What a week! I just got back from my trip to New York and Kansas City. Here's what this very jetlagged author got up to in the States.
If you live anywhere near the bookshops I mention in this post – all indie – do stop and pay a visit. They all sound brilliant and the booksellers attending Winter Institute 8 were incredible: knowledgable, creative, and passionate about what they do. The US independent bookshop scene still has a strong heartbeat – let's keep it pumping!
Tuesday 19 February
|View from the Flatiron Building|
I got up at 5.30 to catch a 7.00 coach from Oxford to Heathrow. After our flight was delayed for a few hours, Alexandra and I flew out to New York's JFK airport and got a cab to our hotel in Soho, NYC. Too tired to do anything but sleep, I curled up in bed and did just that.
Wednesday 20 February
Wednesday was a busy day. After breakfast, Alexandra and I headed to the Flatiron Building on Fifth Avenue, where Bloomsbury USA is currently based, to meet the team. Among them were my wonderful US editor, Rachel Mannheimer; George Gibson, publishing director; Cristina Gilbert, executive director of marketing and publicity; Laura Keefe, marketing director; Marie Coolman, senior director of publicity; and Nancy Miller, editor-in-chief. George, Cristina, Laura and Nancy would be my travelling companions at the Winter Institute later in the week. Needless to say they were all very welcoming and made me feel completely at home in the Flatiron office.
First on the agenda was a lunch to introduce me to US book reviewers, organised by Marie. I was a bit shy at first, but I had a great time and some really interesting discussions, including a long chat with Laura Miller from Salon. After lunch, I met up with my Massachusettsan friend Laura (so many Lauras) for coffee. After being kicked out of a crowded Starbucks ('You can't sit on the floor here, guys'), we made a valiant attempt to find Soho – battling through the worst Atlantic wind imaginable, so bad I couldn't feel my fingers – but ended up in Times Square, almost on the other end of Manhattan. (We're great at navigating.) After a much-needed coffee at Pret, Laura caught the last bus back to Amherst. I was forced to give up on finding my way to Soho and hailed a cab to get me back to Fifth Avenue, vowing to buy a map before taking another bite out of the Big Apple.
Alexandra, Rachel and I spent the evening with Bloomsbury editor Anton Mueller, his friend Michael Ripp, and the English author Patrick McGrath. After lots of book-related chat, we headed back to the hotel.
Thursday 21 February
After a traditional New York bagel breakfast, I went to the Flatiron Building early to do a short video about The Bone Season and my writing process. Preview here. After a quick lunch, I met up with my very old friend Joëlle for coffee and a catch-up in Chelsea. By amazing coincidence we were in the US at exactly the same time: me for writing, Joëlle for photography.
|I can has book?|
Friday 22 February
Last day in NYC! I signed out of the hotel and spent the morning meeting the Macmillan sales team at the Flatiron Building. Macmillan distributes Bloomsbury's books in the US, and it was great to meet the team that will be selling The Bone Season later this year. After lunch, it was time to head to the airport. Alexandra stayed behind in NYC, while I went ahead with Laura and Cristina to Newark Airport, where we boarded a tiny United plane to Kansas City, Missouri. Following a severe blizzard, the city was blanketed in beautiful knee-deep snow. We took a cab to the Sheraton Hotel, which is attached to the Crown Center, where the Winter Institute would take place, via a long glass skyway called the Link. After getting ourselves settled in, we went for dinner. I'd forgotten my ID and was thus refused my glass of sweet wine. In the UK the drinking age is 18, so I didn't even think to bring my driving licence. Ah well.
Saturday 23 February
|Good morning Kansas.|
After an early breakfast with Lori Fazio (R. J. Julia Booksellers, CT), Nancy, Gail and I decided to have some lunch and hit the mall, so we called a cab from the hotel. As we drove up the street, the cab was abruptly rear-ended by a Ford Explorer, which smashed us straight into a snow bank. The noise was incredible. When you see collisions in movies you never think how loud it is for the people inside the car, but my God, was that a loud crash. Being the only passenger in the car wearing a seatbelt, I managed to avoid a concussion, but both Nancy and Gail hit their heads. A woman came staggering out of the Ford and started frantically asking if we were okay, interspersed with curses. She insisted she looked but 'just didn't see' us in our bright yellow cab. We managed to get out (after a minute of me wailing 'we have to get out of the car right now!', thinking they might both explode, Michael Bay style) and into a nearby store, in which the staff seemed utterly unfazed by our accident – their response to 'we've been in a car crash' was 'oh, right, okay'. You have to applaud their poise. Outside, the cab company supervisors and police were called. After waiting for the police report, which included a subpoena – the officer assured me that I wouldn't be summoned back from the UK to witness – we made our way to the ER. Nancy had a minor concussion and Gail received a long lecture on the functioning of "old brains" – more, she said, than she really wanted to know.
I wasn't in pain, so I wasn't too keen on waiting hours in the ER, but the Bloomsbury staff insisted I get a check-up. I was sent to a room and asked to wait for a doctor. It wasn't until I sat down that I realised I was in pain: the muscles in my neck started to spasm, and I could hardly lift my head. After waiting a long time to be seen, I was diagnosed with whiplash and given a muscle relaxant called Flexiril, along with a strong painkiller. Fortunately I avoided a neck brace. George, Cristina and I reached the booksellers' dinner about half an hour late, but we made it for the main course. Among the attendees were Margot Sage-El (Watchung Booksellers, NJ), Anne Holman (The King's English, UT) and Ed Conklin (Chaucer's Books, CA – best name ever for a bookshop). Midway through a lovely conversation with Sheryl Cotleur (Copperfield's Books, CA), the muscle relaxant kicked in and I felt myself melt. Every muscle in my body turned to butter, I slurred my words and my eyelids felt like barbells. I was quickly spirited away in a cab, back to the hotel, where I was fast asleep as soon as I hit the pillow.
Sunday 24 February
I made it to breakfast with some more indie booksellers, many of them from the South. I have a weird fascination with southern accents – possibly a side-effect of watching True Blood – so I was content to just sit and listen to a lot of the conversations. The attendees were Richard Howorth (Square Books, MS), Karen Hayes (Parnassus Books, TN), Daniel Goldin (Boswell Book Company, WI), Suzanna Hermans (Oblong Books, NY) and Sara Goddin (Quail Ridge Books, NC). At lunchtime, Laura, Cristina and I ventured out to find some true Kansas City cuisine. En route, we observed that Kansas City has very few people on the streets; it's definitely not a walking city like NYC and London. If a zombie apocalypse hit it, you probably wouldn't notice a thing. I was humming Keep the Streets Empty for Me while I walked. Still, the barbecue place was bustling, and no wonder: the food was divine. After trekking back to the hotel through the snow, I spent the rest of the day resting in bed with ibuprofen and a pile of ARCs. One of those I finished was She Rises by Kate Worsley, a naval adventure set in 1740 – one of the best books I've read in a long time. Kate is one of my fellow Bloomsbury debutantes and she's a fantastic writer: her prose is rich, lively and colourful, and the story has a brilliant and unexpected twist.
|Gail and I with our galleys.|
|Me with the awesome Kenny.|
Monday 25 February
Up at 3am. Laura, Cristina and I head to the airport at 4, and I fly to Chicago to await a transfer flight to London. When I get back to Oxford, I sleep. A lot.
So there you have it: an author's adventure in America. Sorry for the delay, guys – jetlag is a killer. Now go shop at indie bookstores!
A big thank you to all the staff at Bloomsbury for hosting me and organising such a wonderful trip.
Next week I'll be posting a short interview with my agent, David Godwin, who will be answering the questions you submitted earlier this month.