Wednesday, 27 June 2007

U.S. Tour extra pic

Los Angeles

Launch day!

Today is the Big Day. The Russian Concubine is published in the USA.

I’m holding my breath!

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

U.S. Tour Pictures

San Francisco

San Francisco

Los Angeles

U.S. Tour

Back home again. The book-tour of America was an amazing experience – despite the lack of sleep. I’ve at last stopped falling into a doze while my family are still talking to me.

As I zoomed from city to city (just so you know, it was London to San Francisco to Seattle to Los Angeles to Washington to Boston) I met a great bunch of people, mainly booksellers, and their wonderful warmth and enthusiasm for The Russian Concubine was so exciting, I could have travelled round the States without the aeroplanes, I was flying so high.

Check out my website’s American Tour 2007 if you want the details, but here I want to share a few impressions that stuck in my mind.

1) Booksellers in Los Angeles have to shake the sand out of their books before handing them over to customers, if their stores are near the beach. Isn’t that a great image?

2) In Seattle, the Pike Place Market. A crazy warren of stalls that sells everything (I bought two cute Classic Car models for my husband - to soothe my guilt-pangs at abandoning him for a week back in England), And its piece de resistance – the ritual of throwing the salmon. Don’t ask! Suffice to say I saw a whole (dead) salmon flying through the air as if it had grown wings.

3) Nodding Donkeys. Between LA airport and the city itself the landscape is covered in hundreds of these small oil pumps (called ‘Nodding Donkeys’) that look like it’s been colonised by the wobbly-headed plastic dogs you see on the rear shelf of a car. That is so weird.

4) Cosmo cocktails in Washington. Wicked.

5) Alaska Airways. Who is that guy whose face beams out from each plane’s tail?

6) A conversation with one of the drivers of the whisper-quiet, black-glass Town Cars that chauffeured me so courteously around the cities. The driver fancied himself as a bit of a philosopher, full of bright sayings, and when he learned I was on a book-tour for my publisher, Penguin-Berkley, he cracked a grin at me in the rear-view mirror.
Driver: So you’re enjoying the trip because you’re on opium.
Me (stunned): Pardon? Did you say ‘on opium’?
Driver: I did.
Me: Uh? (Were my eyes rolling in their sockets?)
Driver: Got you thinking, haven’t I? That’s what authors are
meant to do, think.
Me (brain addled): I give up. Why am I on opium?
Driver: (speaking slowly, as to a particularly dumb child)
O..P..M. You’re enjoying the trip because you’re on
O..P..M. That’s - Other People’s Money.
We both roared with laughter. I loved him.

7) Another driver in another city played a CD of sorrowful Russian songs to me the whole time I was in the car, laboriously translating the lyrics of each one in a strong Armenian accent.

8) Washington. A beautiful city, bursting with energy. The frustration of being in a hotel in the gorgeous Georgetown area and not having even one minute to go out to explore it.

9) Washington. A night-time drive round the city. Unforgettable.

10) Clydesdale horses and a beautiful blond Penguin representative with a passion for breeding and riding them. Have you seen these animals? They’re huge. In a photograph she looked like a butterfly perched on its broad back.

11) Amy’s table decorations with framed pictures of my mother and grandmother in pride of place. They knocked me out.

12) Standing in front of Nighthawk at an exhibition of paintings by Edward Hopper in Boston – a 20th century icon that in one picture says more than most authors in a whole book.

13) Talking and talking about my book, The Russian Concubine, without stop for a week to groups of people who are into books in a big way. Bliss!

So now it’s back home and back to work. What do I miss most from my coast-to-coast tour of America? A maid to come in each day to clean the bathroom for me!

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Festival and book tour

I’ve just come back from the Du Maurier Literary Festival in Fowey, Cornwall. There was a special buzz there this year as it is the centenary of Daphne Du Maurier’s birth and her beautiful delicate face looks out at you from everywhere in the town. It’s great to see her independent spirit lives on.

Some good stuff today. I heard the venues of my book-tour of America to promote The Russian Concubine – San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, Washington, Boston and New York. Exciting or what? Hard work, of course, and more aeroplanes than I care to think about, but after sitting closeted in a dark room with a keyboard and screen for months, to get out there and meet some of the guys who will be selling and buying my book will be a real thrill. Informative too, to see what turns Americans on – bookwise, I mean!

Saturday, 2 June 2007

First post

Well, here goes. My first ever blog. It’s a bit of strange activity for a sane adult really. What to put in and what to leave out? But if you stick around, I’ll get the hang of it. Fingers crossed.

The first thing I want to say is why I’m starting this. My novel The Russian Concubine is the reason. I wrote this book about love and death and survival in an International Settlement in 1928 China, and strange things have been happening to me since.

The story of a young girl struggling to survive, who falls in love with a Chinese guy, just gripped me and wouldn’t let go. Lydia is her name. I wanted her to look at the China of that time (1928) with fresh eyes, to see its beauty and its violence (hell’s teeth, was it violent!) and to learn from it. But learning is hard. I loved writing it and fortunately for me an agent and publisher loved it too.

Why China? Good question. It’s the one I’m always asked, how I could write a book about China without going there. Or, more to the point, why? So here’s why.

My mother was a white Russian. They’re the ones – in case your history is a bit rusty – who fought against the Communists after the Revolution in 1917. My mother was two years old at the time in St Petersburg and fled with her Russian mother across Siberia (have you actually seen how enormous it is on a map?) and down into China to the city that was then called Tientsin. There they were stuck with no papers and no money – until her mother came up with the bright idea of marrying an Englishman to become ‘respectable’.

What a story. How cool is that!

I grew up in the UK, enchanted by tales of cheongsams and rickshaws, of markets with songbirds by the thousand, of snakes that slithered into bathrooms. Looking out at the dull Welsh rain when I was young, I used to dream myself into that exotic world, and all these years later writing about it came with surprising ease.

Interestingly, I couldn’t have attempted it before my mother’s death in 2000. It was as though until that moment the story still belonged to her and only after her death did it pass on to me. My inheritance, in a weird sort of way.

But hey, don’t get the wrong idea, or I’ll be in bad odour with my siblings. The setting of The Russian Concubine comes from my mother, but the actual story is totally my own. Lydia – who in the book is a thief and a liar – is a creation from my mind and is definitely not my mother. Thought I’d make that crystal clear!

Okay, sis? Happy now?