Thursday, September 22, 2005


So now, serious disorientation is setting in. We're up at 6.30am, making coffee and doing last minute packing, before heading south to Los Angeles and Newport Beach.

With the sun squinting in through the driver's window, we get on to Interstate 5, and head out across what they call the Californian breadbasket. The Sierra Nevada mountains, away to our left, are obscured by haze and mist, and we pound the miles across the endless acres of dry agricultural valley, where crops have already been harvested and stubbled fields lie fallow, burned yellow and brown.

The sun rises and beats hot and relentless through the windshield, and still this endless parched, plain stretches away as far as the eye can see.

We stop at a Starbucks and take on board some caffeine to keep us awake. Susie is driving, determined and focused, and declines my offer to take over for a while at the wheel. And we press on, through shimmering orchards, where pickers gather in clusters, and chemical toilets lurk behind temporary white plastic. How fastidious.

The orchards give way to vast tracts of cotton, and a bright yellow crop duster swoops and dives across the interstate to release its toxins on unsuspecting parasites.

It is hot, and getting hotter.

We stop and feed our faces with disgusting Subway sandwiches. The hispanic server tells us that we cannot have avocado. Susie, incredulous, tells him it is grown here - right on his doorstep. "Too expensive," he says. "No-one will pay for it."

La Patronne heads for the toilets to be told, "Esta occupado" (or words to that effect), by a lady who hasn't figured out that pink-faced, blue-eyed blonde people might not speak Spanish.

We head up into the mountains, then, which rise sheer, and unexpected, out of the plains. And wind our way down through "The Grapevine", to the Los Angeles basis which spreads out below us. Buildings multiply before our eyes. Traffic, like cholesterol, thickens in the arterial freeways. I thank God I am not driving.

We follow instructions downloaded from the internet, and find ourselves in the heart of Hollywood. In the boulevard, past the sidewalk of the stars, and all the famous landmarks we have seen in movies and read about in magazines. Up the hill, then, to the offices of my LA movie agent, Jon Karas, where La Patronne and Susie leave me to engage in an hour-long discussion about the movie prospects of the China Thrillers, and Jon's huge enthusiasm for my latest manuscript, "One for Sorrow" - the first of a series of seven mysteries set in France. He is hugely excited by it and convinced it is a winner.

His enthusiasm is infectious and fills me with optimism. We have spoken only on the telephone before today, and communicated mostly by e-mail. It is our first face-to-face.

Then La Patronne and Susie reappear to whisk me off to the Beverly Hills home of our French neighbours, John and Bettie Jensen, who have prepared a salmon salad to keep us going until after this evening's book event.

It is at the "The Mystery Bookstore" in Westwood, just a short drive away. But to reach it we have to brave the traffic and the crowds assembled there for the premiere of a movie I have never heard of, starring actors who haven't even registered in my peripheral vision. There is a chance that even I am more famous than they are.

Quand meme! Nobody turns up at the bookstore. Except for the Jensens, and Jonnie Neville, another old friend from France. But I am happy, for once, not to have to deliver the performance which has carried me through the tour thus far. The store is run by Bobby and Linda who tell me it is not uncommon for writers to land there in a vacuum. Parking and premieres cause frequent problems.

But they have selected me for their "Discovery" bookclub, and there are dozens of pre-ordered copies of "The Firemaker" to sign. And, again, then some. We, all of us, sit around a table and talk about my latest manuscript - "One for Sorrow" - and the interest is intense. I have a good feeling about this book.

And then, we discover, Linda's grandparents came from Dundee, in Scotland. I knew there was empathy there. And Bobby is of Irish extraction. All Celts together. And so a good night is had by all.

Until we pour out into the Hollywood night to be told by a heavy in a suit that we can't cross the road at the lights because they're loading up gear from the premiere. We want to get to Starbucks, which is on the other side of the street. But he is insistent. I want to ask him if he has the authority to stop me crossing the road, and if so to show me it. But La Patronne drags me away and we cross the road a block further down.

When we come back up the street another heavy blocks our way into Starbucks. He gives us the same explanation as his clone across the street. This time, I'm in no mood to argue. "I'm going into Starbucks" I tell him, and push past. He is about to argue, but Susie gives him one of her "Dontfuckwithme" looks and he says, "Oh, you're going into Starbucks. That's okay, then. Sorry folks." But of course, Susie was the one wearing the trousers. I only had my skirt on, as usual!

And, then, through the night, south again to Newport Beach, to pizza and wine, and bed. And thoughts of yet another launch party tomorrow. And from the harbour below, as I write my blog, I hear the calling of the seals, loud and insistent, and telling me it's way past my bedtime.

The "Register" signed by visiting authors at "The Mystery Bookstore"

Signing the "Register" with Bettie Jensen looking on

With Bobby and Linda

1 comment:

Marilyn Munsterman said...

I am already planning what I will wear to the movie opening of 'One for Sorrow' in Paris.