Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Lost in Space

I am floating somewhere lost in space. Jetlag plus.

Monday morning, Paris, 6am, struggling through the cold and dark to drag our cases aboard a tram that would take us to the RER rail line that would, in turn, take us to Charles de Gaulle Airport. I can remember thinking... oh, the glamour of it all!

A nine-hour flight on a cramped little Delta plane dumped us in an unseasonally warm and sunny Minneapolis at 1pm local time (it’s the first March since records began, that there has been zero snowfall here), and it was straight on to a rental car, and a battle with the sat-nav, to find our way to Uncle Edgar’s Mystery bookstore where mystery connoisseur, Jeff Hatfield, was waiting with a pile of some eighty books for me to sign.

As I began the first tendonitis-torturing signing session of the tour, an unexpected visitor dropped by the shop - Ina, the cousin of my Dutch neighbour in France. The world just keeps on shrinking. She and La Patronne went for a coffee while I signed and asked Jeff for some reading recommendations.

These were his tips - hot off the press: “Frag Box”, by Richard A. Thompson; “The Bricklayer”, by Noah Boyd; and “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Apple”, by Alan Bradley.

It was then on to the home of Elizabeth and Tom Carr with whom we were staying overnight. Elizabeth is the daughter of our old neighbours from France, and our frequent host in this Minnesotan city.

By now it was around midnight, Paris time, and I was beginning to wilt. Much coffee was required to keep me on my feet till it was time to head to Once Upon a Crime, the bookstore where I was to give my talk. The store is owned by Pat and Gary, an amazing couple whose tiny, chaotic, book-filled shop is a must on the itinerary of any self-respecting crime writer on a US tour.

It was the first stop on my first US tour five years ago, when only a handful of people turned up. After all, who the hell had ever heard of Peter May? Five years on, and the place was packed Standing room only, and I delivered the first of more than twenty talks that I will give on this tour - setting the shape and form of the others to come.

By the time I was finished my talk, and the signing, it was 3am, Paris time, and a bunch of us set off in the dark to find a little restaurant called The Corner Table. Among the group was my old friend, Carl Brookins - a stalwart of the Minnesota Crime Wave group of writers who tour the country promoting their work. He and his wife Jean are veteran sailors, and have done battle with oceans, seas, and lakes in most parts of the world. Carl writes a highly successful and entertaining series of sailing mysteries, the latest of which is “Devils Island”.

Some food, some wine, and finally I felt myself tipping over the precipice. It really was time for bed.

I slipped wearily between the sheets almost exactly 24 hours after struggling on to that tram in wet and windy Paris, and tumbled into the clutches of a deeply embracing sleep. But only for six dream-filled hours, before waking at 5am (local) to dig out my laptop and write this blog.

An hour from now we will set off for the airport, and an early flight to Denver, Colorado, where it will all begin again.

Will someone please stop this train?

Monday, March 29, 2010

We Have Lift-off

It’s over. Three crazy, interesting, hard grafting, wine-drinking, face-stuffing days in Paris. A Salon du Livre hit by the financial crisis. Numbers down. People spending less on books.

But still the invitations keep coming - to more salons. I turned one down - Paris in June - because it clashes with one I am going to at Le Havre. Yet another, in July, is sorely tempting - an invitation to Corsica. A three day weekend salon which begins as the ferry leaves Marseilles on the Thursday night.

A Chinese bookseller from Brest - who is really from Shanghai - in France on a ten year visa, begged for my help to get her a holiday visa to Scotland. A dental surgeon, who is an underwater photographer in his spare time, wanted me to contribute to a high-gloss international publication on the environment. I asked if he would be interested in giving me a root treatment.

Sunday was lunch on a houseboat on the Seine, the home of the English editor of a series of books being published in English by a French publisher (does this make any sense?). La Patronne and I each wrote a book (well, actually long short stories) for the series, which comes out in June. The series is called Paper Planes, and the stories - all between 12,000 and 15,000 words in length - use a Latin-rooted vocabulary to allow French learners of English to read comfortably.

I chose to write a story using the characters from my China series, Li and Margaret. It is called “The Ghost Marriage”. And La Patronne wrote one called “Distant Echo”, about a psychotherapist and a life-changing accident.

For the launch, the publisher, Editions Didier (part of Hachette), wanted to film interviews with us to put up on the website. So after lunch with editor, Rupert Morgan, and his wife Karine (I hope I spelled that right), on board their incredible houseboat, we took turns to sit in the salon and record our interviews. A faintly surreal diversion in another otherwise constant flow of non book-buying salon-goers.

Then to dinner that night, just spitting distance from the Senat, with friends Ariane and Gilbert, Jean-Pierre and Jacqueline, and Jean-Pierre (a different one) and Janine (neighbours from St. Michel), followed by a long hike back across the city in the small hours of the morning.

Later that same morning, Monday, after an early rise, we raced across Paris to the giant FNAC computer store to buy me a new laptop bag - the one I had packed to take with me fell apart on the train. And then back to the Salon for lunch and a drowsy afternoon induced by a glass or three of rose.

And before a farewell dinner with my French publisher, a fun hour spent with Fred Bellaiche, who is going to produce a movie of one of my China Thrillers - The Killing Room (but more of that later). He loaded us with movies to watch on the plane and during the tour, while we storyline and write the screenplay - French movies, Hong Kong movies, Italian movies, Korean movies.

But in the end, all creative talk gave way to a much more serious topic - football!

Life is interesting. For the moment, But I am not so sure I will feel the same as I drag myself out of bed at 6am tomorrow for the trauchle out to the airport and the first flight of the great transatlantic adventure.

Next stop, Minneapolis. See you there!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

On the Road Again

Paris, on a cold morning in late March. The first day on a two month journey that will take me all over the United States before returning me to this city at the end of May, older (certainly), wiser (maybe), and warmer (hopefully).

Just over 24 hours ago I sat in a train station in south-west France, watching the rain sweep down across the tracks, the first grey light of dawn breaking in a leaden sky. My first stop on an uncertain adventure.

I hate leaving home. And this time was no different. Depressed, cold, butterflies in conflict in my tummy, I saw the lights of the approaching train and thought: It begins. And I knew that once on the road nothing else would matter. The tour would be my life. Home could wait.

The words of an old Paul Simon song from the sixties popped up unexpectedly in my head:

I'm sitting in the railway station.
Got a ticket to my destination.
On a tour of one-night stands my suitcase and (a book) in hand.
And ev'ry stop is neatly planned for a poet and a one-man band.
Homeward bound,
I wish I was,
Homeward bound.

But four hours on the train revising the manuscript of the fifth Enzo book, and a reunion with old friends at the Salon du Livre in Paris soon banished the blues.

I’m on the road again.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

New Blog

It's been a while since I blogged - been too busy writing.  However, from tomorrow (Friday, March 5th), I join the writing team of the award-winning Type M for Murder blog, which has different contributors for each day of the week.  The subject of the blog is writing in all its multifarious forms, and the contributors are all published authors, six in total with a guest author each Sunday.  So from tomorrow I will be "Man Friday", and you can read me at this address:

In other news, I leave at the end of the month for a two-month book tour of the US, and will be writing daily blog entries on the adventures of a writer on the road.  So watch this space.