Shades of Grey
USA/UK Tour Blog
Page updated 23:27 GMT 30th January 2010

4th January 2010

Eggs Benedict

1: Soho Grand Eggs Benedict

The Soho Grand Hotel in New York never used to do a good eggs Benedict, but this time they outshone themselves. I was the only person in the dining room since I'm a bit jet-lagged, so the chef had no excuse to scrimp on the EB. He didn't. The Hollandaise was tangy, the poached eggs absolutely spot on, and the toasted bun beneath was moist with a crusty top. Fries done perfectly, and rolled in a salty-buttery covering with the potato skimns left on. The only possible area that might be improved upon is the bacon.

Now I know 'bacon' is often a matter of acute misunderstanding between our two nations, but 'Canadian bacon' in this context means thicker cut and not thin crispy - like we do 'bacon' in the UK. This bacon however, was not cut from a haunch of pig, but cut from a manufactured roll. Still good but if, like me, you like your food 'au natural' and as distanced from machinery as humanly possible, it's enough to lose a few marks. Cutlery was reassuringly heavy, and a large napkin useful because I'm a messy eater.

The proximity of a 'Choking Hazard' poster filled me with alarm, until I realized it was not compulsory, but precautionary. Service: Impeccable.

Fforde Benedict Index: 9.1.

Added 5:30 PM: Interviews and stock signings most of the day. If you want to find a bookstore with signed stock, both of SoG and backlist, try:

Barnes and Noble 1979 Upper West Side 82nd and Broadway

Barnes and Noble 267 Union Square

Borders Wall Street

Barnes and Noble 2628 at Broadway and West 66th - 30 copies of Shades, signed.

Added 10:30 PM:

First talk of the tour and a highly appreciative audience. Clot like I am I came unprepared, hoping in the best traditions of bone idleness that I could get some penetrating and intelligent questions from the audience that I could then somehow use in my next talk.

Sadly for me, only five people had finished Shades of Grey, so we chatted about writing instead - there is quite a lot to discuss in my books - and I tried to explain Shades which is about as hard to precis as any of my other books. I used to think this was a problem but now I wear it as a badge of honour - the author whose books can't be reduced to a single sentence. It was a great event, and I am especially thankful to Shannon for hosting at Barnes and Noble, and everyone who came along and waited so patiently to have their books signed.

Also of note were a jazz band who were performing ahead of me. They were quite brilliant and well worth a listen. They were Don Braden (sax) and Mark Rapp (trumpet) and can be found at bradenrapp.com

5th January 2010

Eggs Benedict

2: Mercer Hotel Eggs Benedict

One has to expect boutique hotels to do things a bit oddly. More often than not they have photographs of pebbles in the bedrooms which I've never fully understood. The Soho Grand doesn't; instead it has lampshades in the lobby the size of smart cars, and fish. The receptionist asked me if I wanted a goldfish in my room and I told her I'd already eaten, and she then patiently explained that it wasn't a snack, but a pet.

Charmingly quirky this might be, but I like to think of myself as a confident adult, stong enough to weather New York without the heartening sight of a fish welcoming me back to my room every night, so I politely declined. But I still had the bowl in my room despite this, and 24 hours later, the goldfish mysteriously appeared in my room, as though perhaps they thought I wasn't serious over the whole 'do you want a goldfish?' issue.

Of course, this only fired up my imagination, and I had visions of the hotel fish wrangler having too many fish and not enough bowls, and trying to keep his scaly charges alive by a constant round of room jumping. I asked at the receptionist whether I could have a wallaby instead of a goldfish, but alas, she was unavailable.

Today it was time to try the Mercer Hotel which is on the corner of Mercer and Princes. I'd heard good things about them and they did an excellent cappuccino. The Eggs Benedict, however, were not really up to the Soho Grand's standard, and for the following reasons:

Firstly, the hollandaise sauce was a bit 'gravitationally challenged' and had migrated on to the plate, which from a taste point of view isn't a disaster, from an aesthetic point of view is a bit like painting a picture with cream - okay to eat, but doesn't really stay on the canvas.

The second point was more serious, and had to do with the hardest thing of all in an EB; getting the poached eggs just right. Sadly, the chef had taken them out forty-one seconds too early, and there was a bit of runny white still inside.

Diced potatoes were more moist but still excellent and well above standard. To be honest, the EB tasted good - even if the bacon was off a roll as before. Service and breakfast ancillaries, ambience and decor all excellent.

Fforde Benedict Index: 7.2.

Interview this morning with Lewis Frumke which you can hear by clicking on the link. Signed today at Mysterious Bookshop, now in its fourth year at 58 Warren Street, New York. Otto Penzler was a huge asset to the series when I was first published in the US back in 2001, so I remain very grateful. He has 38 signed copies of SOG in his shop and can be reached at 212 587 1011 or Mysterious Bookshop

Also signed at Barnes and Noble Tribeca 2255, 97 Warren Street, 212 587 5389. ten copies.

Talk tonight was at Partners and Crime on 44 Greenwich Avenue a venue in which I have spoken - uniquely - for every single year of my eight US tours. The audience were fantastic, and the shop mercifully cool, as I usually speak here in the sumer, and the seventy or so people generate enough heat to melt paper. It was, as always, a great event, with lots of familiar faces. The talk ranged around the new novel, the old novel, advice for writers and what to do with Goldfish.

Kizmin has over fifty signed copies of Shades of Grey in the shop, so if you want to order a copy, call her on 212-243-0440 or email partners@crimepays.com. Next stop, Borders Ann Arbor, MI.

6th January 2010: New York/Ann Arbor

Airport waiting

3: One hour delay at La Guardia

Early rise and not even a sniff of any eggs Benedict at La Guardia, where we all waited and waited for something to happen. Flight to Detroit uneventful - one always hopes they will be, to be honest - and a different sort of cold in Michigan - a sort of a damp cold, where NYC has a dry cold. Just got to the hotel, talk tonight at the Lohr Road Borders. Excellent talk, lots of questions and a baby in the front row who behaved impeccably! My thanks to Roxanne, Cindy, all staff and everyone who turned up, despite the snow and cold..

If you want to find any signed copies here in Southern Michigan, you could try Schuler Books in Lansing on 517 316 7495. Speak to either Dewey (who is a spiffing chap with Wizard Banter) or songstress Whitney, or indeed any of their talented sales staff. If you're dropping in, have a bite to eat. We ate in their Cafe and it was very good.

I also signed for the Schuler Books Okemos branch on 517 349 8840, so you can find some there too.

Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor also have a half-dozen copies, their number is 734 662 0600.

7th January 2010: Detroit/Chicago

Oo-er lumme. Let's have another look at the menu

4: Oh dear.

De-icing aeroplanes

5: De-icing aircraft before flying out of Detroit.

Went off to - no wait, that wouldn't be fair - shall we say 'A Diner' in Ann Arbor to have some Eggs Benedict. I was musing as I stared at the plate that I should be able to devise some complex mathematical procedure that would enable one to compare an EB from a diner to one in a swish NY hotel on a level pegging - something about weighting the cost and expectation. In any event, I quickly decided that this wasn't the best place to fairly critique Eggs Benedict on a like-for-like basis, so changed my order to pancakes and bacon. Now they were good!

I think there is a flight school down in the Mid West somewhere that teaches airline pilots a confident 'Chuck Yeager Drawl', whose breezy tones can allay the fear from even the most nervous passengers. The flight from Detroit to Chicago might have been a nervy flight, especially when we had the 'longer than usual' de-icing to begin with, the machines looking like an adapted Disney ride. It didn't help that we vanished into a swirling snow-storm the second the wheels left the tarmac, nor the fact that a skeleton in a black cloak and holding a sythe was sitting next to me.

"How did you get the sythe past the TSA?" I asked. At first he made no answer, then told that I should switch to short stories if I were thinking of reading on the flight.

It was bumpy but not excessively so, and my black-cloaked friend moved around the cabin, reminding the pasengers of past sins, and offering to play chess.

We circled Chicago three times to admire the view through the swirling snow, the pilot demonstrating to us how easily the undercarriage could be raised and lowered, and the flaps deployed, then raised, then deployed, then raised again.

It might, in fact, have been minimally frightening to a lesser human than me. But throughout all this the cptain kept up a chatter from the cockpit, telling us what was going on, and how the snowploughs were out and everything was fine and dandy. In fact, he probably could have told us we had run out of fuel halfway to Honolulu with little chance of survival, but as long as he kept up the Chuck Yeager Drawl, we would all have been perfectly happy.

We landed without incident, but oddly enough the skeleton in the black cloak seemed to have vanished..

My talk was at the Barnes and Noble Skokie, and once more an amused and amusing crowd. Notable alumni were Steve, who is a stalwart of the Fforde Ffiestas with his puppets, Betsy who had driven six hours to be here, and John, who is the first person I have ever met who has had their arm broken by a swan.

Now this is remarkable, and certainly worth greater scrutiny, as the old 'don't go near a swan or it will break your arm' is one of those great lies that pepper your childhood, along with 'if the wind changes, your face will stay that way' or 'it's much much better to be cast as Shepherd #17 than Joseph' or 'Wyoming is actually the size of a double garage'. I had to quiz 'John the Swan' about his, and yes, he confirmed that he had indeed been attacked by a swan that broke his arm, although he didn't have any scars, a bent arm or even a note from the Swan's mother. Mind you, the broader issue over the whole 'you really can have your arm broken by a swan' question is that perhaps your parents were actually right about other things, too. That father Christmas wouldn't burn your existing toys if you were bad, or that Lindt chocolate perhaps wasn't 'poisonous to children' as your parents maintained. Indeed, it was even possible that there WAS a troll up the chimney that would come and wipe their bogies on your face while you slept, or that Aunt Beryl was actually a man, as you had long believed.

(I should point out for reasons of fairness that my parents never indulged in such outrageous lies. But I do. My favourite is that the tooth fairy is actually in the maraca business, and fills maracas with children's teeth. It explains why a constant supply is needed, and why you always get the same for a molar as for an incisor. They sound the same)

Taken around a slushy Chicago by the Veteran Media escort Bill Young. Signed stock is available from the following outlets:

Bookcellar Lincoln Square (773 293 2665), Borders at Evenston, Barnes and Noble at Evenston, Unabridged books at Lake View, Borders at Lakeview, Barnes and Noble State Street, Borders Michigan Avenue, Barnes and Noble Clybourne and Borders Wilmette.

8th January 2010: Chicago/Seattle

A chocolate book - old cover, but it's the thought that counts

6: The Four Seasons Hotel takes guest care VERY seriously

Eggs Benedict

7: Eggs Benedict al le Saison quatre.

Chicago in the grip of snow and rain, much the same as it is back home - only here in Michigan and Illinois no-one gets into a panic over some snow. In the UK and most of Northern Europe, temperatures have dropped to record levels not seen for thirty years. Britain, which has six snowploughs, has ceased to function, and salt is running low. We could ask to borrow some from the World's salt-producing nations, but feel it might be impolite to ask, so we are barricading ourselves in our home muttering the collective mantra of the stoical British public: 'Well, mustn't grumble. Tea? Oooh, that would be lovely.'

But the rest of Europe has its problems too: France is wondering what to do with forty million tons of flavourless sorbet, the Belgiums are drafting a constitutional amendment to the EU charter in order to form a working committee to enable the question of 'snow' to appear on a meeting sometime in 2032, the Germans are currently adapting their fleet of Audis and BMWs to be snowploughs, the Dutch are converting their bicycles into 'ski-cycles' and the Swedes, Finns, Norwegians and Danish are doing nothing - its very much business as usual.

The search for the finest Eggs Benedict continues, and this morning I am at the Four Seasons in Chicago. I've stayed in a 4S before, and they clearly have a database of D-Class celebrities such as myself, as their attention to detail is extraordinary. When I arrived there was a chocolate book with my name on it, (see picture) and all of the staff mysteriously knew my name. Service was impeccable, the hot chocolate served with marshmallows AND cream, and the rooms so comfortable that I would have been quite happy moving in and staying, like a sort of modern day Howard Hughes.

And so we turn to the Eggs Benedict. It was excellent, and totally by the book. And that was the problem. It was marred by a certain level of mechanical perfection. Food should be brought to life with a certain degree of interpretation - one has to read the cook in any great dish. The EB was done perfectly. The eggs in particular were probably the finest poached eggs I have seen, but the hollandaise lacked a certain dash and tanginess. The cook would have to say: 'I know how to improve this - a dash of pepper, a pinch of seasoning - to hell with the conventional palate, I want my Eggs Benedict to sing great hymns!' The Soho Grand managed to do this, the 4S I feel did not. The service, however was excellent, the staff courteous to a point that an English person like me feels mildly embarrassed. Fforde EB index: 8.3

I should also point out at the juncture that I am colour-coding my signings. New York was Black pen, Michigan Blue, and Illinois Brown. Washington light Green, California will be red.

My hotel in Seattle was the 'W', the original 'Boutique' hotel, and while it all might have looked unique ten years ago, the whole concept looks a bit tired these days. Nevertheless, staff all very friendly, but I wasn't there long enough to try their Eggs Benedict, which was annoying - it probably came with a picture of a pebble, a goldfish and very low lighting with lots of leather.

The ever-helpful Gail was taking me around Seattle, where it is apparently part of the city ordinace that you have to hold a cup of coffee wherever you are and whatever you are doing. It was in Seattle that I was nerealy arrested for 'walking without coffee' before my then Media Escort managed to intervene. (Or was it simply for 'jaywalking'? I forget)

Met up with old chums at Seattle Mystery Bookshop, where I signed stock (206 587 5737 speak to Fran) and then on to Elliot Bay booksellers, which has a special place for me as it was where I first spoke in the US, ever - back in 2002 for the launch of The Eyre Affair. I wrote this in my jounal at the time:

13th Feb 2002: 7:00 PM: talk and signing in a wonderful venue in the brick-lined basement of the Elliot Bay Bookshop. For a first talk, the buzz generated from the UK publication six months ago had managed me eighteen people in the audience. I got off to a slow start by trying to explain what the book was about but getting all lost with the convoluted plot. So I just asked them all: 'is any of this making sense at all?' which got a laugh and I then went on to explain how hard it was to find an agent or publisher interested in such an unusual book. I read a bit - the section when Thursday goes into Jane Eyre for the first time - and talked some more, then read out the Richard III audience participation section which explains the silliness a lot better. By this time the audience were a lot more relaxed and we talked about my unpublished works, writing, what reading means to people and how we understand books at all. Surprise vote on the 'TN-1 cover challenge'. All except one preferred the UK version as 'more classy'. A very successful evening although numbers were slightly limited - empty chairs outnumbered full chairs - returned tired to the hotel.

Interviewed by Bob Kenower, editor-in-chief of Author Magazine, which went well - he told me the (filmed) interview would be up on his site shortly.

Event tonight was at www.thirdplacebooks.com at Lake Forest Park which managed to pack in a good crowd, and the event was terrific - lots of eager questions about Thursday, NCD, the ever-popular 'Film Question' and my weight in kilos, which I was unable to answer. Third Place also had me sign stock, so if you need or want a signed copy, drop them a line - 206-366-3316, or full details on my 'appearances' page.

9th January 2010: Seattle/San Francisco

Day cancelled due to a stonking headcold that threatened to change into something worse - apologies to everyone who was expecting me to turn up at 'M is for Mystery' or for West Coast Live - and also my apologies to Cathy and David who had to reschedule at short notice. Worse still, I didn't feel like eating anything, so the Eggs Benedict saga has yet to play out..

10th January 2010: San Francisco

Capitola beach

7: The Beach at Santa Cruz

First day up and about and Frank told me he wouldn't have me running in and out of stores or anything. Couln't face an Eggs Benedict, so will try one out tomorrow, time permitting.

Dropped in to see the ever-enthusiastic Ed Kaufmann at 'M is for Mystery', and apologised for being unable to attend the day before. It would have been quite an event as they had laid on a cake, themed napkins and a goody-bag. He very kindly told me that everyone fully understood, and quite a few people dropped in anyway to say 'Hi!' and have their books signed. Ed had 250 pre-orders which must be something of a record, and had extra stock signed for anyone else who wants one. 'M is for Mystery' is in San Mateo, on 650-401-8077.

Another in-depth interview from Rick Kleffel of bookotron.com , the third I have done. Check out his site in a couple of days to see how you can hear it.

Santa Cruz is what people like me from the UK think all of California is - lots of beach, easy living and a certain sang froid attitude that we admire in Californians but find annoying in the French. Ate calamari and clam chowder overlooking the beach and yacht basin. Hmm. Might get used to this..

Capitola Book Cafe in and always a fine welcome. My thanks to Tamera, Dana and the staff there for making it once more an excllent event. They too have additional stock and can be reached on 831-462-6297.

11th January 2010:
San Francisco/ Los Angeles

Eggs Benedict at the Huntingdon

8: At last - bacon sliced rather than -argh- processed!

Here I am at the Huntingdon Hotel in San Francisco, just a stone's throw from the hotel used as a location in Bullit. I like the Huntingdon because it is very old (1918) and has a fantastic dark-wood restaurant and bar that oozes turn-of-the-century opulence and civic pride. There is a plaque in the right hand elevator that honours Mary McKenzie, the lift operator here for thirty years, and the staff are all very polite and helpful - inquiring if I was better now, as I was, for 24 hours, 'the sick guy on the 7th floor'

I hurriedly ordered their Eggs B as I ran out to catch Flight 888 to Los Angeles, and I was very glad that I did. Here, finally, was the bacon that I had long sought - not cut from a processed roll, but sliced from a haunch, and excitingly random in shape, size and thickness. As you might have guessed, I'm a big bacon fan, and would quite happily be a vegetarian but for the mouth-watering smell of smoked thick cut bacon.

To be honest, we don't eat a huge amount of meat as I have a daughter who has been a veggie since she was six when she announced she thought it 'not right' (How totally cool is that?!?) so in order not to make two meals, we have quite a lot of non-meat dinners, and that has carried on even when she wasn't at home. Mind you, the BSE scare has long given our household an irrational suspicion of beef, so we only eat it on rare occasions - which makes it all the more exciting.

But back to the EB. This was a good one, and as you can see from the photograph, looked a bit like Master Po from Kung Fu. It lacked a scrap of garnish on the Hollandaise to set it off, but everything looked positive aside from that. After circling my victim for a few seconds, I pounced. Everything about it was pretty much spot on. I was in good hands.

I was initially suspicious of the eggs which had been poached in semi-circular containers as this seemed a bit too technical, but I warmed to the idea when I discovered the eggs were perfectly done. The Hollandaise was good too, tangy and bright, and the potatoes, lightly tossed, might have been seasoned a bit more and could perhaps have been a tad crustier on the outside, but I am being finicky. Mind you, I have to be - in the top-level world of unlimited class Eggs Benedict, every atom on the platter can make the difference between hero and zero. The mildly offhandish service could not detract from the breezy confidence of an EB well done with the minimum of fuss and bother. Fforde EB Index: 9.3

Signed stock at the Mystery Bookstore in Westwood, LA, so i you want asigned copy, call Linda or Bob on 310 209 0415. Talk tonight was hosted by Vroman's but was held in All Saint's Church, Pasadena. This was in the Basement or Crypt, but actually looked like neither - more like the underground war rooms of the Politburo. his was, I thought, the best talk so far of the trip, with lots of interesting questions.

12th January 2010:
Los Angeles

Sunrise over LA

9: Los Angeles

Eggs Benedict at the Bverly Wilshire

10: Eggs Benedict at the Beverly Wilshire

Woken by a spectacular sunrise over LA. Mind you, when we praise the colour of a sunrise, we should reserve most of that credit for ourselves - colour is a property of the mind and the mind alone..

The Beverly Wilshire has the Eggs Benedict as its signature dish - I can only assume this as there are four different types on its breakfast menu. I rather conservatively plumped for the 'Classic' eggs Benedict, but noticed with dismay that it was not served with bacon but Proschito ham and spinach. Now I like bacon, but can't really complain as I was only yesterday saying that a good dish needs the chef's interpretation. Note on service: Although excellent at the BW, it has a certain air of not being wholly genuine. I'm not sure why. The BW is very expensive - ludicrously so - and one wonders how much of that is running costs and how much is a tariff to keep Riffraff out of the dining room, and maintain the wealthy exclusivity.

Still, as can be seen from the picture, the EB looked excellent, and it was. But despite my own feelings about interpretation, I couldn't really get past the 'no bacon' issue. It was a bit like having roast chicken without the chicken. It's a necessary part of the dish. So unfairly perhaps, I had to award it only an 8.6. Very good, tasty, sauteed potatoes yummy. Just no bacon - although spinach is an inspired touch.

Signing in the afternoon before my event. Barnes and Noble at the 3rd St. Promenade, Santa Monica has many signed copies, as does the Barnes and Noble on the West Side Pavilion.

Event was at the Borders Century City run by the ebullient Lita , who made sure I had a tremendous welcome. Talk went very well, and the question of eBooks came up as someone had a Kindle they wanted me to sign. (I'll be doing downloadable title pages as PDFs soon, watch this space) so I thought I'd put down a few notes.

There is very little talk within publishing at present that is not about eReaders and their possible effect on the publishing industry. Conversations tend to go in circles because no-one is quite sure what will happen as that Quixotic Joe Public has an annoying propensity to do what the publicity and marketing people don't expect them too.

All the major players have an eReader of some sort; the Clunky Kindle, first off the mark but looking as if it were built for Walmart is the most successful so far but the least desirable of them all - I've always thought that with electronic gadgets you have to boost their 'must have' status to the max by making them not only practical but desirable to own, and admire. The Sony eReader in its second incarnation goes toward crossing the aesthetic bridge, as does the Barnes and Noble Nook, which is so hard to get hold of that some people have even questioned its very existence, although the impressive array of accessories for the Nook seem to indicate that they have spent too much on the icing, and forgotten to bake the cake.

All of these devices, however, rely on one thing: content, and a new way to sell it. Speaking to industry observers in New York, it sounds as though all the potential suppliers of material to eBooks are circling a pot of gold, yet are not sure what the pot of gold is made of, nor even whether there is any gold in it. But whoever you talk to, the discussion is never complete without one word that stops conversation and has everyone nodding sagely: Apple. Their new device is still under heavy wraps, but is unique in that it has everyone holding their breath, even without anyone knowing what it is, whether it exists or even when it will be announced. The Midas-like touch of Jobs and the marketing of iTunes and Apps is a business Model that everyone would like to have a piece of, and whatever device Jobs' wizards come up with, it is likely to define the direction of the eBook, and more importantly, it's uptake by the public.

It's not difficult to see why. Apple have managed to come up with devices that you want to own - Listen, I'll buy almost anything that has an Apple logo on it and is shiny and does groovy things, irrespective of its necessity. And luxuries have ways of becoming necessities. No-one knows what this device will be called, although since iBook is already in use, iSlate might seem to work, or even iEverything, as it will probably be an iTouch on steroids. Mind you, if they did a version that only stored Historical novels they could call it 'iClaudius' or for one that had only ScFi, 'iRobot'. I'm not really troubled; I'm just glad that they've stopped naming their OSX versions after German WW2 heavy tanks.

Will the eBook take hold? No-one knows. Could be a flash in the pan, a passing fad. But like it or not, Apple - who have nothing to do with publishing at all - will be the ones to have the second greatest contribution after reader-public.

Personally, I think the book will survive for a few more decades.

Tomorrow, New Mexico!

13th January 2010:

A Reader presents her family spoon to me

11: My first Reader Spoon

No eggs Benedict for the past few days as I have been out of the hotel before breakfast, so a few words about my latest stop. The first think that struck me about Albuquerque is the phenomenally high score it might make on the scrabble board. After that it was the quality of the air. Fresh and cool and dry as only high desert air can be. It sparkles, like champagne - and this is in the middle of a city of 750,000.

Albuquerque is also a place of muted colours and rounded corners. The rounded corners from the traditional mud-brick that still dictates building design, and the muted pastel colours of the buildings, shades of the desert sand, a world of ochres. Since this is winter, the dormant trees reflect these muted colours and make this part of New Mexico (I've not seen any other) a veritable oasis of glorious sepia.

There was something else, too.

A certain form of relaxed approach to life that made everyone feel a bit more immediately open, but not in that 'I must tell you all about my divorce/operation' sort of way. It was like the short Now of LA, my last stop, was replaced by the longer Now of Albuquerque. And somehow because of that pause to think, there is also a banterish humour exchange mechanism going on that I found more obvious in day-to-day life here. Perhaps it's all those rounded corners, I don't know, but using my standard question when informed that 'everything is taken care of' on my room bills, I always ask for a Toyota Prius to be charged to room service. I've tried that gag on six occasions on this trip as part of my ongoing humour experiment, and was met on each time with either a forced laugh (admittedly, it's a lame joke) or the faintly annoying 'that's so funny'. Here in Albuquerque Gene at the Hotel Andaluz replied without a pause: 'what colour?'. It wasn't just Gene either. Tanya, my affable and highly capable Media Escort, was also possessed of a keenly dry sense of humour, something that also extended to the TSA officer on the way out, as we joshed about film Vs digital as he hand-checked my film. Okay, now I might have been here for only 15 hours and that's not long enough to form an opinion, but it might at the very least offer an indication.

...and then there was the spoon. (see picture) which was shown to me as a fifth generation hand-me-down. Sadly, I didn't log the Lady's name who showed me this, but thank you. It's this sense of embraced fun that I find so uplifting.

My very great thanks to Bookworks for hosting the event. They have more signed backlist than you can shake a stick at, and can be reached on 505 344 8139

Lots of signed stock in the Borders and Barnes and Noble around the city.

Tomorrow, Miami!

14th January 2010:

The Biltmore Hotel

12: The Biltmore Hotel

The blog has been sadly disrupted by a curious incident whereby I spilled Jell-O on the keyboard of my laptop, which when dry made all the keys very sticky. When the spacebar works, it adds 20 spaces on its              slow            rise            up, and when it doesn't, therearenospacesatall.

But I'm back in the UK now, so have jotted down a few notes on my trusty Psion 5 (see Wikipedia) so everyone knows what's going on, and have bought a dinky apple bluetooth keyboard to input this all to the web without incident. There won't be any more Eggs Benedict reports, by the way, as Brits don't generally offer it on the breakfast menu.

From my Journal:

"....I was being put up in the Biltmore, a veritable palace of a hotel with a lobby like the temple at Karnac, song birds in cages near reception, and elevator doors that made noises like trumpeting elephants as they opened. It is as Miami was; a luxury hotel for a premier resort with good weather and easy living cut from the wetlands. Today Miami is no longer a resort, but a city that defines itself in many ways, like all cities: In finance, the arts, residential, and an international destination for festivals and conferences. Remarkable then that the Biltmore has survived, not only from the resort point of view, but from the weather. The almost 100% humidity cannot be kind on buildings, and the Biltmore must have been very strongly built - and with as little wood as possible - to survive at all. But survive she has and it is still here, jealously guarding the golf course as it has for the past eighty years, the mammoth swimming pool no longer host to an endless pageant of twenties flappers in their full-length bathing costumes and controversially bobbed hair, but a succession of wealthy individuals, no longer the pale phenotype clientele that the Biltmore owners no doubt originally intended, but still characterised by what the Biltmore represents - a retreat for the well moneyed...."

I spent very little time here so did not, alas, sign any stock at B&N or Borders, so the sole possibility for anyone desperate for a signed Fforde is at Books and Books, where I was greeted by an enthusiastic (especially Denise, thank you!) yet relatively modest crowd.

Tomorrow, Atlanta!

15th January 2010:

The escalators at Atlanta

The escalators at Atlanta

I've never been a big fan of Delta Airlines, and things didn't really bode well with the check-in staff at Miami, who were obviously on a go-slow or had just had a motivational speech that morning from a snail. This might have compounded what happened next to a riot - or worse, but for the head of the Cabin Crew, Sandy.

We were meant to leave at 9:30, but apparently the baggage loader reversed his truck into the baggage door, reported the incident and the pilot went to have a look. This was when procedure kicked in, and an engineer came out, but because responsibility for whether an aircraft can fly or not has to come from Delta engineering HQ in Atlanta (where we were going), then pictures had to be emailed.

The first were lost, so they were sent again. Then they wanted more pictures, which were sent. These too were lost, so they were resent. More were asked for, and these too were sent, and eventually we were allowed to proceed, after all the paperwork had been sent back, printed, and delivered to the aircraft. It was now 12:30, three hours later, and connections had been lost, and everything could have been a screaming disaster.

But for Sandy.

A woman of excellent jest, considerable charm and a skilled diplomat, who managed, with a long stream of very amusing banter, to keep everybody in good humour. The captain, using his flightschool drawl, also endeavoured to keep us all informed.

We got to Atlanta four and a half hours delayed. Sandy finished the flight with a typically amusing take on the usually mundane cabin announcements:

".. you may now switch on your Me-phones, I-phones, you- phones, blackberrys, blueberries, huckleberries, and be assured that anything left behind will be available for you to buy back tomorrow from Delatairlines.com backslash cabincrew pensionfund dot com and that if we have any good comments you could direct them to Deltaair.com and if you had any negative comments you could direct them to Northwestairlines.com..."

As I was stepping off the plane I said: 'Delta are lucky to have you' and I left a message on Delta's website that evening to the same effect.

No stock signed anywhere but my event, hosted expertly by Wil at the Buckhead Barnes and Noble, 404-261-7747. Many thanks. I was also very glad to see Arthur Dent and Elizabeth Bennet were present, and my thanks to the readers who drove in from Alabama on trips that took up to six hours!

I was earlier interviewed by the highly professional Dana Barrett, who very kindly made her way to me when my flight was delayed, and whose embrace of technology to ensure a clear recording was a breath of fresh air in this post-skill 'wave a recording iPod in my face' world. She brought a mixing panel, two microphones, the works, and was striving to technical excellence, a state of affairs that should be encouraged at all costs. Her interview was for BETTER WORLD BOOKS, and the link to the interview can be chased down through Paging Authors Podcast

16th January 2010:
Washington DC

Travellers work while they wait

Travellers work while they wait

A stop off in Washington at Politics and Prose on the way home, where there is always a good crowd of 300, second only to Seattle on this trip. Sadly, I have never had any time to 'do the sights' so my experience of The White House has been limited to a fleeting glimpse past the end of street, and when it got blown up in Independence Day - and washed away in 2012. The Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln memorial have always been seen from afar. One day I will stay for longer.

I did, however get to sign shedloads of stock, as Christina took her Media Escort duties very seriously.

So not only can you find signed copies of my books at Politics and Prose but also at Barnes and Noble: 12th & E, Georgetown, Bethesda Maryland. Borders: 14th & F, 18th & L, Friendship Heights. If you want to hear an interview I did just before the talk, you can find it at Bill Thompson's extensive author interview which is at Eye On Books

But if you want to actually SEE the talk, you can do this too. Tom recorded it for posterity for ARLINGTON INDEPENDENT TELEVISION's "Fast Forward" with Tom Schaad. Tom promised me he'd send me a URL, and when he does, I'll post it up here.

And then, home. Thank you to all the booksellers who so kindly accommodated me, the Media Escorts, Sonya at Penguin and of course you the readers, who took the time out to come and listen to me ramble on about my books as a demented father talks about his children.

18th January 2010:

Foyles Cafe - the best cappuccino flourish I have ever seen..

Foyles Cafe - the best cappuccino flourish I have ever seen..

Back in the UK, mildly jetlagged and a bit confused.

Emma: 'Jasper, you've got a talk in Norwich on Tuesday'.
Me: 'That's funny. We have a Norwich in the UK, too.'
Emma: 'You ARE in the UK.'
Me: 'I knew that.'

First signing in the UK was at Forbidden Planet at Lunchtime. The manager there was Jon, from whom I bought some original 2000AD artwork back in the mid-eighties when Forbidden Planet was in Denmark Street. For any followers of the British comic, I have the original opening two pages of Nemesis Book Three, penned by veteran graphic artist Kevin O'Neil. I have had them on my office wall since 1985 when they cost a week's wages each.

After signing for readers (my thanks to Vikki for the sock-dodo that Tabitha instantly took a shine to) I signed lots of copies for distribution amongst Forbidden Planet's ten branches around the UK, so if you want to buy a copy of my book while shopping for Boba Fett masks, Tardis memorabilia or the collected stories of Fat Freddie's Cat, mouse your way to Forbidden Planet to see where your nearest branch is.

Vikki's sock  dodo

Vikki's sock dodo. Now part of Tabitha's soft toy inventory

Mass signing for David and Daniel at Goldsboro Books, for whom I have been signing since they were operating out of a front room in Thatcham in 2001. I also did a 42 second piece to camera for their website - a new trend that I suspect will become more common, much like the 'will you write a line in the book?' nonsense, for dealers anxious to have something above and beyond a signature, date and postcard. I do do lines on occasion, but since it takes a long time, only to copies dedicated to individuals. Perhaps a bit mean of me, but soon everyone will want a line, and then I'll be doing paragraphs, a short story, give up a lock of my hair, my third-born child and a kidney.

(I should point out here that Goldsboro do NOT ask for lines)

The event tonight was at Foyles in Charing Cross Road. I like Foyle's a great deal, and remember it well from the Christina Foyle days when it was a hotbed of eccentricity. There was, for instance, a soviet styleCentral Cash, which meant that to buy a book you had to queue, get a receipt from the bookseller, find a cashier (often on a different floor), queue, pay, then return to your bookseller to queue, and take your book. Mild-mannered vicars were known to have been driven to acts of unspeakable aggression using this system,

The place was a bit musty, too, and the sometimes bizarre choice of stock made browsing a huge pleasure as you really had no idea what you would chance across. The turnover of staff was high - policy at the time dictated six months was the maximum time that could be served - and so quite often the staff had no idea where any of the books were, whether they had them or not, or even if there was, indeed, a legendary 'third floor'. In fact, rumours abound that a venerable gentleman visiting from Dartmouth died in the rarely-visited fly-fishing section, and was not discovered for six months.

My visits to Foyles in the eighties were the high points of my lunch-hours, and unable to eat or afford books due to my overspend on original Kevin O'Neil artwork, I used to wander up to the 'Military' section of Foyles and use it, like everyone else, as a reference library. I recall leafing through the thumbstained tomes, and in particular a very interesting discourse about Field Marshall Montgomery, which was so interesting I attempted to read the book over a period of weeks, leaving a bus-ticket as a place mark. I became quite well known to the staff, until - disaster. Some absolute cad committed the most frightful disgrace and actually bought my book. Naturally, the staff were hugely apologetic, and attempted to placate me with a copy of Pilgrim's Progress that had lain unsold since 1864. So I never did find out how the campaign in North Africa turned out.

Foyles today is quite different. A veritable gem of a bookstore, modernised over the past ten years with scant regard to cost, it is the jewel in the crown of independent booksellers everywhere, and long may it continue to be so.

I met up with my tame Film Director Martin Gooch in the Cafe beforehand, which is always full to bursting due to the intoxicating mixture of good coffee and free WiFi - a magnet for every student for miles around. Martin, you may recall, turns up as a homicidal maniac in 'The Fourth Bear' but in real life he's barely insane at all, and very kindly (and skilfully) shot the webverts for Shades of Grey, the second in the series of which was posted up today, and can be seen on the MOVIE PAGE . Martin and I generally talk about aviation and movies, and sometimes, when we're feeling daring, aviation movies. We have been trying to get a project off the ground for a while but it always seems to stall because I don't have enough time, but one day.

(Fascinating fact: Martin's short 'Don't even Think it' is the first, and to date, only, filmed Jasper Fforde script. There. You heard it here first.)

The talk in Foyle's new Gallery space went very well despite Hodder being present, which always makes me feel poinlessly nervous. But it turned out fine, once I had remembered that UK audiences are generally less demonstrative than their US counterparts.

During the signing afterwards I met another Jasper, which is always good news as there simply aren't enough Jaspers (black labradors excluded - there's far too many of them). It's never become a popular name, but I was delighted to meet this Jasper, who at nine months was already a handsome, upstanding member of society, as Jaspers tend to be.

Tons of backlist available at Foyle's. My thanks to Simon and Julia and everyone at Foyles for their continued and wholehearted support of my books over the years.

19th January 2010:

State Sponsored graffiti

State Sponsored graffiti in Norwich. I think the plan is to make kids think about not
being mischievious, but using a subtle method that talks up, rather than down.
Interesting. Of course, I might be wrong, and this is something else entirely.

Twitter feed first off with Andy, Waterstone's Twitter-in-chief, with me tweeting back tweets from questions that twitterers had twittered in. As you might have guessed, I'm not a huge twitterer - sporadic actually - but I don't seem to have enough time in the day to write, live, dandle Tabitha on my knee, eat, fly, take pictures and try and up the compression ratio on my model T. But we got about thirty questions answered, including the very difficult: "Can you write a short story in 140 characters?" (See Waterstones twitter feed to find out more)

First of many train rides, this time to Heffers in Cambridge, where I am convinced every cycling female student is Sylvia Plath. "Excuse me," I say to one, "but are you Sylvia Plath?" She tells me to sod off, so I'll suppose I'll never know if she was or she wasn't.

Heffers is great fun. Part of the Backwell's empire and in a very pleasant purpose-built shop of a classic seventies design that would have been featured in architectural magazines of the time. Richard was my host and we sold 72 copies in less than an hour, leaving him with two copies.

As the train was leaving to go to Norwich, I learned that I was Number 4 on the bestseller lists, which was excellent news - not to me, naturally, since I'm wholly above such infantile boasting, but Hodder were delighted.

Talk tonight was in Norwich, this time in the Central Library, arranged by Waterstone's, who will have plenty of signed stock in their two shops if you want any. Bit cold today, and I suddenly thought of the social disadvantage that I will be suffering for the next ten years - because I missed the big snows. It's true, I was in the US when Britain was in the grip of the biggest snowfall of the past thirty six years and will thus become the dominating subject in conversation for the next fourteen years.

Sadly, I will be unable to contribute anything useful, and will have to move to the periphery of the conversation when people start talking in expert tones over gritting, salt supply and snowploughs. I will offer what meagre scraps I could to the conversation such as 'yeah, I saw it on TV' or 'My wife got the car stuck' or 'I saw a two-headed stoat once' but it won't be enough. I will be rumbled as surely as cash follows Cowell. 'Oh, right Jasper,' my dinner party guests will say sarcastically, 'but you don't really know. You weren't there.' In a nation dominated by talk of weather, Jedward and cricket, I may have some problems in store.

20th January 2010:

A Shackleton and a Hastings

Shackleton, Hastings

Train from Norwich to Lincoln, which is a trip past almost featureless flatlands, the appearance of a windfarm looming out of fog the only real excitement on the trip, aside from listening to some teenagers close by who were actually talking intelligently - always refreshing.

Lincoln is for me an author city - I had not started coming here until I began book tours. A lamentable lapse, but not unique. Incredibly, I have not yet been to Durham which is, by all accounts, quite lovely. The North East is the unspoiled section of England, full of treasures not yet fully ruined by progress. Lincoln has an exceptionally useful station being only two minutes from the high street, and with the cathedral on top of the hill and a bevy of narrow streets and old buildings, devilishly picturesque.

This was a timed signing with Gill at the Lincoln High Street Waterstone's. Today I noticed the 5th copy of the book that had the silver embossing missing off the front cover printing. I initially thought of it as a rare error worth billions of pre devaluation Argentinean australs, but can now say with reasonable authority that probably one in 500 of the print run are thus affected - this means there are potentially 60 copies like this in existence, so please don't think they are rarer than they are.

Off to Nottingham with Phil in his car. Lots of talk about aeroplanes as Phil and I are both sons of men who served with the RAF, even though Phil's Dad risked his butt more often than my Dad's by the simple expedient of being a mid-upper gunner for Bomber Command in the years 1942 to 1945. If you think it's remarkable that he lived long enough to sire Phil, you would be correct - Bomber crew survival rates were almost zero at that time. Even more astonishing was that Phil's Uncle also survived RAF aircrew service, which must make Phil's Gran and Grandad the luckiest parents alive.

Since we had a bit of time we thought we would stop at Newark Aircraft museum and have a quick 'fix' of aeroplanes and a cup of tea. To me, aeroplane museums are a mixture of excitement and sadness all in one. It is a bit like seeing a zoo full of dead animals because these aeroplanes - and there were many, some very rare - are dead and flightless, which is something no aircraft should be. But they did have the particular cocktail of oily metallic smells that we 'airheads' like so much. There's more than the smell, of course. There are the elegant curves on a meteor, the gawky splendour of a Gannet and the 'pocket propliner' feel of a Heron - all quite charming.

Why do I like aeroplanes so much? I'm not sure, but it's always been there, like Tintin, Beetles and rivets. Mind you, Modern aircraft leave me a generally cold and I have only a passing technical interest in Airbuses. I'm not wild about jet fighters either, having thought for many years that aesthetics in aircraft design died with the Meteor and Vampire, with perhaps the Hunter as the last jet to maintain reasonably attractive lines. You may think it is a guy thing and I suppose it generally is, but I have met a few girl airheads, who wax lyrical about the elegant simplicity of a sleeve-valve radial, or the thirsty simplicity of the Goblin.

I see it all as a celebration of mankind's extraordinary ingenuity. The mystery of flight for me is not that we can do it at all, but why it took us so long to figure it out. There are no particular skills unique to the 20th century that might preclude us from discovering high performance gliders five hundred years before we did , and I would argue convincingly that had we invented flying in the renaissance, then the progressive rate of technological innovation would have been greatly accelerated, and almost certainly along completely different lines.

Talk this evening was at Nottingham Waterstone's upstairs in their 'Sillitoe Room' which is an excellent venue, helped no end by the chiming clocktower just behind, which is very good for timing one's talk. There was another Jasper in the audience this evening, but at least two decades older then the last. My thanks to Dan and his staff for hosting my event.

21st January 2010:

Ferris Wheel

A ferris wheel in the centre of Sheffield. I didn't get a go.

Lunchtime signing today was at Waterstone's Sheffield, and I was delighted to see that there is now a ferris wheel in the city centre. A quick poll of my signees revealed that few Sheffies seemed to have ridden it, as is often the case. I once tried to visit Carnac in Brittany without seeing the stones as some sort of perverse experiment, but because there are so many standing stones, it was difficult to achieve. But I'm not totally useless playing the 'go somewhere famous and ignore the most famous reason for going there' - I have gone to the Louvre three times and utterly failed to see the Mona Lisa.

As I've said before, the North East of England is still exceptionally unspoiled, perhaps due to a long period of depression when buildings were not bulldozed because there was no money to rebuild them. I'm not sure if this is true, but Newcastle today is a wonderful mix of modernist style amongst Georgian and Industrial architecture. It also has possibly the friendliest taxi-drivers. I've had occasion to use cabs a lot over the past few weeks, and generally speaking, cabbies the world over are pretty much the same - a profession almost obscenely eager to reinforce their own stereotype. Not so in Newcastle. They were all friendly to a fault, chatty, eager to extoll the virtues of the city and in one memorable exchange when the fare came to 5:20, told me 'we'll call it the round five'.

Talk was in the spanking new library. I have a tickly throat so I asked if anyone had a strepsil, and they did. Goaded on by this success, I asked if anyone had a sink, since we're redoing the kitchen, but no luck. There will be a podcast available on the Newcastle Library website, and Waterstone's have lots of signed stock.

22nd January 2010:

Dundee Univercity

Dundee Univercity. The shiny things are reflectors - the lights are near ground level, pointing up.

I was talking at Dundee for the first time this evening, at the bright and cheerful new university building, which has all kinds of groovy things, like reflective uplighters, vertical radiators, scooped indirect lighting, numerous interesting curves, much art and very strange acoustics - you can be standing on the upstairs area and the voices which are actually down below and to the left sound like they're coming from behind you above and on the right. Talking of acoustics, I have tried many times to try and make a joke that uses the notion of 'Pooh Sticks' and 'Acoustics' but it's always elluded me.

In any event, I do have a bit of family interest when it comes to Dundee, because my Great Grandfather, one Edmund Dene Morel, defeated Winston Churchill, the sitting MP, for the Dundee seat in 1922. Morel hardly had a bean to rub together at the time, so was helped in the campaign by his large family who ran around Dundee drumming up support (Fairly easy, because Winston was very much out-of-favour), bankrolled by a hunk of change from the then left-wing Cadbury family, these days very much in the news. This was the election that put Ramsay McDonald in power and ED Morel was tipped to become foreign secretary, before McDonald decided to be his own foreign secretary, which sounds a bit mean.

ED Morel did a lot else besides being an MP, in particular he brought to greater public prominence the Belgium King Leopold's less than savoury shannigans in the Belgium Congo. Morel also went to Pentonville for a bit during the Great War on a trumped-up charge because he was an outspoken pacifist, so we kind of look upon him with a great deal of fondness and pride: An MP, jailbird, anti-slavery campaigner, pacifist and friend of Bertrand Russell, who thought a great deal of him. ED died in 1924, weakened, we think, by his time in Jail. His widow, who lived for another twenty-five years and brought up my mother and Aunt, received a mammoth box of Cadbury's chocolates every Christmas.

It makes us as a family well-disposed towards Cadburys, but not to the point that we will actually eat the stuff, although we generally imbibe in a seasonal creme egg or two, suitably refrigerated. ED Morel's daughter was named Stella, and she married my highly intelligent but socially dissolute grandfather after turning down Clement Atlee (What was she thinking of ?!?) Stella's daughter was my mum, and Stella looks so much like my sister it's uncanny. They have the same chin - the sort also shared, by a curious coincidence, by Sigourney Weaver (no relation).

Tomorrow Carlisle and then home for a day!

25th January 2010:
Cardiff and Chepstow

St David's Shopping Centre awaits retailers

St David's Shopping Centre awaits retailers

Cardiff looks different every time I visit it. They got rid of the ice rink which apparently kept the local clubs in ice cubes for six months. Old buildings have vanishing and shiny new ones have been put in their place, changing Cardiff from the run down industrial town of my memory into a vibrant place where a citizen can discharge their duty to society by buying all manner of overpriced shiny objects. But then, lower budgets are also catered for in the shopping economy that has marked out the past decade. TK-Maxx now sell non-designer labels at greatly reduced prices, and Primark have a '5 all you can wear' bar.

I was here for a BBC Wales radio spot and a lunchtime signing at 1:00PM - all went off very well - and after doing my signing we all walked around the new St David's centre which has the least-busy Apple store I have ever seen. I find Apple stores frustrating as there isn't anything with an apple logo that I actually want that bad, so I had to assuage my need by buying a 'magic mouse', which until today I always thought was the character Mickey played in 'The Magician's Apprentice'

Talk this evening was in the Drill Hall at Chepstow, which always conjures up ../images of Captain Mainwaring. He wasn't there, but a goodly group of Jasper readers were, and amongst the painted walls of the Drill Hall and the silks suspended from the ceiling, it all went very well. Interestingly, Chepstow is where one starts the Offa's Dyke path, is the home of an excellent castle, was once home to a Brunel bridge, and is also the subject of a Turner painting.

If, like me, you like to try and find where old photos and paintings were taken/painted from, the 'Chepstow Castle' by Turner is a bit tricky, as you have to hover in the air about thirty feet up, and then imagine an entirely different bridge in a slightly 'improved' location. Millions of pounds have been spent attempting to find out which 'hovering device' Turner used, but to no avail.

26th January 2010:
Swindon and Bath

Red evening light reflected off car bodywork

Red evening light reflected off car bodywork

Swindon is the home of Steam Trains, Thursday Next and Billie Piper, who I thought for many years was a North Sea oil drilling platform. It is almost mandatory to sign here, and the good folk of Swindon didn't disappoint as they answered the clarion call to purchase my books, even if there is no mention of Swindon it it.

Had a coffee break with the Fforganisers of the Fforde Ffiesta, which you may already know is in May this year. If you haven't already bought a ticket, you might like to for no other good reason that to allow the Fforganisers to sleep easier at night. Fuller details of the fun and high jinks can be found by clicking HERE

Talk tonight was in bath, which is always a pleasure, as this is a very book town that supports not one bookshop eager to do events, but three. I was talking for Mr B's but dropped in to Topping's Books to not only sign books but also talk to Saber, who I have known in three different bookshops since I was first published, and with whom I can always have a good chat. This time about books and bread makers. I recommended the Panasonic.

Mr B's was started by Nick Bottomley four years ago to fill the void left by the independents who had vanished as a result of not being very good and the onslaughts of the chains. Contrary to popular myth, the opportunities to make an independent work are still very much there, but a certain sense of imagination, style, energy and most importantly, a near obsessive love of books. Mr B's and Nick and all his staff are all heartily embracing the quirky business model. As soon as I dropped into the shop I was instantly engaged with Bookseller Ed on a subject the interested us both - black and White photography, and we spoke on the subject with increasing levels of obsession until it was reluctantly decided that I had to give my talk.

Unique I believe to Mr B's is their 'Book Therapy' where you will have a session with a trained 'book therapist' who would then recommend you books. It is mildly in jest, naturally, but I think the idea is too delightful not to be a success. But I've left the best to last. Order a book from Mr B's and it arrives wrapped in brown paper and string, with a red 'Mr B' seal. That's how I'd like to receive books. And I'm willing to bet a lot of other people would too. More from the Website of Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights

27th January 2010:
Birmingham and Manchester

Jasper inside a Mancunian lift

Jasper inside a Mancunian lift

A healthy lunchtime signing In Birmingham, in the gorgeous Waterstone's that looks like the interior of an old bank. It's on New Street, where you can't walk nine yards without a Market Researcher asking you questions about your buying habits. A reader once suggested to me a game you could play called ' market research tennis' in which you had to keep a rally going by answering 'yes' to all of their questions until they walked off in disgust. His personal record was twenty-eight. Another good game to play on tour is the 'Starbucks Challenge' in which you have to order your Starbucks in such a way that the 'Caffinista' (or whatever they are called these days) cannot ask you a question back. In service-averse UK, this is quite easy, but in the States it is much harder.

Banter is always better in the signing queue the further North you travel, and is probably at it's 'Banter High' in Liverpool, where everyone likes a chat, but is still pretty good in Birmingham.

After the signing I ran off to the Museum to see if the Saxon Hoard were still on display, but I was to be disappointed. The British Museum had baggsied it as they generally do, adding for good measure: 'Birmingham? Where's that?' and then 'Of course we'd love to have you look after it what with it being found there and with a greater geographical context, but you're such children and we really can't trust you to look after it.'

The Brummies have launched an appeal to get the Saxon hoard back, a fund I was delighted to contribute, but having seen the difficulties the Athenians are having to regain the marbles, I'm not rating their chances.

Manchester was my talk this evening in the always friendly Deansgate branch, a place in which I think I have given a talk on every book launch I have done, a record shared only with Partners and Crime in New York. A full house once again, and many familiar faces. I hope I made sense. I was completely knackered. The cabbie had to wake me when we arrived at my hotel.

28th January 2010:
Liverpool and Leeds

Leeds, and a lover of good punctuation defaces a sign at the railway station

Leeds, and a lover of correct punctuation defaces a sign at the railway station

Haven't been to Liverpool since 1983 when I was the runner on 'Champions - The Bob Champion story' and we were filming up at Aintree racecourse. The 2nd unit had filmed that year's Grand National to get some footage of the crowds, and we were up here a few months later shooting complicated POV racing shots which involved all sorts of groovy things like sliding doors in the jumps to let the tracking vehicle through, although what the horses made of it wasn't recorded.

Due to budgetary problems we had only 1000 extras, which looks like only two when placed in the echoing vastness of the Aintree stands. It was also where I got my first really seriously shouting-pointing-finger bollocking in the film industry. For leaving my post, I think, which was wrong, but the rant I received was totally out of proportion to the crime committed. Still, it makes one think. It made the 2nd AD look such a ***king idiot I resolved there and then never to raise my voice at anyone when I was in authority, and so far, never have

Of the city, I don't remember much about it from 1982 except for the Anglican Church which was then sitting almost alone among acres of recently bulldozered terraced houses, where only the grid-system of streets remained and a sad scattering of bricks. I also remember the blackened burned-out houses of Toxteth, still unrepaired after the recent riots. Coming back, I recognised only what was familiar from pictures, news and popular culture - the Liver Building, Mersey, The Adelphi.

Apparently, much of Liverpool has been sold to the Duke of Westminster - the streets as well, so the story goes - so there is a spangly and slightly disheartening section of retail development very close to a much more traditional and charming one. I signed in the second area, and the ready Scouse wit and banter, something I most definitely remember, was there in abundance. I'd like to have stayed longer.