Saturday, September 03, 2005

Well, I suppose the panel could have been worse. Though maybe not a lot. The "Irish Witch", which is what the lady who moderated the panel likes to call herself, was nice enough, but the session was completely unstructured. Unrelated questions that allowed nothing organic to develop, and we were left trying to fill in the spaces with stories that didn't even fit the questions. It wasn't a huge crowd. About sixty or so, and I'm not sure that they were particularly entertained. It just felt awkward.

I spoke later at night to one of the other panellists, an English writer called David Hewson, who writes detective stories set in Rome, and we were pretty much in accord. He had done his best to try and lift it. He's a nice, affable big guy with a dry sense of humour, and managed to raise a few laughs. Turns out he worked at one time with my old mate Alastair Balfour (with whom I created my very first TV drama, "The Standard", back in the seventies) in the magazine business.

The signing went quite well, although most of the books I was signing were UK hardbacks that hardcore fans had procured and wanted me to sign. There was quite a line of them. One even had a soft-cover advance reading copy of "The Noble Path" published by St. Martin's Press in the early nineties. A real collector's item.

But life's strange. You meet people in odd ways. I was riding down in the lift yesterday morning to the first session and these two guys got in. One was wearing a white hat and sporting a narrow strip of silver beard on his chin - just slightly off centre, although I'm not sure it was meant to be. The other was a tall guy with a shock of silver hair, and the look of a man who'd had a drink or three the night before.

Of course, they took in the kilt. And the guy with the hair asked, "What is it you call that little dagger you wear in the sock?" Of course, it was a hypothetical question, because these days it's impossible to travel with a sgian dubh. I told him what it was and he wanted to know how it was spelt. I couldn't remember exactly (since Gaelic spelling is never terribly logical) and gave him the English spelling of skean dhu.

Then we got talking and I walked with them down to the booksellers' floor. Turns out they're a writer and his publisher. Dennis McMillan, the one with the hat, was the publisher, a Californian living in Tucson, Arizona, and the other was a Californian living in San Francisco - Jim Nisbet. Both with oddly Scottish names. A couple of really nice guys. We got down to their stand and chatted. Jim was interested in the China books and at one point dived off among the other booksellers, to return a few minutes later with a copy of "The Firemaker", which he had bought and wanted me to sign. To my shame he then presented me with a beautiful hardcopy of his latest book "The Syracuse Codex", and wouldn't take money for it.

It was then that I noticed that all the reviews of his work on the back cover were quotes from French publications. And what do you know, it turns out that all his books are published in France - in fact more of them are published in France than in the US. He's been very successful there and developed a close relationship with his translator, who lives in the Dordogne.

Then even more bizarre, he'll be in France in November doing promotion at an event at Lyon, and we exchanged addresses etc. and talked about the possibility of getting together.

The irony was, that later in the day when I needed a "Firemaker" to place in front of me on the desk at the panel, I went and borrowed Jim's, because I didn't have any copies of it myself. In return I went on the net and checked the proper spelling of sgian dubh and passed it on. Not much of an exchange, really.

I later bumped into them in the elevator again. Jim was clutching a bottle of 21-year-old Macallan, and they were en route to one of the many parties going on. I was just coming back from the St. Martin's party at Pazzo's, and had had enough for the night, so declined their invitation to join them. Another time. And I guess if I bump into them in the lift again this morning, that bottle of Macallan's will be well emptied.

The St. Martin's do was a bit like those things tend to be. You don't know anyone, and you stand around like an idiot clutching a glass of wine wondering when it would be polite to leave - as if anyone would notice.

Fortunately I spotted the name tag of a writer I'm to appear with at the Poisoned Pen in Arizona later on the tour, Carl Brookins. Not even a St. Martin's author, but one of the Minnesota Crimewave. And what a nice man he turned out to be, introducing me to a St. Martin's author from South Carolina. I also met the head of the company, Sally Richardson, who assured us all that St. Martin's "Mystery" imprint - MINOTAUR - has a secure and established future.

So the time passed pleasantly enough until a window of opportunity presented itself and I made my escape out into the warm Chicago evening - to steak tips and wine and bed.

Me with Henrietta Wilde and Gaylene Chesnut of the "Whodunnit" mystery bookstore in Winnipeg, Canada.

Chicago at evening...

1 comment:

Janice said...

Do you think that these "steak tips" might be made up from the left-overs of the 45-ounce rib-eye steaks, that people can't eat?