Letter from America
It's Sunday and day 3 of my US tour. I've fitted in so much though, that it feels as if I've been here for weeks. After a summer of rain in the UK, I flew into a New York that was damp and humid and waiting for a storm. Moses, my US agent, took me out to dinner and jet lag weary, I discussed books and politics as the clouds got darker and the first raindrops hit the pavement of 57th Street.
Friday was Port Washington, Long Island. Jessica the lovely librarian had organised a Shetland tea, with china teapots and pretty place settings, scones and cakes. The audience was much like the audience in a British library: polite. appreciative, interesting. We talked about the islands and murder and Dead End books set up a stall to sell. Afterwards, Lourdes, who's one of the most well-respected crime bloggers in the States, and I went out for dinner with my publicist Hector. Again, after a couple of beers in an Irish bar the discussion moved to politics. This is a different, less confident USA from the place I've visited on previous occasions. People ask themselves: 'How did we allow this to happen?'
My first Elderhostel event took place in a building just off Wall Street, and looking down at a half-completed building site I imagined the road haunted by panic-stricken bankers appearing out of the mist. In fact, the Elderhostel participants were welcoming, knowledgeable crime readers. After the programme, I made my way uptown on the slightly scary subway system to visit Partners and Crime in Greenwich Village to sign copies for stock, then back to my hotel. The air was oppressive and sticky, even in the evening when I went out to meet my friends, Fran and Norm. In the restaurant there was more politics, more dismay at the way the country is moving. They're liberals and see Obama as their only hope. 'He's inexperienced but I think he's smart enough to surround himself with good people' Norm said. Fran looked up from her oysters. 'Imagine McCain dying - he's old after all - and that woman being in charge!' She rolled her eyes to the ceiling.
Today seems to have been all trains and waiting in stations. I left New York through the Grand Union Station, ornate and magnificent. In New Canaan Connecticut, a picture book town of clapboard houses and tree lined streets, we did Brought to Book. Everything wonderfully organised by Cynde Lahey. Despite the awful weather people turned out and the format seemed to work as well as it always does. Now I'm on my way to Boston in a rattling train that's already late. We've just passed through Providence, Rhode Island. I won't be switching on my TV when I reach my hotel. It's all politics and I've had enough of that this weekend.
I like to travel. I don't even mind hanging round in airports as long as I've got a decent book and there are interesting conversations to listen in to. But I don't enjoy being weighed down by a load of stuff. Tim, my husband, has packing down to a fine art. He has a holdall in brown leatherette that most airlines will take as carry-on baggage. Into that he can get his telescope, tripod, field guides and the few clothes he thinks essential for a three week expedition. Sometimes, even wellingtons. Binoculars he wears round his neck. I dither and always take far too much.
Back from a book tour to southern Sweden I was glad I'd put in smart clothes. There were dinners, a reception. Jeans would have been fine for the few days in Svedala, in Henning Mankell's Scania, where our friends Lars and Ingrid live in a long, low farmhouse. But not for the working part of the trip.
I'd been invited to take part in the Kristianstad Book Festival and Bonniers, my Swedish publisher, had invited me to a bookshop event in Lund too. Ing-Britt, my editor, met me from the bus in Lund. I'd only met her once at the London Book Fair, but by the end of the weekend we were gossipping and giggling like schoolkids. She'd been a student in the town and showed me the cathedral, the University Library with the huge spiral staircase made of oak, where once, it's said, a Danish king gallopped to the top of the tower on his horse. The event was in the university bookshop - 150 people had turned out to hear the Bonniers rep pitch the latest titles. This is a country where reading is taken seriously. They listened to me too, talking about the Shetland books, and then to Theo Kallifatides reading from his new work.
Theo is an academic, philosopher and novelist who moved to Sweden from his native Greece at the time of the generals. He writes the books simultaneously in Greek and Swedish and speaks fluent English, German and French too. Later, in the bar, the conversation was as it always is when writers get together: about the power of the marketing department and accountants, a regret for a gentler age when content was more important than style.
Theo opened the Kristianstad Book Festival. I wish I'd been there, but I was talking to a hundred sixth formers in a High School in the town. RAVEN BLACK was one of their set English texts. The next day my session in the Festival proper attracted a full house and lots of interesting questions. Ing-Britt and I found time to wander around the town in the sunshine. Our favourite place was a coffee shop that looked like a set from an Ibsen play, with bentwood chairs, marble pillars and potted plants. It sold some of the best cakes I've ever tasted. Ing-Britt bought a bag of goodies to take back to her husband in Stockholm. But not me. I travel light.
In a couple of weeks time I'll be in the US to promote WHITE NIGHTS there before ending up in Bouchercon. Already I'm wondering how I'm going to manage getting about - I'll be on my own and I'm travelling everywhere by train. Visit Shetland has sent me a bunch of goodies to hand out at events. Terrific, but on the heavy side! I've just printed out some of my favourite Shetland recipes to give away. I'll need books to keep me sane, and my laptop so I can get on with some work at quiet times. And won't it be cool then, so I'll need a coat and some sweaters? Maybe I should ask Tim to do my packing for me...