Firstly, what is it with me and cameras? I was in the States for 3 weeks, met hundreds of wonderful people, saw dozens of wonderful sights, and took five pictures: none of books, none of authors, none of audiences (a good thing, possibly, at Borders in La Grange, Illinois, except at the end, where my dulcet tones – stop a tank at 100 yards as somebody once described them – finally attracted a few book buffs, perhaps because the words ‘hangman’, ‘execution’ and ‘deathshead’ were unusual to hear on a warm May evening). But I still should have taken a picture of Borders’ beautiful display. Thank you, Borders in La Grange!
Actually, because of lack of any photographic evidence to the contrary, I think my children are convinced I actually never left Britain, or even the house, just spent 3 weeks lying low, possibly in our bedroom, sneaking out for a little refreshment when they weren’t looking. It’s an idea …
But I have been in the States (really truly) and have been back a week now. It may have been a mistake after flying in, red-eyed, at 7.30 a.m. to Glasgow from New York, to attack the kitchen floor with a mop, although perhaps the biggest mistake was to go out to lunch with my husband. Why not a Fruitini cocktail? The Hudson comes to the Clyde. Why not another? And a little wine? Is this what they mean by jetlag?
Still, so far as I remember, and although, in the words of the S & G song ‘Michigan seems like a dream to me no ow ow,’ – magical thing about America, it’s just like the songs people write about it – I landed in Detroit at around 5 p.m. on Monday 14th May, was swept up by Rachel from Walker, socks and boots at once discarded into the back of the rented SUV – they said it was compact: COMPACT? I could have fitted my study into the boot – and turned on the SATNAV. Question: does anybody know what the British voice – Richard? Kevin? SadMan? – says as a greeting? Is he exhorting us to eat more carrots? The best thing about the SATNAV was the withering contempt with which the phrase ‘recalculating’ was uttered every time we went wrong. It did a lot of ‘recalculating’ as we tried to negotiate our way out of Grand Rapids, past the Gerald Ford Library. I think it might have been easier to take a boat down the rapids themselves, which were pretty impressive from my suite (upgraded since vast hotel chocabloc with diners and sleepers – Americans love to conference) in the glass tower of the hotel.
Then there was King Ping Ding Ding. I hadn’t really thought much about him for some years but suddenly, out he popped. He wanted his moment on a book tour in the States even though he’s about as far away from the de Granvilles or How the Hangman Lost His Heart as it is possible to get. Be quiet, I told him, in ruder language than that, but his determination wore me down. He goes like this: There was a king called Ping Ding Ding and he had a wife called (deep breath) Onoratacata(lots more of this)rian. And they had a daughter called Lamamasukawila(lots more of that)mo. As you can see, this is quite a story, and it gets more and more confounding as I speed up. My biggest Ping Ding Ding moment was reciting it to 3 adults in a public spot, (they did ask for it, I promise) with shoppers peering in: amazed? aghast? completely flummoxed?
And so the tour began.
What author can extoll enough the virtues of book stores, most particularly the independents? Who can extoll enough the managers and staff, and also the schools, with their teachers, supervisors and librarians, to say nothing of the public library librarians? I met many in Michigan, in Illinois and Chicago, and in New York. From Colleen at Book Beat I also learnt that September 21st is the International Day of Peace. Thank you for that, Colleen, and a huge thank you to all. We authors would be nothing without your enthusiasm and dogged book carting skills, your hand selling, your recommendations to your classes and library users and your fabulously undimmed love of literature, even in the face of all adversity. I took home fantastic memories of the people in Michigan, Chicago and New York City, loved the lunches with the book groups and learnt a lot from the other authors on the panels. I do like authors! You know, from the gleam in their eyes, that they suffer from exactly the same angst as you do yourself. Sometimes we communicate just by the twitching of an eye.
One memorable moment from many: the mother duck and 5 ducklings solemnly paddling down the road, beaks up, stomachs out, in the huge mall at Skokie. Hey, mother duck, did you know where you were going, or were you just trying to reassure the kids? We never found out, although we did notify the police, just in case the ducklings weren’t all hers and she was doing a runner – well, more or a ‘walker’ I suppose.
I was also was introduced to the concept of the neighbourhood ‘tear down’ (thank you, Heidi). Now, in Scotland we have a lot of ‘fall down’ – our 150 year old town house is being lightly touched by such a trauma – but ‘tear down’? What’s with that? Is it what we British would love to do but don’t dare? Or is it a jokey hoot that only Americans could carry off? We British are stuck with what we have, architecturally speaking. But in the US it seems that in some neighbourhoods, for people with a bit of cash, it is quite the thing to buy a $5 million mansion, bring in the demolition men, then rebuild it in a mix of romantic French, solid German, Gloucestershire country cottage with, as a little frolic on the top, a personal flight of chimney brickwork fancy. The results are fantabulous, or, if you are a Glaswegian, gob-smacking. It was an education.
And what about the books? The Walker de Granville covers are so lovely, I almost wanted to cry when I saw them altogether. I can never decide which is my favourite. I’ve been incredibly lucky. Some authors hate the look of their books, I love mine.
If you’ve made it this far down the post, congratulations!
There will be more, in time. I mean I haven’t even mentioned BEA, our Saturday night al fresco dinner with Lemon Drops, or the man who threw all his clothes out of a taxi on, I think, 34th and 9th, and left me wondering whether it was good or bad New York etiquette to scavenge.
Onwards and upwards,