatures. One of those signatures is then clipped and sealed inside our passport. See? The three - count 'em - police officers and the two TSA people looked at the passport again. "Sounds reasonable," said one, but he appeared to be in the minority. Another went through the ETA thing again. I was told that I could go to my gate, but I could expect to be stopped from boarding depending upon the outcome of the telephone conversation. It was suggested to me as I left that all such problems could be solved if passports were homogenised, which is code for making all passports in then world look like US passports. Given the current state of the US passport system, where people are queueing overnight like refugees fleeing a collapsing society in an effort to obtain what is a fairly basic yet essential document, this was a pretty risible proposal, but I kept that view to myself.

Anyway, that was about it for me and the US. Too many flights, and too many 16- and 17-hour days. My body is starting to rebel. I have managed to tear something in my neck hauling my bags from hotel room to car to check in desk, and from baggage claim to car to hotel room. I felt it rip the way paper rips. At the moment, I'm freezing it with spray, but the spray wears off, and at night I don't sleep as well as I'd like. I'm not much good for anything after about nine o'clock, and this weekend had to bow out of meeting some nice people for a bite to eat in Melbourne. I went to bed instead. I feel like an old person.

My temper is also a little shorter than it once was. Actually, it's a lot shorter. Yesterday, I arrived in Adelaide to find that my hotel room was like a sauna, and my window only opened about an inch. The heating was locked to almost maximum, and nothing I did with the control panel seemed to alter it. I called down to find out how I could turn it off, and was told that the front desk didn't have the manual.

"Manual?" I asked.
"Manual," came the reply.
"Is it that complicated?"
"I don't know."
"We could send up an engineer."
"An engineer?"
"An engineer could probably fix it."
"But I just want to turn it down."
"Have you tried pressing the on/off button?"
"Did it work?"
"I'll send up an engineer."

But the engineer didn't come. I had a reading to go to. I decided to take a shower. I showered. When I got out of the shower, I dried myself. Seconds later, I was damp again. I felt like a hothouse flower. I tried fiddling with the control panel again. Nothing. I tapped it. Still nothing. I tapped it really hard. With my fist.

The LCD display immediately disintegrated, and a substance like squid ink spread where once little symbols had gaily frolicked.


Curiously, though, the system was still pumping out superheated air. Bugger.

And at that moment, with perfect timing, there was a knock on the door. I arranged my towel artfully around myself and answered the knock. A smiling engineer stood before me, ready and willing to help.

"Problem with your heating?" he asked.
Oh dear. "Er, I've decided to live with it."
"You sure?"
"Oh yes, quite sure."
He looked a bit disappointed. One minute, I thought. If you'd just arrived one minute earlier . . .

After a short examination of my options, I decided to confess. In a way. On my way to the reading, I told the desk clerk that I'd tapped the screen of my air con system a little too hard, and now it wasn't working. I looked upon this explanation as a euphemism rather than an outright lie. When I returned, the desk clerk gave me a funny look, and the entire display unit had been replaced. I wonder what the engineer thought. It was still too hot, but I decided to leave well enough alone. After all, I'm not Russell Crowe . . .

On the upside, the Adelaide event was incredibly well-attended, and the bookseller/ reader evening in Sydney was a joy. The book has been doing well in Australia, better than any of my other novels, and the Australians are kind and easygoing and touchingly hospitable. This is still a very nice way to earn a living. I wish I had a little more energy, but at this stage I should just be grateful for the energy that I do have. Tomorrow is a day off, the first in quite a while that hasn't involved some form of travel at the very least. I plan to read, and drink decaf coffee, and work on my anger management skills.

Mind you, that heating system was asking for it.

This week John read

Born Standing Up by Steve Martin (uncorrected proof)
The Sleeping Doll by Jeffrey Deaver

and listened to

Giu La Testa (soundtrack reissue) by Ennio Morricone
Easy Tiger by Ryan Adams

Saturday, June 16, 2007

On Writing While Travelling

Today I get asked one of the most frequently posed questions during tours: do I write while I am travelling. The simple answer is "No." I am, despite my best efforts, a creature of routine. I know a number of writers who have learned to snatch moments here and there while on tour - sitting on aeroplanes, lying in bed in hotel rooms - but I am not one of them. I need my space: my office, my desk, the knowledge that I have four or five uninterrupted hours ahead of me. I write slowly, and painstakingly. The way I work does not fit into the routine of travel and touring.

There is also the matter of time. Tomorrow, which is Sunday, I will awaken at 5.30 am. On a Sunday. This is not through choice, I should add. The travel agents who booked my flights via my publishers decided on an 8.39 am flight to LA. On a Sunday. I hate to labour that point but, well, it's Sunday. There's no good reason for me to be taking an 8.39am flight, but I am taking it. I need to get up, shower, retrieve my rental car from the garage, drive to the airport (it's San Francisco International), dump the car, take the train to the terminal, check in, and get on the plane. When I arrive, I will pick up another rental car, and try to hit as many bookstores as I can before 6pm, when I will check into my hotel. The list of bookstores I've been given isn't complete, however, so, in addition to writing this little post, I will find the addresses of the chain stores and independents in the LA area and add those that have been missed to my list, as there is nothing more frustrating than to find that one, unawares, been yards from one bookstore while visiting another.

On Monday, there is a 4.50am start, although this one is justifiable. I am doing what is known as a "radio tour". Essentially, this means that stations across the country will call me at my hotel room and conduct live interviews over the phone. There are 16 of them between 5am and 10am. When I received the schedule, I did a second count and there were still 16 of them. On one level, it's a great opportunity: I get to talk to listeners across the nation without leaving my hotel room. On the other hand, it raises certain issues. I need to shower before doing the interviews, if only to wake myself up. I then have to decide if I will do them naked, or semi-naked, or clothed. I know, that's an overshare but, seriously, it's just after 5am on a Monday morning. I'll feel happier clothed, or at least wearing a robe. I suppose I live in fear that one of the interviewers will ask, in a suspicious voice, "Hey, are you naked?" and there will be that telltale pause before I answer, indicating that I am, in fact, speaking as God intended. I am letting it all hang out. On radio. Even I find that thought disturbing.

The other problem is that these morning interviews do not tend to be sedate affairs. Morning shows are designed to keep people awake and listening while they negotiate the freeways. They require hosts, and guests, to be lively and zany, and the only people who are alive and zany at 5am are those that have been driven insane by being required to be lively and zany at 5am. It's a cumulative thing. The only thing moderately interesting about me at 5am is that my hair looks funny and I'm likely to be naked, and neither actually merits the adjectives "attractive" or "interesting" at that hour. Or, indeed, at any hour.

My working day on Monday is unlikely to come to an end until 10pm or 11pm at least. I have a siging in Orange, and then I have to drive back to LA so I can be up early for a meeting on Tuesday morning. That's a long day by any reckoning, and I can't see myself fitting any writing into it. Writing is work, to be perfectly honest. It's work that I enjoy, work that I find immensely fulfilling, but it's work nonetheless. I don't just immerse myself in some river of words and get carried along by the tide. Most of the time, I sweat the words out, sentence by sentence. I'm just not capable of doing that at 4.30 am (or, if I am, I have no intention of finding out) or after midnight having been awake since 5am (ditto).

So I suppose I'm feeling a little frustrated at the moment. I keep having good ideas about 'The Reapers', the next book, but usually when I'm driving between bookstores. I don't have the time, or the energy, to put these ideas into print, and I know that some of them are going to be lost. I love meeting, and talking with, readers and booksellers, but I know that, while it's part of what I do, it's not the most important element. Without books, I have nothing to discuss. If I'm not writing, then I'm not moving forwards. I am resting on my laurels and that, frankly, isn't good enough. Much as I love meeting readers and booksellers, I think that something has to give in the end. I want to get back to writing. The end of the tour beckons . . .

Friday, June 15, 2007


This story was written as a thank you for my editor's son. I hope it passes an idle few minutes . . .

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful girl named Cinderella. She lived with her father, who doted on her and spoiled her. There was never anybody to tell Cinderella that she was not the most wonderful, the most perfect, the most darling girl ever to set foot on this earth, and so she came to believe that this was the case. She was, not to put too fine a point on it, rather awful.

Then it came to pass that her father met a woman, whom he married, and this woman had two daughters, and they all came to live with Cinderella and her father in their big house on the hill above the town. Now the two daughters were not as beautiful or as perfect as Cinderella. In fact, they were distinctly plain, and one of them had a left eye that was not quite level with her right eye, which made her look like she was standing on a slight slope. The other sister was a little overweight, and was perhaps too fond of fudge and ice cream for her own good, but she was a good natured soul, as was her sister.

Cinderella decided to call them her ugly stepsisters, on the grounds that, if they were not quite ugly, then they were at least uglier than she, and whenever she had the chance she would tell people of the two dreadful girls who lived with her, who were not as lovely as she and never would be, and of their wicked, wicked stepmother (who was not, in fact, very wicked at all, but merely felt that Cinderella was a spoiled little brat, and treated her as such when she misbehaved).

Three years went by, during which Cinderella did no housework at all, and spent her time complaining to her friends, her father, and anyone else who would listen (including the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker, who worked in the same building and felt that it was only a matter of time before someone wrote a nursery rhyme about them) of how terrible her life was. Eventually, a vote was taken in the house, and Cinderella was presented with a choice by her family. Actually, it wasn't much of a choice at all: Cinderella would have to make up for all of the housework that she had not done, which was calculated as at least two solid weeks' worth of cleaning and cooking and tidying. She could do a little every day, or she could take on the burden of all of the cooking and cleaning in the house for one week, after which her debt would be forgiven. She was also to be grounded until all of her work was done, which meant that she would miss the prince's ball, a fact that caused Cinderella to stamp her feet and cry, and generally act like quite the little madam.

Well, Cinderella decided to complete everything in one week, because she was that kind of girl, but in fact she did nothing at all. She just sat in the cellar, and moaned and cried, and complained about her cruel treatment at the hands of her dreadful family. After two days had gone by, a passing good fairy heard her cries and woes, and being a trusting soul, believed every word that Cinderalla told her. When Cinderella brought up the fact that she was not being allowed to go to the ball that evening, the good fairy provided her with a beautiful gown, and changed a couple of harmless mice into coach horses, and transformed a pumpkin into a coach that smelled unpleasantly, and not entirely surprisingly, of pumpkin, and was a rather virulent shade of orange. She also gave Cinderella a pair of glass slippers to wear. In truth, the slippers weren't very comfortable, but Cinderella decided that perhaps it might be wise to keep quiet about that fact, as she didn’t want the good fairy to think that she wasn't a deserving cause. Neither did she complain about the midnight curfew imposed by the good fairy, as she knew that nice girls didn’t stay out beyond midnight, and she wanted to be thought of as a nice girl, even if she wasn't one.

That night, Cinderella danced and danced, and caught the attention of the handsome prince. He spent the final hour dancing with no one but Cinderella. He fell in love with the mysterious young woman, but before he could ask her name the clock began to strike midnight and she fled, leaving behind a glass slipper with a vicious heel that had bruised the prince's toes a number of times as he danced with the unknown beauty.

A search commenced. The prince and his men went from village to village, and house to house, trying the slipper on the foot of every young woman that they found, but none fitted. After three days, they came to the house of Cinderella, and found her in the cellar, not doing very much at all. The prince placed the slipper on Cinderella's foot, and it fitted perfectly. Great celebrations ensued, and even the stepsisters joined in, so pleased were they that they would soon be rid of Cinderella forever.

The prince and Cinderella were married, and they lived happily ever after.

Except they didn't. They lived happily for about three days, until the prince discovered that Cinderella wasn’t a very nice person, whereupon he returned to her father's house with the awful girl in tow.

The prince knocked on the door. Cinderella's father answered. He took in the prince and his daughter and understood immediately what had happened. Still, he pretended to be surprised, if only for form's sake, but he wasn't really surprised at all.

"Um," said the prince. "I don’t really like this one at all. She's nasty and lazy, and smells faintly of pumpkin. I wonder if I might swap her for one of the others?"

And so the prince divorced Cinderella and married the sister whose eyes were not quite level, and they did, in fact, live happily ever after, even if the prince sometimes got a bit of a headache from trying to stare into both of his wife's eyes at one.

As for Cinderella, she used her father's money to open a store selling uncomfortable glass slippers.

It went broke.


This week John read

The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs (uncorrected proof)

and listened to

Ongiara by Great Lake Swimmers
Armchair Apocrypha by Andrew Bird

Tuesday, June 12, 2007



Up at 5am to get to airport. This is the first day of what will be a 57-day tour, which is very long indeed. As it also covers a number of climate zones, I have been forced to pack for both summer and winter. My case resembles something that Scott of the Antarctic might have hauled along with him if he had planned to take a vacation in Aruba once the nasty cold stuff was out of the way.

On to Heathrow from Dublin, then to Philadelphia which, despite being the city of brotherly love, is sometimes not the friendliest of places. True to form, as soon as I pick up my bags a customs official eyes me up like a lion spotting a wounded gazelle, and then he's on me. I am hauled out of the line and questioned. I open my bags and he is mildly curious about why I have 300 cds in one of them. I point out that they will be given out free at signings, but he's not convinced. Apparently, he thinks I'm going to join those guys outside the subway stations in New York who sell pirated DVDs and Asian porn.

He goes off to consult someone, but he's made the terrible error of abandoning his prey. Immediately, another customs guy scents blood, and sidles up to ask how much booze I have in my duty free bag. The temptation is obviously to reply by asking if he hasn't got better things to do. Hell, there are people from far-off places hauling massive trunks through his customs gate that look like they might be ticking, or dosing people with enough plutonium to make them glow in the dark. I have cds, chocolates and a bottle of whiskey. As a potential offender, I make Paris Hilton look like Professor Moriarty.

Eventually, I am allowed to proceed, after a note has been added onscreen to some file with my name on it, which is a little worrying. It seems like the first step on the road to Guantanamo. I deal with the surly car rental guy, negotiate horrible Pennsylvania traffic, and drive for nearly three hours to get to Camp Hill, PA, the site of my first signing. Check into hotel, shower, then dash to mall. By now, I have been awake for 17 hours. I'm slightly delerious when I get to the mall, and find that I can't remember names and seem to be babbling more than usual. The lights seem too bright and it's very warm.
Drinks after, then fall into bed at 11.30pm, almost 24 hours after I first awoke. I think I may have tried to fit a little too much into one day. In fact, that would be a lot for two days.

My birthday. Spend most of it driving to New York and getting mildly lost once I leave the Holland Tunnel. Still, make it to rental office in time to avoid surcharges, but still pay enough for one day's rental to buy a car of my own. My editor's assistant calls to say that everyone is looking forward to tonight's signing and reading, and that the world and its mother is coming from my publisher's offices. Gently, I'm forced to tell her that the store, although wonderful, is rather small, and there may not be room enough there for the world's mother, let alone the world. After a rethink, it's decided that I'll be left to my own devices.

It's sunny, so people are standing on the street outside Black Orchid, the bookstore in question, when I arrive. Thankfully, there are people inside as well, and an orderly queue has formed. There's beer and wine, and familiar faces, and some people who've come along before, and everyone is very sweet. (Hi, Lawliss42!) Afterwards, I celebrate my birthday with four friends. It is, all told, a nice way to spend a day.

Busy day. A photographer - the legendary Jerry Bauer - comes to my hotel to take my photograph. He took pictures of Samuel Beckett, Patricia Highsmith, Gore Vidal - heck, just about any author worth naming - as well as many of the Hollywood greats. I feel a little inconsequential by comparison. We spend two hours talking and drinking tea, and I feel honored just to listen to him tell stories. Unfortunately, Book Expo America is calling, and we have to leave things at Roman Polanski. It's a discussion I’d dearly like to continue at another time. Those little moments when I meet extraordinary people whom I might not otherwise have encountered make me very grateful to be doing what I do.

Off to the Book Expo, the big American book exhibition, which is in an enormous west side conference center that appears to have disabled its own air conditioning. It's unspeakably warm. Attend a lunch for independent booksellers who are, as always, interesting, kind people. Turns out prizes are being awarded but not, as usual, to me. Instead, we are informed that the writers are being divided into those who are being 'honored' and, well, the others. I ask a bookseller if this is code for 'winners' and 'losers' and she confirms that, yes, indeed it is. I start to feel a big 'L' forming on my forehead. So the authors' names are called out (after a warning to the audience not to applaud us, in order to save time) and each of us stands up in turn so that people can see what we look like. It is excruciatingly embarrassing, especially since our names are called at random, so it's like waiting for a sniper's bullet to hit. Most of us just stand and look awkward as we are described to the crowd, although one author chooses to stand on a chair and wave, which I feel is a little excessive, as well as making him look like someone frantically trying to attract attention on the deck of a crowded ship. Edmund White, who does not stand on a chair, does get a round of applause, though, and rightly so. It would be a sad day if someone of his literary stature had to stand and simply be stared at. He seems like a nice man. If he won a prize, he'd probably give it to me out of pity if I asked, crossing "Edmund White" out with a crayon and scribbling my name on it instead.

Dinner that night at Rockefeller Center. As I'm a last minute parachute job, due to some confusion about my commitments, I masquerade as a female author. I'd like to think that I do a good job, in my masculine way. I'm not very hairy, which helps.

More BEA stuff, this time my formal signing. Not as many people as expected ask for a copy that isn't dedicated. Books signed at BEA are notorious for turning up on eBay soon after the event, so writers are a little happier when people ask for a dedication. It means that they want the book for themselves. Others, though, are meant for libraries, which is great too, while some people just collect signed books, which is fine as well. Still, I think most authors appreciate being asked to dedicate a book. It turns off that little voice in our heads that makes us wonder if, somewhere, someone out there isn't silently hoping that our plane goes down in the near future, thereby adding immeasurably to the value of his signed books.

Bookstore signings today. This is easier said than done. In the US, author signings are usually done while accompanied by an escort but, while most are okay people, I don't really see the point of having an entourage when I enter a bookstore, and I can find my way around most cities with a map and/ or a GPS. I will also never forget the author escort who asked if it would be okay with me if he came along to my signing to hear me talk, because he was interested in what I had to say. And then he charged me for his time.

I'll just write that again. He charged me. For. His time. Even though he asked if he could come along at the end of the day. I almost admired the brass on his neck when the bill arrived, even as the experience soured me considerably on the whole process.

Nevertheless, US booksellers are generally a little perturbed when an unaccompanied author arrives in the store, and at least once or twice each week a bookseller will discreetly check my author photo against my physical appearance, usually with unfavourable consequences for the way I look in person. ("Hey, that author photo is kind of old . . .")

I take time out to go to the Whitney with my friend Joe to see the exhibition of art from the Summer of Love. It's all very, um, groovy.
I think Joe, who is a little older than I am, may be having flashbacks. There's even a little cushioned room where you can watch light shows. All the Whitney needs is some guy selling dime bags, a couple of naked hippies and a vague fug of doobie smoke to make the whole experience complete. Somehow, it reminds me of Stephen Stills, of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, who had Vietnam flashbacks even though he'd never been to Vietnam. That takes some doing, although the exhibition does give a good sense of just how Stills's confused state might have come to pass.

Five days gone, and I'm already starting to ache a bit. I'm also not much good for anything after about ten-thirty at night. Five days. Only 52 to go. The countdown starts here . . .

This week John read

Crusade (uncorrected proof) by Robyn Young
That's Me In The Corner by Andrew Collins
Deep Storm by Lincoln Child

and listened to

Keren Ann by Keren Ann
Boxer by The National
Book of Bad Breaks by Thee More Shallows

and nearly wept when his iPod spontaneously erased his entire library of 11,000 songs.