I’ve been meaning to write about the First Time Solo book tour since I got back to Japan a couple of weeks ago but a number of things prevented me from work, through editing a new book (more on which later this week) to not having a computer anymore. Now, however, I have a shiny new Mac Air and a bit of time, so here it is, a highlights package of four weeks travelling, reading and drinking.
Stage One: Aberdeen
Flying in to Aberdeen is always uplifting for me. Not only does it mark the end of 24 hours of travelling and the last of three flights, but banking in over the coast and undulating fields reminds me how much I miss contours in the landscape. Japan is either perfectly flat or mountainous while Scotland is like an ever active sea. I adore the mountains in Japan, but the ongoing plains broken only by dilapidated buildings gets a bit tiresome.
After a couple of days recovering and catching up with friends and family, the first event was at Waterstones in Aberdeen. A healthy turnout and a healthy few pints beforehand dealt with the nerves and, as the event was skilfully chaired by Freight’s Robbie Guillory, went without a hitch. I have no photos to prove I was there but we sold a good amount of books and the Waterstones staff were wonderful, so thanks to them. Afterwards we trooped to Under The Hammer, an old haunt, to celebrate. Altogether a great start.
Stage Two: Edinburgh
I lost my jacket somewhere along the way and standing in freezing fog on the platform at Stonehaven I began to regret it. Luckily the weather in Edinburgh was warmer (when it wasn’t raining) and I got my first experience of being bored by taxi drivers talking about trams. Minori went shopping and I met a friend for a drink, then spent way too much money in Fopp. How I miss Fopp.
The reading was in Looking Glass Books, a wonderful independent bookshop on the north side of the Meadows. It opened two years ago and it’s been six years since I lived in Edinburgh so it was a new venue to me but a delightful one. Everyone was lovely and I had to stop myself from blowing the rest of my budget on books then and there.
Before the reading I met my agent Judy for a gorgeous lunch at her house and then we both met Adrian from Freight for a meeting about The Future. It went well but at the time of writing this I can’t say why. More when it’s all confirmed.
A pleasing turnout for the reading, this time hosted by Adrian who asked some difficult questions and somehow got me talking about Spike Milligan, which I’d never really intended. A woman taking notes who I didn’t manage to speak to turned out to be from the Edinburgh Reporter and she wrote this article on the event. Thank you.
After we retired to a bar whose name escapes me for drink, chat and old men playing folk music. On the way home we reacquainted ourselves with the delicious Edinburgh chippy sauce and then drank some more. A great night.
The t-shirt I’m wearing by the way is promoting the Bantuan Coffee Foundation, which was started by my friend Robert Porter. It’s aim is to provide education scholarships and safe houses for the victims of child prostitution in Indonesia, primarily by raising money through the sales of native Kopi Luwak coffee. I am currently editing a book of short stories and art by some of my favourite writers and artists which will be released in November and I’m very excited about it. I’ll post a full announcement with more details later this week. On with the tour.
Stage Three: Manchester
Aberdeen and Edinburgh were both organised and run by Freight, but Manchester was different. A monthly spoken word event, Bad Language, had been kind enough to invite myself and Simon Sylvester to co-headline their May event. In addition to ten excellent open mic readers, Simon and I had 10-15 minutes each on stage. The venue was packed, with people sitting on the stage due to lack of seats and a liberal amount of alcohol brought with it a holiday humour. I read different sections from the previous events, reasoning that the venue and crowd were perfect for the longer, freer jazz sections of the book. It seemed to go well.
Stage Four: Belfast
The day after Manchester my wife flew to Germany to visit friends and I went to Simon’s for the night. Like a pair of idiots we forgot to sign each other’s books but we did play Settlers of Catan which is a great board game. The next day, delicately, I took the train back to Manchester and flew to Belfast, there to meet another old friend, Lisa Keogh. I had an amazing time in Belfast, meeting Lisa’s friends who were all lovely and generous people, and soaking up some the sunshine and vibrant culture. We went to a fascinating exhibition on alternative maps on Ulster (in fact, while looking for a link to it, I just discovered that Lisa and I are now in the exhibition literature:
We also joined an anti-racism march along with 4000 others (according to the BBC reporter I overheard). Belfast I found to be an exciting, youthful and vibrant city, bursting with culture and promise, but it still has it’s dark side and that rose in the week before I was there when First Minister Peter Robinson opened his mouth and let pure effluence flow out. A march was duly organised and we joined in. For more information, you can read Anna Lo’s account here.
The reading was at No Alibis Bookstore, run by Dave, a friend of Lisa’s. I knew little about the shop but when he started talking about people they’d had read there recently (Ian Rankin etc) I began to feel a little intimidated. However he put me at ease by telling me that he’d already sold a couple of copies just from people spotting the bright cover on the shelf and saying ‘oh, what’s that?’ A victory for Freight’s designers.
This was another departure for me – most of the audience I didn’t know or had met for the first time the day before, and I had no one to chair or ask questions. It was all on me. I spoke about the book, the history behind it and illustrated my points with readings from the book. It seemed to go well and another good amount of books were sold and signed. We then retired to a beer garden and got squiffy before heading to the famous Crown bar which is gorgeous and rightly a National Trust property.
Stage Five: Doncaster
The next day I flew back to Manchester, met Minori returning from Germany and took the train to Leeds where we were staying for a few nights with Thom and Jo Day. I had a few days off before the next event so we explored Leeds, sampled a large selection of local ales and caught up on washing which, after three weeks living out of bags, was becoming a crisis. The Days are lovely hosts and they have a very nice house and were very kind to allow us to stay.
Minori and I took the train to Derby to see more friends and visit Kenilworth House, which I can recommend to anyone in the area.
The Doncaster event was at Doncaster Arts, co-directed by Duncan Robertshaw. He and Helen Jones invited me to speak to their book group. I did roughly the same thing I’d done in Belfast and then we spent the rest of the hour talking mostly about the process of writing. It was a nice change in pace, far more casual and less of a performance than before, so thanks to all involved.
Stage Six: Glasgow
We returned to Aberdeen and Minori flew home (three weeks off work was her limit) and I returned to Glasgow where Kirstin Innes and Alan Bissett threw a dinner party where I was finally able to meet my editor Rodge Glass in person. Alan treated us to Dark Side of the Moon wine which despite not being a Pink Floyd fan I enjoyed and Kirstin cooked a delicious meal.
The reading was in Rio Cafe, just along the road from my old flat in Partick but opened more recently. An enormous turnout of family and friends made the whole evening go with a swing. The host this time was Kirstin Innes, an expert at these kind of things after running the spoken word night Words Per Minute successfully for years. It went off perfectly and the drinking went long into the night.
Stage Seven: London
As a present to myself, I took a couple of days in London prior to the event at West End Lane Books to treat myself to some things I’d been missing. As much as I love where I live, the stand up and theatre scene is non-existent.
After a barbecue at my sisters place, I went by myself to the Southbank to see Political Animal, a political stand up show hosted by Andy Zaltzman and, on this occasion, featuring Bridget Christie, Alistair Barrie and Al Murray. The venue itself, the Udderbelly, was a cool place to hang out with a beer on a gorgeous sunny day and the show was first class. During Andy Zaltzman’s set he asked if there were any Scotsman in. I put my hand up, realising I was the only one. he asked me if I was voting Yes. I said I was and got booed by the audience. With Al Murray on the bill, this was not a good omen. Sure enough, when Al Murray asked the same question, ever head turned to me and I got a full Pub Landlord rant directed at me.
The following morning I went to the Natural History Museum to see the dinosaurs and the geology section (I didn’t have time for the whole museum and that’s what I wanted to see most). Next I returned to the Southbank, this time to The Globe to see Titus Andronicus. I’d done The Globe tour before but I’d never seen a play there and was itching to experience the full Groundling adventure. The play was stunning, from the acting to the staging (making full use of the yard and the crowd) and it made me deeply sad that I couldn’t see that kind of thing more regularly.
That evening was the reading, the final one. I changed my pieces again to reflect my location (Jack himself arrives in London and I read the relevant passages) and it went well, one member of staff even buying a copy for himself and getting me to sign it, which was lovely. We drank into the small hours and one friend, Andy, had to sleep on my hotel floor after missing the last train home. When we both rose at 5.45, him for work, me to get to Heathrow, it was not a pretty sight.
And that was that. I met a lot of old friends and made new ones, sold a lot of books and bought more, travelled to new parts of the country and just about killed myself and my liver in the process. It was brilliant and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Thanks to everyone who came along, who helped organise it and to make it a success. You’re all wonderful.