One of Our Thursdays is Missing
USA/UK Tour Blog

Page last updated 18th Mar 2011

Monday 21st February 2011

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The Samsonite Berlinga Model 'D' - my constant traveling companion

First day of tour in the UK, and tons of pre-records with the BBC in the little booths they maintain especially for the purpose of linking up interviewers with interviewees. It is a little know fact that until recently it was mandatory to have a dusty reel-to-reel tape recorder and/or a stack of discarded cable in the corner of each booth. I have started photographing them. Here is a little analog gem I found in the Swindon booth when talking to Radio Wales last week:

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A fine display of analogue technology

After talking to the Lincoln, Nottingham and Humberside BBC local stations, we had lunch at the very excellent Lantana cafe in Charlotte Place which do an excellent cup of coffee, although I have to say I think baristas need to start flexing their creative juices on latte flourishes. This sort of stuff is all very well, but I think the world is ready for new horizons in flourishes. A picture of Willy Nelson dressed as a clown, for instance, or Ipswich as it appeared in the 13th century.

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Okay already, I'm impressed - but where do we go from here?

Okay, skilled already, but where do we go from here? Bags of signed firsts at Goldsboro books , where I have been doing signings for David since he was operating out of his front room at Thatcham. They now have a double shop in the prestigious Cecil Court in the heart of the West End, and we wish them well. Incidentally, Nicola, who works there, has a sideline constructing fine art papercuts that is well worth a look, and commissions readily accepted.

I have spoken at Foyles for I think seven times out of ten occasions when talking in London, and am always assured of an excellent reception, a fine and responsive crowd (always helpful on the first talk of a tour), and excellent sandwiches. I was, quite naturally, beaten about the head with an unsold-since-1972 copy of Gibbons Decline for tweeting about a competitor from THEIR cafe using THEIR bandwidth. (Whoops) But like a true gentlemen, I blamed it all on Publicity. Foyles have shedloads of signed stock of both Royal and Standard editions.

Staying at the Melia White House which before restoration used to be a marvelous twenties hotel, but is now sadly euromogenised to the extent of EU and UK sockets available in the room, and a choice of almost every European channel you can think of. In the elevator I noted that I could: "Enjoy Delicious Favours from around the Mediterranean" which is quite a deal, and since all bills go back to Hodder, I would be a fool to pass on such a generous offer.

Luckily for my marriage, I am a compete fool, so instead switched my mind to more interesting thoughts: The elevator call system. Unlike the Totalitarian system of lift usage where you OWN a lift and then COMMAND it to go where you WANT to go then MAGNANIMOUSLY drop other users on their floors while you go to YOUR destination, the new, improved Melia White House elevator system asks you where you want to go, then allocates a lift, thus using the available lifts in a more democratic and socialist way. There are actually no control buttons inside the lift at all, except for the door open and door close buttons, simply there to give you the illusion of control (I am convinced that neither of these two buttons function at all, and never have in the history of elevators).

Tomorrow a signing in Reading, and a reading in Abingdon!

Tuesday 22nd February 2011

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Samsonite goes trainspotting

Trained out to Reading first thing and the extremely friendly bunch at Waterstone's, who have been enthusiastically handselling my books ever since the Nursery Crime series catapulted this former biscuit and seed town to literary megastardom.

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The Oracle centre. A river runs thought it.

Reading is noted for many things - the Gaol that once held Oscar Wilde, the motorway that runs through the town, and even the Sacred Gonga, now housed in its very own visitors centre. There is also the Oracle, a shopping centre of vast proportions that is unique in that it has the Kennet and Avon canal running straight through it. I once chugged up through the Oracle in our narrowboat, an old Fellows Morton and Clayton motorboat named 'Lark' and m'wife and and I felt like we were on a ride in a theme park in 3026, where we were being shown how people spent their waking hours in the early part of the 21st century. "Oooooh" we said to ourselves, "Is that what a McDonald's really used to look like?"

Next stop was Bookpoint, Hodder's book distribution depot, and the place I come to do mass signings. The halcyon days of morbidly optimistic mass signings of three thousand are long gone now, and we did 500, still a healthy chunk of books. Keen to set the 'legible signature speed record' I set off, and clocked in at 48 minutes to do all 500 - one book every 5.76 seconds, which is a quarter second faster than my personal best.

Mostly Books have won more independent book awards than I have had hot dinners, and Nicki and Mark had set up an event in the very lovely (and warm and cosy) St Nicholas' Church.

I am very grateful to the good folk of Abingdon who risked a dangerous outbreak of roadworks to come and listen to me. I do like being asked questions at a talk, as it gives me an opportunity to gauge how people are reacting to the books and to allow me a broad sense of how and where to proceed. An overwhelming response seems to be that Jack Spratt 3 and Shades 2 are long overdue. Or to put it another way in an email I recently received: "When for the love of Mike are you going to finish a series?"

I was also glad to see a couple of budding writers in the audience who I hope I was able to help on two crucial points: Firstly, think long term and treat rejection for your first five novels as simply learning your craft, and Secondly, learn to be you own best critic. Great evening.

And now, it's:

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Ian and friend hit the highways

Every week we ask a celebrity guest which of their favourite smells they would take with them to a desert island. They are asked for three unique smells, then decide which smell they would add to the "One thousand Smells you Need to Inhale Before you Die" list. Finally, they suggest the smell they would most like to banish from the planet.

Today: Ian Williamson, Hodder representative and ace troubleshooter

Smell the First: Chocolate minty smell. This was a childhood reminder for Ian, putting him in mind of summer holidays spent in cornwall. Much later when he was an adult and on holiday in Carnac, he went into an ice cream shop which had 100 flavours. He bought Mint choc chip, and it took him right back to the sands at St Austell twenty years before.

Smell the Second: A match once its gone out after you've struck. A sort of phosphorusy smell. Ian explains that he likes candles and is not big on light bulbs or overhead lights at home. The smell of the match is an anticipatory pleasure of a peacefold evening about to unfold.

Smell the Third: Freshly washed girlfriend's hair.

Add a smell to the "One thousand Smells you Need to Inhale Before you Die" list: The air on another planet.

...and one smell you would banish forever from this planet: "Men's spray-on deodorant. It's like chemical warfare. Roll-on is permissable, I think. It's how it hangs in the air, and you walk into it like a cloud of pure evil."

Thank you Ian, for sharing your Desert Island Smells with us.

More Samsonite roving fun tomorrow at Forbidden Planet and Ely.

Wednesday 23rd February 2011

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Samantha the Samsonite makes her way to Oxford Station.
Jasper, still asleep, is inside.

I can now say I was at Oxford. At Nuffield College. Well, actually, opposite Nuffield at the converted castle and prison that is the Mal Maison Hotel. I wanted to stay in the dreary-chic dungeon rooms, with gruel-making equipment in each room, and running water down the walls. An optional extra is a mumbling long term prisoner chained to the wall, and a tasteful CD of 'restful medieval dungeon noises' available for your purchase at the reception. These rooms were all full, having become hugely popular with those like me who survived public school, and want to have a fix of peaceful nostalgia.

Interview with the hugely professional Rachel Treganze and team at Entertainment News, and the realisation that now I have been doing the whole writing gig for ten years, the perception that people have of me has moved on. There is a sliding scale from 'Fresh-faced Newcomer' at one end to 'sage-like veteran author' at the other. I think I am halfway along the scale, nimbly dancing around the multiple bear-traps of 'washed up old has-been' or 'showed promise but failed to deliver' or 'not funny any more'. So far, anyway. In any event, it is hugely gratifying to be treated by interviewers as an author who has been doing it for a while, and who takes very seriously the delicate art of not being terribly serious at all.

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Samantha remembers what her mummy told her
about crossing roads when she was a little handbag.

Back to the big smoke, or more correctly, the big drizzle, for a route march around the West End (or Wet End) signing stock for Waterstone's, and eventually ending up at Forbidden Planet Shaftesbury Avenue for a lunchtime signing, held amongst more graphic novels than I even thought existed, and Dr Who and Star Trek books, spinoffs and merchandising. My Fforde Ffiesta rep was there, drumming up enthusiasm for the Ffiesta in May, and I'm sure we got a few more people. Note to self: Must order the two huge lego models for the lego speedbuild play-off, one of the mainstays of the Ffiesta.

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Samantha waits patiently to be given a tour of Ely Cathedral.

The eponymous Mr Topping used to work for the equally eponymous Mr Waterstone at Waterstone's but then departed to start his own bookshop called Topping's. They have a branch in Ely, Cambridgeshire, and Bath, in Bathshire. This was my first gig in Ely as the 2011 tour has us attempting to go places where the hand of Fforde has never set foot. The policy worked, as we had at least 130 people in the marvelous St Peter's church with its Gothic Revival Rood Screen and lectern thoughtfully placed over the hot air heater vent. I am very grateful to David, Robert, Louise and everyone at Toppings and the good people of Ely their enthusiastic welcome. If you are in the Fen area and feel in need of a Fforde book after a hard day's reed-gathering, Topping's have tons of signed copies.

Next stop: Lincoln and Nottingham.

Thursday 24th February 2011

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An aviation enthusiast is marinaded in the hot smell of burning jet-fuel

Train to Lincoln and Waterstone's, a location I often come to sign but have spoken here only once for the launch of The Fourth Bear in 2006. Good line and lots of stock to sign in both branches. I also like coming here because they give me chocolate.

Phil the Hodder rep is an aviation enthusiast like me, so whenever he is driving me around we generally drop in on aviation hotspots - either prominent airfields, or aviation museums. RAF Waddington was close by so we went to have a look there, and although I'm more of a doer than a watcher when it comes to aeroplanes, it is interesting to see how much of a hobby watching aeroplanes has become. On the end of the runway at RAF Waddington is a car park, viewing area and snack bar, with a whiteboard updated with expected movements of aircraft. While we were there a VC10 took off, blasting the assembled crowd of enthusiasts (not all male) with the hot oily smell of burned aviation kerosene.

It put me in mind of open days at Old Warden, a living aviation museum in Bedford, where enthusiasts would stand behind the WW1 era rotary engine aircraft as they started up, to get a good noseful of the highly distinctive smell of the burned castor oil, used almost exclusively in this type of engines. (For the mechnically minded, in most engines the crankshaft turns and the engine block stays still. In a rotary engine, the cylinders revolve around a stationary crankshaft.)

Nottingham was the event this evening, in their wonderful space on the top floor at Waterstone's, all wooden beams and exposed brick. We had about 120 people, all of whom were very enthusiastic, and the talk went very well - rambling, of course, which is generally what I like to do. I used to do more Prepared speeches in the past, but now I let the talk develop during the tour.

Tomorrow: Hull and Sheffield.

Friday 25th February 2011

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Humber Bridge: In the Fforde top ten list of bridges.

Up, and to Hull by way of the Humber bridge, as featured in the Fforde league table of bridges, ranked somewhere lower than the Eades in St Louis, and higher than the clapper bridge in Dartmoor. I'm not sure which is at the top - probably the Forth Rail Bridge or Brooklyn. The Sydney harbour is definitly also up there, as is the Ponte Vecchio, the Millau Viaduct or the Bridge of Sighs. The Mostar Bridge is also pretty cool, as is the Royal Albert Bridge. Wow, the choice is hard, having given it some thought.

I'd never been to Hull before, and was amused by the fact that here the phone boxes are painted cream, apparently because the area was not part of the GPO, who had red phone boxes. A warm welcome from Lee at the Waterstone's and a very healthy queue led by Kelsey, whose effusive support of my books was both touching and gratifying.

I learned two days ago that my Longlisting for the Warwick Prize for Writing had not progressed to anything more than an invitation to eat some canapes while the winner was announced. This news did not surprise me in the least given the high quality and erudition of the competition. But I did meet the couple who sponsored me for the prize at Abingdon and managed to thank them.

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Sitting in the navigator's seat of a Canberra.
The switch on the extreme right once did something important.

Since I'm still with Phil we dropped in to Aeroventure at Doncaster, tucked away on a back road in between two landscaped gravel pits. Like many private museums, it is full of enthusiasm and low on cash, which makes the quality of the exhibits that much more remarkable. A goodly collection of helicopters, one of which was a Gazelle which is pretty, even for a helicopter, and also several aviation noses. Not Trenchard's nose in a box, or even Douglas Bader's on a velvet cushion with an ex-Colditz booger which would be interesting if a bit icky, but aircraft noses, one of which was a Canberra. cockpit that one could climb inside and make neeeoowww dakadakdakadak noises.

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Samantha viewing the water feature outside Sheffield station.

Sheffield Waterstone's and some very familiar faces in the signing queue. Gillian F. Taylor, who writes westerns (and much else) for Black Horse, and who kindly furnished me with a list of Western plot devices for the opening chapter of Something Rotten for which I am very grateful. There was also a mother and daughter team (I didn't catch their names) who have been reading me since 2002 and first saw me at the (then) Ottakar's in Abergavenny. On that occasion I asked if they wanted me to sign their paperback and they replied that this wasn't necessary, so I offered to NOT sign it, to which they readily agreed. I wrote in it: 'This is officially unsigned'. To date, I have appended some sort of 'unsigned' remark five times on the same copy, and hope to be not signing their book for many years to come.

Next stop: Swindon

Saturday 26th February 2011

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The ever-faithful Prudence awaits my return.

Last event for the week, and a lunchtime signing at Swindon Waterstone's. Almost twice as many people as last time which is very heartening, and since it was Saturday and no-one was working, it was a more relaxed event, with people able to stop and have a chat. The 'Why Swindon?' question came up quite a lot (Because I used to live near here and I thought it mundane in the extreme to set a book in London or Edinburgh), and Laura and Derek of the Ffiesta Commitee were on hand to explain to people why they simply MUST come to the Fforde Ffiesta in May. Second most popular question was: 'When SoG2?' (Probably 2013). When we were done, Dick counted up the sales of TN6 and it was a record for a lunchtime signing: Fifty-seven.

First week over it was simply pick up the car and head home. Luckily, the baby still recognised me.

Monday 28th February 2011

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Never really thought about it before..

Day one, second week. Arriva Trains turned in to Non Arriva trains as there is a strike, and the platform staff had the mournful apologetic look of someone who is hoping not get an earful from irate passengers. Went instead by car to sunny Newport which has had a facelift due to the Ryder cup being here last year - you might remember the floods. Anyway, the new station complex had a lift with something I'd never seen before - A floor level emergency button. It seemed so obvious..

Met up with Ian, the Hodder rep who has the ripe fruity voice of a Welshman whom you know is in a choir and can sing with the best of them. He sang 'Men of Harlech' for me in Welsh six times on the journey to Bath and I arrived, ears ringing, at the Beechen Cliff School where I spoke to sixty or so curious and polite young gentlemen - more questions than I could have answered in two hours, let alone 45 minutes, and a huge credit to their English teacher Mrs Davies and Mrs Tinkler, the school librarian.

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A plug for Bath..

Dropped in at Topping's. in Bath to meet up with Saber and Mr Toppings himself, and a chat about the 'New Rennaisance' for independent Booksellers. Whilst no-one is wishing to take the success so far of the new brand of independents for granted, Mostly Books, Topping's, and Mr B's does seem to indicate that the book-buying public are still very positive towards the bookbuying experience that a small and very focussed independent can give them.

Signed a book for little Ellie in Mr B's , and appended the dedication 'to be phased in from 2023' as she was only five months old. Good to see a few Fforde Ffiesta stalwarts here in Bath, and they did a fine job of working the queue to see if anyone could be persuaded to attend a weekend of silliness and mayhem at the end of May.

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A plug for Mal Maison

Dashed up to Birmingham and an excellent and very familiar crowd in the ex-bank Waterstone's store, where I avoided doing the grand entrance down the stairway in case I tripped and tumbled all the way down. Interesting point raised at the signing: When reading with an eReader, you can't easily gauge in a subconcious kind of way when the book is about to end like you can with a book. Is this significant, I wonder?

Tomorrow, Liverpool and Manchester!

Tuesday 1st March 2011

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Confused and confounded at Crewe

I found myself confused this morning as I take a train to Crewe and - shock horror - walk out of the station. Yes, it's true - there is a Crewe with a life independent of the railway station, and for travellers like me who have spent the equivalent of several weeks waiting for connections while sitting in the cafe and staring vacantly into the middle distance along with many other travellers doing the same it is something of a revelation.

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The old terminal building at Speke

I'm with Phil again, he of the aviation bent, and we drove past the old Liverpool airport, once Speke, now Lennon, and in the Nextian universe, Tarbuck International - site of the only privately run Gravitube which run to Goliathopolis. This was quite a building and although the airport has moved off down the road, the terminal and control tower remain as the ridiculously named Crowne Plaza Liverpool John Lennon Airport Hotel. Parked outside is a 1:1 scale model of a deHavilland Rapide, a true Gentleman's Aerial Conveyance, and featured in the outstanding Loncraine/McKellen Richard III, when the queen departs for France. If you haven't seen this version of R3 and enjoy either McKellen or Shakespeare or deHavillands or all three, it's a must.

The Lunchtime signing was at Waterstone's in Liverpool where Cat and Sarah ably assisted the signing. It was at about this time that the word came down from Hodder Towers that we had managed to hit the top spot in the Sunday Times Bestseller List. This is a special triumph for Emma who has handled my publicity for the past eight years, and she would be celebrating but for the fact that the excitement proved too much and she exploded. A team of dedicated professionals are piecing her back together as we speak.

My thanks to everyone at Hodder for making this happen, and to all my readers who have bought my books over the years and recommended me to other people.

Since I was in the architectural hotspot of Liverpool I decided to drop in and see what's on offer in the worship department. I'm not a believer myself, but am a big fan of the buildings raised for His veneration, and the notion of the Anglican and Catholic cathedrals being contemporarily-built and close enough to hurl lively Theological debate at one another seemed too good an opportunity to miss.

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Liverpool Cathedral

The Anglican cathedral was the first to have a visit and the exterior is an odd mix of Gothic revival and what I refer to as totalitarian giganticism - large blocky verticals without ornamentation, and the whole realised in a rich orange sandstone that must sing like Uluru as the light reddens before sundown. Inside the high verticals the sheer scale is more readily apparent. Okay, so it has stubby transepts, but so what? There are large and very usable spaces in the crossover and nave that I imagine host art displays, concerts and plays (Or if they don't, they should do), and the sheer verticals are played out to staggeringly good effect inside. It's a extraordinarily fine building (and only consecrated in 1942, apparently) and I'm only sorry I didn't have time to sup a quiet cup of tea in the cafe.

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Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral

Suitably impressed, I went over to see what Rome had to offer less than a mile away, and was presented with an upturned funnel that while utilising a large area of land, was actually very modestly sized inside. Circular in plan, this must have been built in the sixties as part of the modernist movement. In general I am a fan of modern building techniques and would go a hundred miles out of my way to visit anything made by Corbusier, but this building seemed all thought and no charm. Okay, the circular area for the congregation might be a good idea with the tubular tower above which might well cascade light on a sunny day, but the whole place left me singularly unimpressed. There's nothing in the rulebook that says working in concrete demands flat faces and blockyness, nor that cathedrals have to be traditional. Less of this and more Sagrada Familia, please.

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Signing at Deansgate, and chatting to a fellow author.

Roughly followed the route of the first commercial railway in the world towards Manchester and Waterstone's at Deansgate, where there was once again a warm welcome. Note too that if you haven't been to this branch for a while the Costa on the top floor has been replaced by a cafe doing a broader range of comestibles. Didn't partake myself, but it certainly smelled good. Lots of signing to be done, and I am trying to spook out Helens by suggesting there is a special 'League of Helens' to which every Helen has been invited - except them. I think they saw through my little wheeze - it's not as though I lie for a living. Oh hang on, I do.

Next stop: Leeds and Newcastle

Wednesday 2nd March 2011

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A stack of TN6s about to being signed

Manchester to Leeds on the 10:57. I had a coffee in Costa while I waited and was asked if I had a loyalty card. I told the server that I really wasn't loyal enough, and if they gave me a card I would probably go and have a coffee in Starbucks, simply as a pointless act of misguided devilry.

Bumped into Ernest Hemingway who with Gertrude Stein were on their way to a literature festival in Huddersfield. I'd always wanted to meet Ernest as I was never convinced that Orson Welles really went duck shooting with him as he claimed, and was glad of the opportunity to clear up the matter.

"Right, Duckshoot," said Ernest, "Good sport. Orson? Great guy. Never did. Whisky good. Right"

I asked him to elucidate further on the whole duck shooting issue as it wasn't clear, but by the time I had found out that he and Orson had never been duck shooting together and thought of other things to ask, we'd arrived at Huddersfield and they got off the train.

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Kristine at Waterstone's Newcastle always gives us Empire Biscuits

At Lunch I was signing in Leeds for which many thanks to all who attended, and then off to Newcastle. The route takes us past Durham which looks so shockingly beautiful I am always tempted to jump off the train and do an 'Agatha Christie' for three days. I'm sure it would be worth it.

There is now just one Waterstone's in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, and we are always hosted by Kristine, who has been a committed supporter of Fforde's books from the early days, and has quite a collection. Better still, we always get to eat Empire Biscuits, the only place (to date) that I have seen or tasted one.

And now, it's:

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Emma consults her Blackberry for the eighth time in as many seconds

Every week we ask a key member of the publishing industry which of their favourite smells they would take with them if ever they were to be banished to a desert island. They are asked for three smells, then decide which smell they would add to the "One thousand Smells you Need to Inhale Before you Die" list. Finally, they suggest the smell they would most like to banish from the planet.

Today we welcome Emma Knight, who has been working at Hodder for nine years after a career in TV, and has publicised everything from celebrity biographies to diet books to cooking to literary. She has also arranged publicity on the past eight Fforde books.

Jasper: Can we have your first smell please, Emma?

Emma: At the end of my road is Gregg's main bakery, and when I open the door at 6:00 AM, there is a hot rush of freshly baked doughnuts, all hot and sweet, and who can dislike the smell of doughnuts, or indeed, doughnuts themselves? But the highlight of the year in our neighbourhood is Easter when they spend the entire week baking nothing but hot cross buns, which is subtly different from doughnuts in that it has a tantalising hint of hot raisins and spices. Before we moved in they used to give away seconds to local residents to apologise for the trucks and smells and I was truly disappointed when they discontinued the giveaway on health and safety grounds. Rumours that the loss in free goodies affected house prices have yet to be substantiated.

Jasper: You like living near a bakers, then?

Emma: Oh, yes. In our previous house we lived near a brewery and the smell of hops and general brewing smells were very intoxicating in a not actually intoxicating way. Many people dislike brewery smells in a similar fashion to the marmite like/dislike issue.

Jasper: So you choose houses on the basis of smells?

Emma: Yes, definitely.

Jasper: And for your second smell, where would you hope to move next?

Emma: A coffee factory. A good quality one, as there is nothing better than the smell of high quality roasting coffee. Which is odd, because I don't come from a coffee drinking family. I have to take some with me when I go home.

Jasper: And your third smell?

Emma: Hyacinths. No wait, Jasmine. When you are sitting down in a garden, and suddenly on the breeze a strong and sweet smell of jasmine assails your nostrils and you turn round, and there they are. I even like Jasmine candles and smellies, too.

Jasper: Thank you. And the one smell you would add to the 'thousand smells to smell before you die' list?

Emma: The interiors of Volkswagens built between 1985 and 1989 ... inclusive. We have an LT camper called Ernie.

Jasper. I used to have old Volkswagens too. I know that smell. And finally, the one smell that you would eradicate from the planet?

Emma: My son's nappies are pretty bad now he's on solids. Worse still, he saves them up for three days and then has what we call a 'pootastrophe'. We could certainly do without that.

Jasper: Emma Knight, thank you for sharing your Desert Island Smells with us.

Emma: My pleasure.

Thursday 3rd March 2011

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I fulfil my childhood ambition of becoming a shop window dummy
(Waterstone's Ocean Terminal)

    Misty drive to Melrose in the Scottish borders in the back of a Mercedes so large that when I wanted to ask the driver something, I got the footman to deliver a note.
    Speaking about Mercedes, I drive one of those diddy little Smart cars. We've had it since 2006 and after 50,000 miles and with bits not yet falling off, I can firmly recommend them so long as you don't want to undertake long journeys at a high speed in gusty conditions. On the plus side they are great fun to drive, sip at petrol and can find a place to park in Hay-on-Wye, which is an impressive boast indeed. Smart are owned by Mercedes and are sold at the same dealership, so I had the opportunity to ask the question I've always wanted to ask a Mercedes dealer:
    "I've noticed that Mercedes drivers often have little regard for other road-users. Do you get a certificate to show that you own the road when you buy a Mercedes?"
    The dealer looked at me as though I were an imbecile.
    "Yes, or course."
    She went on to explain:
    "Mercedes drivers currently own 28% of the road, roughly the same as that owned by Rolls-Royce and Bentley combined. A further 22% of road ownership is taken up by Porsche, Audi and Lexus drivers."
     I learned that in all, the luxury car market currently owns almost 78% of the road, which goes some way to explain their somewhat cavalier attitude to indicating, lane discipline, and roundabouts.
    "However," added the dealer, with a twinge of regret, "the 2009 Classless Society Road Hog Bill requires that we cede 28% of the road to white van drivers by 2012, and young men in seven-year-old hatchbacks will have a further 10% handed over to them by 2014."
    "So what do I get with my little Smart car?" I asked.
    "The verge," he replied, "on alternate Thursdays."

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The Mainstreet Trading Company at St Boswell's,
Bookshop, event space and tearooms.

    My first talk today, and for children of various schools in Melrose. The pupils were all - private and state - sparky and full of questions. I started off by running through my 'ten top tips' for writing, then we had an ideas free-for-all where we took the notion of talking fruit in a fruitbowl and thought up all sorts of plot ideas, characters of the fruit, and possible crises in the fruitbowl world. Pretty soon, a young lady in the front row suggested that a vegetable would arrive in the fruitbowl and be shunned by the fruit. Ah-ha! Who said children couldn't understand satire? We also explored the idea that a tomato could be having an identity crisis as they are a veg in a fruit world, or even that the banana could have the guilty secret that he is neither a vegetable not a fruit, but a seed. This was all taken on board by the children, and they went away with, I hope, plenty to be working on for the rest of the term - stand by for fruitbowl-related short stories in the Melrose area...

From here I was taken to the Main Street Trading Company in nearby St Boswell's, a very fine bookshop run by Ros and Bill, and like Mostly Books, Topping's, and Mr B's , one of a new brand of digital-age small independents that have found that the domination of high street and internet sales, both e and otherwise, is not necessarily all that the buying public want.

Spent the afternoon catching up with work; an eMail interview for the States, and a DS-2 blurb for Hodder so they can commission artwork for the cover.

Evening talk well attended by people who had not heard me talk before and with an even dozen who had not read my books, so reverted to my standard 'writer's Journey' talk which allows me to outline my books and also try to explain how I got here. It seemed to go well, and we even overran a bit on questions, always a healthy sign.

My thanks to Ros and Bill and everyone at Main Street Trading Company for organising two excellent talks, and also supplying me with tea, coffee, sandwiches and cake throughout the day.

Friday 4th March 2011

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Jack's Audi clicks over to 100,000 miles,
the company rep equivalent of the Transit of Venus.

Last day on the UK tour, and another day with Jack, whose unwavering support for Celtic Football Club leads me to attempt all sorts of impish jokes, such as insisting on wearing a Rangers hat and scarf. Sadly I couldn't find one, but having worked with Phil (the Midlands rep) recently, we agreed to try and wind up Jack by me suggesting that Phil had been awarded the prestigious E-Class Mercedes as a company car when in fact no such thing had come to pass. Jack said: 'Is he now?' when I promulgated this fiction, and we await developments with interest.

Much as though I like Ocean Terminal shopping Mall, it always seem to be - well, how can I put it without being rude? 'Pedestrianly challenged' That is, there never seems to be anyone here, unless you are coming to view the Royal Yacht Brittania, which is a very lovely ship and whose decommissioning, it is said, elicited rare public tears from the Monarch.

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A 1930 Model A (Not Michelle's)
Picture credit: Morepowerigor

I've spoken at Aye Write before, and met again with the endlessly energetic Andrew Kelly and Susan Mansfield, who not only gave me a very good write up in the The Scotsman., but also hosted my event, which I think went very well - although we had to be 'shushed' afterwards as we were chatting and laughing in the signing queue while the Graham Garden event was going on.

Interestingly, I saw Dame Shirley Williams in the green room, so I only have to see Baron Rodgers and I have collected the original 'Gang of Four'. I tend to collect political celebrities in the same manner as people collect bubble-gum cards or aeroplane registrations. It's an absorbing hobby - I only have to see Mao-Tse-Tung and I've collected the entire set of Embalmed Socialist Leaders.

Oh, as regards Aye Write, special mention should go to Michelle who when she isn't being an usher, likes to drag race a 1930 Ford Model A with a 5.7 litre Chev engine to a highly creditable 10.3 second quarter mile. I hope to take my original 1918 Model T racer down to Santa Pod when she's rebuilt. Naturally, we will hope to match Michelle's 10.3 when we do so - only in minutes.

So ends the UK leg of the tour, and my thanks to everyone who came along to listen, have books signed or indeed bought the books and thus allowing us to zip to number one.

Next week: America!

Sunday 6th March 2011

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Pouring with rain in New York

Jetted into New York this evening to be greeted by a wall of rain and gusty conditions. JFK was quiet as many flights had been diverted - I think we were lucky to get in at all.

Day of rest to avoid a repeat of last year's tour, and then we're off.

Tuesday 8th March 2011 - NYC

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The Weather improves for my visit

Signings all day and a warm welcome from Kiz at Partners and Crime (Greenwich Village) who are sadly not this year hosting an event - my two days in NYC have been amalgamated into one. Kiz has many copies of my books, all signed, and if you after early hardcovers, this is a good place to go, along with the The Mystery Bookshop down on Warren.

This evening I was speaking in the Flagship Barnes and Noble store in Union Square, 'Flagship' because it has been a B&N since 1932. As a store it is vast, although I suspect that it would have been a lot smaller in those days. After all, there were less books around then. Mind you, history Bookshops in the second century must have been even emptier - pretty much just Herodotus and Pliny. You might have asked: "Have you got the new Pliny?"

I am hugely grateful for the enthusiastic response when I arrived, and I was indeed sorry that the talk was called to an end with so many hands raised, and questions unanswered.

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Walking up Broadway

I was given my sixth dodo here at NYC, and the second knitted. They all sit on a high shelf in my office, except for the last one I was given (A sock dodo, no less) which was purloined by D3 to add to the six metric tons of soft toys she has in her room. (D3 is my third daughter. I'm far to old to remember names, so I just give them designations. S1, S2, D1, D2, and so forth. If I really get stuck I can just gauge their identities by height) In any event, my thanks to Katherine for the dodo who is now my 2011 tour mascot.

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The latest knitted dodo in my collection - 'Knitpick'

It was here in B&N that I signed my first and second Nook. This was on the back, obviously, as writing on the front would be a bit daft. But this got me thinking. If you wanted to tell Brooke that someone dressed as Chewbacca in a Chinese chef's costume had taken your Nook that you'd just loaded with Russell Brand's autobiography, you'd say:

"Look, Brooke, some schnook of a crook dressed as a cooking Wookie with a wok took My Booky Wook loaded Nook."

I'll await my plain english award in the post.

Tomorrow: Boston!

Wednesday 9th March 2011 - Boston

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Mr Harvard's shiny foot

Trained from NYC to Boston which is a much better way than seeing the States than looking down from 32,000'. Of course, an even better way to see the States would be to just stop and look around, but for the past nine visits I have pretty much seen only the inside of bookshops, airports, taxis and hotel rooms. Lucky for me I have travelled here in my pre-author days. One day I'll stay for longer.

Trains are enjoyable here in the US because they are so big, and have free WiFi. The coffee's no better but you can't have everything.

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The Four Seasons knows how to flatter an author

My media escort / butler for Boston was the witty and charming Jim, whose long and eventful career has taken him from sport parachuting to impersonating John McCain. He showed me around his old alma mata of Harvard. Unlike the White House which always looks smaller when you see it, Harvard is actually forty times bigger. Best of all, I can now say I was at Harvard. I was at Oxford too, and Cambridge - and the Sorbonne.

Boston was chilly and full of film crews which made me quite nostalgic for the old days when I too could stand in the freezing cold and drink oily coffee while two clowns spent hours trying to figure out the first shot. Ah, bliss.

Evan was our excellent host at Brookline Booksmith, and once again we trotted across to the Coolidge Corner Cinema for the talk. Someone in the queue told me I should do stand-up comedy, and I explained that my talks were a dialogue of sorts between me and the people who have read my books and are thus fully familiar with all the frames of reference. Add to that the overwhelming warmth I get when I walk on stage, and the whole thing becomes much, much easier. Believe me, I've given talks where no-one knows who I am, and I mumble away making little or no sense at all.

I also had a chance to say hello to bookseller Daniel Butler, who hawk-eyed jasperfforde.com afficionados may recall has published an author interview calendar available at balladier.com.

Tomorrow: Lexington!

Thursday 10th March 2011 - Lexington

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I see a lot of this while touring

To Lexington via Atlanta, and the more relaxed style of US domestic airlines. The cabin crew member was pretty bored, and no-one paid him even one atom of attention during the safety briefing, so he could quite happily have told us that he hoped we had a rotten flight and if there was any trouble he was going to be out first, and the rest of us could be damned to eternity in all hellfire.

Mind you, that's what a steward did the other day when he was sworn at by a passenge. He told the passenger to 'go F--- yourself' and then escaped by way of the emergency passenger slide.

Now, I would not advocate this behaviour from anyone, but I can't help thinking that this must have been truly satisfying way to resign.

I was disappointed to learn that he has been charged with 'Criminal Mischief'. Presumably this means that mischief itself is not a chargeable offence, but might become so given a small change of circumstance. Prodding a racoon with a stick, for example, might be merely mischief, but prodding a Racoon that was owned and operated by the Federal Government would be criminal.

A good thing the law is so clear on these matters.

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The Joseph-Beth in Lexington

Speaking at the Joseph-Beth in Lexington for the first time since 2004. A warm welcome by Brooke, Michael and also from Brian, who wins the not-coveted-at-all 'Ffordian Distinguished Conduct Award' for outstanding services to the Nextian Universe. The back of Brian's as yet highly illusory solid bronze award in beautiful and wholly nonexistent display case reads thus:

'For services above and beyond the call of duty, Brian single handedly sold 225 copies of TN1 in hardback in the white-hot heat of puzzled looks and general consternation from the book-buying public. Disregarding the possibility of failure, Brian shrugged his own humiliation aside and repeatedly pressed forward with his bookselling techniques with little regard for personal safety. It is these sort of acts of retailing heroism that we salute today, and hope that other booksellers will gain inspiration from Brian's unswerving devotion to duty'

At the glittering awards ceremony held in Myownhead in front of ten thousand booksellers, Brian accepted the award and proclaimed: "I did this for Booksellers Everywhere".

A great event, and I am indebted to everyone at Joseph-Beth for giving me such a warm welcome, and to Kentucky of course, who have an exceedingly healthy attitude towards bacon. Namely, that a side order of bacon improves almost anything, which to me of course is a self-evident truth - axiomatic, in fact. I ordered bacon ... with a side order of bacon.

Next stop: Austin.

Friday 11th March 2011 - Austin, Texas

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Bookpeople - a reference to 451, I presume?

My fourth time in Austin, Texas, and my second talking at Book People. Austin is booming and even in the three years since I was here last, it seems to have changed dramatically. I was staying at the Omni Hotel, which is ridiculously large in a charming 'Space Shuttle Hangar' sort of way.

But I had other things on my mind, namely, tea. I've been in the USA six days and have so far only managed to get one decent cup of tea, which is Fforde running on a serious tea deficit. I know it's getting bad because I'm starting to have tea-related hallucinations. While driving in from Austin's airport I saw a law enforcement vehicle with 'Serving Texas since 1882' written on the trunk lid. The typescript was in jaunty italics, and it looked like it said: 'Serving teas since 1882' which is obviously what I wanted to see.

Now, I know that many things are done very well in the States, but might I be impertinent in the suggestion that tea-making is not one of them? So in the spirit of international understanding and cultural outreach and cooperation I have gathered together the many tea-related questions that frequently find their way into my postbag.

Does the water have to be boiling?

Yes - water should always be boiled and fresh. I know this sounds obvious but having pond life in the water makes for a tangy taste we're not keen on, and may upset vegetarians.

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How my petrolhead readers arrive from Dallas

How long should I let the tea draw?

This is the single greatest cause of tea disasters. It can be as little as thirty seconds if you are using a bag but more for leaf. As a rough rule of thumb you should have the tea the colour of apple juice. If it has the colour of varnish, bad news. Leaving the bag in makes the tea 'stew' which is not only undrinkable but is also a capital offence in most parts of the UK, and still remains on the list of offences of which you can be extradited. (along with insulting John Cleese and shipping crumpets without an export licence.)

Does milk choice make a difference?

Use fresh milk. Sounds simple, but longlife milk can have a nasty taste that permeates into the tea itself. If possible, buy a cow and train your footman to milk it. This is a smart move. Not only do you have fresh dairy products all year round, but a friendly companion for those winter evenings in watching telly and playing Scrabble. (The cow, not the footman)

What should I drink my tea out of?

China. This is kind of important, and along with the fact that no good news ever arrives in a brown envelope, no really good tea was ever drunk from a paper or (horror) plastic cup. Best bone china is preferable for the pleasurable tinkling noise that chimes well with polite conversation about the weather, while outside the crack of leather on willow adds to the general ambience. Mugs are okay, but are for a less formal occasion. I've never been a stickler for silver teaspoons myself, but whatever cutlery you use it does need to be a metal of some sort, (not lead or Plutonium, obviously) and can't be left in the cup.

Is it imperative to have a butler to bring in the tea?

It helps, obviously, but the recent economic downturn has rendered many British families without their butler and in some extreme cases, their footman, ostler and boot-boy. While we ride out the economic hardships we should train ourselves ahead of time to be able to make tea. It might be good to ask your butler where the tea things are before you reluctantly let him go with the customary shiny penny after thirty years of devoted service.

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Jasper poses with his biggest fan

What should I serve with tea?

Conversation, mainly, but cake can work. Tea is a meal best accessorised with nibbly comestibles and these should be baked fresh. In this instance 'fresh' means within the past hour, or in the case of scones, within the past ten minutes.

Do I need to warm the pot first?

In double blind tests conducted on a sample group of eight million British people, there was no significant correlation between warming the pot and tea-drinking enjoyment. It's not necessary but at least serves to remind if you left the tea in from the last time, and it has gone mouldy (not good).

MIF or TIF? (Milk in First or Tea in First)

Again, this is a subject of much conjecture and was also the main cause of the English Civil War. So far there is no scientifically verifiable proof that putting the milk or tea in first makes any difference at all. Skilled practitioners often go MIF so the level can be correct in each tea cup, but you have to gauge the milk quantity closely in case there is too much and you get a 'milk out' where you both stare at the weak concoction, and the conversation goes something like this:

Host: (peering anxiously at the insipid mix) "I'm terribly sorry, shall I pour another?"

Guest: (shuddering with horror) "My dear fellow, this is exactly how I like it."

If you do have a 'Milk Out' the correct course would be to unhesitantly pour another - there should always be a spare cup on the tray in case an aunt makes an unexpected appearance

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Finally, my name in lights

Should I leave the teabag in when serving tea?

Never - unless it is a fruit or herbal tea and you have inquired ahead of time as to this is what they prefer. Naturally, you will make sure they are not invited again.

Leaf or bag?

Leaf is better, but good quality bags can be acceptable. The upside of leaf is that you can blend your own teas and have a 'house special'. We like to use a mix of Lapsong Suchong and Assam. The former for the taste, and the latter for the body. Poor quality bags just taste of paper and can have you ostracised from polite society.

Is expensive tea better?

Invariably. Twinings is a good brand to go for. It's all about where on the leaf the tea is made from, and where and when it was grown and dried. Good quality leaf is truly exceptional, but HAS to be made properly - stewing high quality tea is a bit like buying a Bentley and then lending it to the footman.

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My thanks to Ericka for Argyle, the sock-hamster

Talk was at BookPeople, and we saw perhaps 150 people there, all of whom were most enthusiastic. My thanks to Scott and the staff for making the event so enjoyable. I was also glad to meet the original Miss Havisham who freaked me out (in a good way) the last time I spoke here, and my thanks to Ericka for bringing in Argyle, the sock hamster, who is currently ensconced in a cosy sharing-a-paper-back-but-wholly-platonic relationship with Knitted Pickwick (Dubbed 'Knitwick') from New York.

If I had a zebra I'd call it Deborah
If I had a spaniel I'd call it Daniel
If I had a Turkey I'd call it Albuquerque

Next stop: San Francisco

Saturday 12th March 2011 - San Francisco

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The Bay Bridge from outside my hotel

I am starting to take an 'Awesome' tally as the word seems to have gained in popularity since I was here last. The rules for the tally are simple: Any utterance I hear between entering the shop and leaving. I've had a few people get wind of this who then say 'Amazing' or 'Fabulous' to thwart the tally but I mark it down as an 'awesome' anyway, since this was what they meant. Austin was a nine Awesome town, Bay Area is thirteen.

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Difficult to photograph differently

Good to be back in the Bay Area, and I was delighted to see that despite me being late by twenty minutes at 'M is Of Mystery' no-one had left or tried to be me or slow hand clapped or anything. We leapt straight into the talk and a jolly time was had by all. Ed has recently added a coffee shop next to the bookshop, by the by, so well worth a look.

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Book Cafe in Capitola, Santa Cruz

Capitola Book Cafe was the next stop, and Rick Kleffel, who has been interviewing me for years as part of KUSP-FM. This was more of an 'interviewy' sort of event which made for a refreshing change - thank you Rick and Tamera and the staff at the Book Cafe for their hospitality.

Next stop - Portland!

Monday 14th March 2011 - Portland, Oregon

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The most well-written 'Out of Order' sign I have ever seen

After doing a brief stint on KATU's Breakfast spot with the delightful Helen and Dave (Which can be viewed here, I think) Deb took me for a brief scamper around Portand, which is always a pleasure as the Portlandonians (?) know the value of architectural heritage, and like a bridge or two, as do I. We dropped in on the following to sign stock, so if you are in the neighbourhood and want a signed copy, do drop in.

Powells had a lot of One of Our Thursdays, numerous paperbacks of Shades of Grey and also some hardbacks of previous books, so collectors please take note. I signed stuff for them up at Hawthorne, too.

Annie Bloom's on Capitol Highway now have ten signed copies of One of Our Thursdays, and you can also find signed copies of my current and backlist at Murder By The Book on E Hawthorne Blvd and Broadway Books at 1714 NE Broadway. My thanks to all the independents for their warm welcome.

Talk was at Barnes and Noble where I was introduced by Page Jordan who hosted one of my earliest apperancs here at Portland. Enthusiastic response from a crowd who bought a record 73 copies of the book, the largest yet for one-event sales.

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Decoration on a building in Downtown Portland. Looks like a robot..

After the talk and signing I was delighted to meet with Bill Mudron and Dylan Meconis who have been illustrating for me since 2004 when they were in the signing queue and gave me some fanart they had done. It was so good that I demanded their emails (they hadn't troubled to supply them on the picture they gave me - how modest is that?!?)

They did their first illustration for me the very next year for the frontispiece for The Fourth Bear, and have also illustrated First Among Sequels and One of Our Thursdays is missing, as well as a frontispiece for Shades of Grey, the Fforde Ffiesta 2010 logo, and the porridge bowl as featured on the Goliath 'Porridge - you know you want some' ad campaign.

I have a huge amount of admiration for these twoo - not just on the quality of their work, but also their capacity to work to brief, and to a deadline!

Let's here it for Portlandians Bill and Dylan!

Tuesday 15th March - Denver, Colorado

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Loafing in Caribou Coffee

It's about that sort of time in a four-week book schedule that I start getting a little tired, and on the 'City a Day' thing actually trying to remember where I am or even where I was yesterday, and what is going on tomorrow. The first couple of trips I took lots of photographs, but after I got back I had the devil of a job trying to figure out which building goes with which city. Where was that nice Railway Station I saw? The Theatre that was moved? The Skyways? The Fountains? Thankfully I now tend to travel with a digital camera which even if I fail to keyword them quickly, have a precise time and date when I took it.

My only press gig in Denver was with Robin of the Denver Post and after doing the piece we chatted about how much the landscape has changed. Ten years ago when I first began, I did two or three interviews a day for the local papers who would then bring out the feature or review on the day of my event (or close by). This has all been taken over by blogs and online news journals, but these are run on shoestrings or frequently nothing at all, and the interview requests have dropped considerably. The blog posts I am directed to by my publishers are generally just the bio and blurb from the press release cobbled together.

Does this better serve the consumers? I have a hard time convincing myself that it does.

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Denver Chamber of Commerce

Tonight's event was in the original, excellent and much copied Tattered Cover, where we had an enthusiastic crowd of 150 people. The talk went well with many good questions, as I like to have questions so I can figure out how it was that I wrote what I did. If this seems counter-intuitive, and the notion that I should somehow be able to write a novel without really knowing how I'm doing it, I think what we fail to realise just how important STORY is to Homo Sapiens. We learn by them, we communicate by them, we are entertained by them. When we want to think in the abstract and predict future events, we create delicately fictions in our heads, predicting a possible outcome from a myriad of subtle inputs. When we lie, we create a fictional train of thought in someone else's head. Telling stories is the biggest spanner humans have in their toolbox, and we can use this spanner so well, many of us have no idea that we do.

Writers are essentially telling massive lies for cash. And the bigger and more real and brighter the lie, the more we make. Parallels in the banking and politics business, really.

Next stop, Minneapolis!

Wednesday 16th March - Minneapolis

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Minneapolis on the way in

Live TV again, this time with Pat on KARE TV. In the Green Room was the spritely and very witty Dublin-born singer Carmel Quinn with her accompanist, who looked more like Shakespeare than anyone else I have ever seen. Ms Quinn was here to give a St Patrick's Day concert, and was in the studio to promote it.

Dropped in on a few Barnes and Nobles to sign stock, then to see Pat at Once Upon a Crime, one of the many independent booksellers who so enthusiastically supported my books when I started, and continue to do so now. Like local newspapers the independents are now in short supply, and we should support them as much as we can. Signed at Magers and Quinn, too, so both shops will have signed stock.

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Downtown Minneapolis

Amazing reception at the new and very shiny Minneapolis Public Library, and due to the patronage of the library by US Bank and others, they have about fifty speaking events per year. This was a record turnout for me, at three hundred people in the main hall and another fifty watching the video link. It will also be broadcast on NPR in the near future. The only crowd approaching this level was at Seattle's Third Place Books in 2010.

My thanks to Rachel for hosting the event, Michael of US Bank for conducting what I think was probably my best introduction ever, and the staff at Magers and Quinn for selling the books.

Next stop, Kansas!

Thursday 17th March - Kansas City

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Winston commemorated. It was here that he coined the 'Iron Curtain' phrase.

The news of the bestseller ranking came through yesterday, which placed me at number 15 on the New York Times fiction list. Although a good effort, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't mildy disappointed. I made the top ten in the US with the last Thursday book, and hit the number one spot in the UK with TN6 last week.

There was talk of blaming eBook sales not being counted in the sales tally - I had 2000 of those - but then neither were anyone else's, so it probably wouldn't have made a difference. But then I had a look at the figures and more importantly the books, and the true nature of our minor triumph became apparent.

Here are five randomly chosen one-line precis of the books above me on the list:

"The crew of the Oregon undertake rescue operations from Afghanistan to Myanmar"

"A detective must solve the case of a dead husband, a battered wife and a missing child."

"A motherless girl is cared for by a Dublin community."

"A Manhattan assistant district attorney, is called when a womanıs decapitated body is found burning on the steps of a Harlem church."

"The New York detective enlists the help of a former colleague to solve a rash of horrifying crimes that are throwing the city into chaos."

Okay, now listen to mine:

"Literary detective Thursday Next disappears just as a genre war threatens the Bookworld, and a trip up the Metaphoric River reveals an evil plot involving the Men in Plaid."

I'd like to thank everyone who reads me for this one small triumph - that absurd books of undefinable genre can hold their own against the prevailing wind of conventionalism.

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The well-appointed and delightful Kansas City Public Library

The talk was in the brand new Kansas City Public Library, a dazzling building run as part of a public/private enterprise, very similar to the Minneapolis library the day before. I asked the excellent and committed library staff if any 'censoring' of bookchoice ebbed across from the private side of the funding, and they assured me it did not - in fact, quite the opposite, and the shelves occasionally bristled with an impish sense of fun regarding State and local politics.

My event went very well, with a touch under two hundred willing to forgo an evening of Guinness, Joyce and Wilde to listen to me talk. Lots of questions and little if no St Patrick's day parade issues - except when I was requested to wear a green tie and a pair of lucky shamrock glasses. I think I mustered enough dignity to look as serious as possible as I was wearing them. My thanks to Kaite and Paul and the rest of the staff at KCPL.

Tomorrow, St Louis.

Friday 18th March - St Louis, Missouri

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Detail of sculpture at the Orpheum theatre.

My second gig in Missouri, and apparently there is a friendly rivalry between Kansas City and St Louis, and my organisers were firmly of the belief that if Kansas City could offer up 190 people, then St Louis could do better - and they did.

I'm rather fond of St Louis for its layout, skyline, odd mixture of architecture and general feel - not to mention a modern Metrolink Rapid Transit system, which while not really expanded since I was last here, is still clean and efficent. I was staying at the Four Seasons, a hotel named after a pizza topping, and this is attached to one of the many casinos in the city. I was asked at reception if I was going to be doing any gambling while I was here, in much the same way as she might have asked if I were going to catch a movie.

"Well," I said, "I don't have the time to actually hit the crap tables, but just to show I'm a good sport, why don't you just give the corporation that runs it this $100? It will save a lot of time, and the result is the same."

Actually, I didn't. I said 'No thanks'. But to remind me of what I was missing there was a lighted billboard outside the hotel window, which was so bright you could read by it at night 300 yards away and must have drawn enough power to run a small town.

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The Eads bridge, with scuplture

I went for a walk in the afternoon, down past the magnificent Eads Bridge, the startling Expansion Monument Arch and the dignified Olive street, then back around and past the old post office. There are some fine pieces of architecture here, probably as a result of St Louis' boom years being in the first couple of decades after the turn of the 20th century - not long after the St Louis World Fair in 1904, the remains of which we visited the last time we were here.

The fondness of good architecture also extended to my venue this evening at the St Louis County Library, a very understated and attractive 60's building which is unsual as the decade is not noted for its fine architecture. Heaps of people there of which I was most grateful to Carrie and her supporters, and also the booksellers from Left Bank Books who came along to shift some tomes.

I was also delighted to see long-time supporters Heinz and Leah, who I first remember meeting on my first trip to New Orleans about eight years ago when, due to a fancy-dress themed event, they came dressed as Arthur Dent and Elizabeth Bennet. This time they returned with new arrival Alex, and we wish them every happiness.

Tomorrow, Raleigh Durham - final stop on US tour!

Saturday 19th March - Raleigh Durham, NC

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Spring is earlier in NC - blossom on the trees

Last stop on the US tour, and the third time I have spoken at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh Durham.

In the ten stops over the past 11 days, I have spoken at 12 events to 1900 people, given out 4100 postcards, signed about 7000 books and been on live TV twice. I have had two press interviews, three radio recordings and answered four internet Q&As. I have also travelled 15,783 miles, split about equally between Delta and BA, with a little bit of Frontier and Air Canada thrown in.

The main difference between this tour and the previous ones is the lack of any press. In 2002 on my first tour there were hundreds of local newspapers still in business, and the two weeks prior to my tour was full of press interviews so that they could have copy ready on the morning of my appearance. As mentioned earlier, the demise of the local papers has not been taken over by the internet, or at least, not in the same form - after a brief burst of enthusiasm, press interviews have now dwindled to almost nothing.

For balance, it would be almost impossible to say whether the new regime works for or against an author. The increase in traffic may have raised awareness beyond which the traditional press industry might have done, and indeed, a more 'egalitarian' approach may have superceded the old style - that instead of papers reveiwing what the publishers want them to review, the internet and blogosphere reviews and features what they choose to review.

I don't know. But I do know things have changed.

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Jasper has his picture taken with Jasper

Staying at the stupendous Umstead Hotel in North Carolina, where there is a screen of trees between the roads and the businesses, which might give the casual observer the mistaken idea that there is nothing here at all. Did some stock signing at a few Barnes and Noble and then at Regulator Books before my afternoon gig at Quail Ridge Books, a place I have spoken twice before, and have been greeted with a warm welcome on every one. Lots of questions which I always enjoy as it allows me to try and figure out how it was that I thought of the ideas I thought of (?) as I spent the first ten years of my writing career penning notions and ideas that I just thought were 'fun' without really asking myself why.

It was a great end to the tour, and my thanks to Nancy and Rene and all the staff at Quail Ridge.

And, or course, a huge thank you to all the people who came out to listen to me talk, read my books and recommended them to freinds, relatives and total strangers. I couldn't do this without you. Tomorrow, Toronto, and a spot at Authors At Harbourfront