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.


Joanie said...

I swear it's the airplane that kills the ipod. Why haven't they done anything to fix that yet?

Happy belated b-day and best of luck on your tour. As exhausting as it sounds I hope to be doing it in a couple of years....

Gabriela said...

Hey! Happy belated birthday from me, too! Now I'll just toddle off and clean my shirt off. It'll be tough to remove all those snorted-coffee stains, though. I need to remember to wear a bib when reading your posts.

Robert said...

I assume (hope, pray) that you have a backup of your music?

Oh, and happy birthday John... hope you sirvive the tour.


thomashyland said...

I'm still laughing at that episode with the customs inspector. Hope there's no more of that! Best wishes for the remainder of the tour.

Joe said...

Happy Belated Birthday - when was it?
Bugger about the iPod - we kinda have similar tastes. Any albums in particular you're missing, I can email them to you if I got them:o)
PS Vianne nearly wept when she read about your iPod - we feel your pain, brother, we feel your pain.