Penguin-Berkley Books organised a pre-publication coast-to-coast tour of the States for me to promote my book, The Russian Concubine, and generate word-of-mouth buzz for its launch in America on 27 June 2007.
The whirlwind book-tour was an amazing experience. I met so many independent booksellers in each city I visited – San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, Washington and Boston – and they are a wonderfully enthusiastic breed, passionate about books and knowledgeable about the business. I was very impressed by the personal service they provide for their customers and their dedication to their book-groups.
And I can tell you, they sure know how to party as well!
When I announced to friends a few months ago that Penguin-Berkley had invited me on a book-tour of the States, they all chorused, ‘How fabulous! Swanning around signing copies of The Russian Concubine. What fun!’ But then I saw the hectic schedule and thought, ‘Wow! It’ll be a case of zooming rather than swanning – and with so many time changes as well.’ But I have to say that Penguin-Berkley did me proud – the hotels, the sleek black Lincoln Town Cars, the restaurants and the invitees to the numerous lunches and dinners were all top class in every way. I enjoyed every minute. Thank you, Penguin-Berkley.
First I flew from England into San Francisco and it was the one city where I had half a day free to relax before hitting the trail. Did I collapse into my king-size bed and sleep off the jet-lag? No, of course not. The fogs of the previous week in San Francisco had vanished and I was welcomed by pure blue skies, so I jumped on a cable car and my bones were rattled and shaken all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf. (Where, weirdly, I was totally fascinated by the crab market.)
I was, briefly, a tourist (as opposed to a working author), so what the heck, I did the tourist thing and took the boat trip round the Bay, under Golden Gate bridge and skirted the grim island of Alcatraz. Unfortunately neither Burt Lancaster nor Sean Connery was still there to wave to me, and I must say it was a dark and scary place to peer into.
After that, the book-tour began in earnest. I was met by Penguin representatives in each city, who introduced me to groups of their buyers and booksellers, starting with a large and friendly gathering in San Francisco in a restaurant with glorious views out over the water. That’s when I commenced talking and I didn’t stop for 5 days!
But what struck me – as a Brit – more than anything is the warmth of an American welcome. I was a complete stranger from a foreign land, yet from that very first meal – and at every subsequent gathering – I was made to feel completely at ease. Their enthusiasm for The Russian Concubine warmed the cockles of my author’s heart and I feel really excited that throughout the US the fate of my book will be in the capable hands of these people who really do know what they’re talking about.
Each city held a surprise for me.
I thought Seattle would be all industrial and grimy, after all it’s dominated by Boeing and Microsoft. But no, it’s a gorgeous place. They call it the Emerald City because it has so many trees. Add to that an amazing market – crabs again – and the coolest modern library in the world. The event for me in Seattle was the only all-girl lunch, a great bunch of booksellers who were so passionate about The Russian Concubine that I think over my third glass of Pinot Grigio I promised them a sequel – without having yet discussed it with my publisher!
Los Angeles next and a stunning party. I will never forget the moment when I walked into this really cool Hollywood-star hangout and saw on the bedecked table a photograph of my mother and grandmother, Valentina, that as a child I had grown up with in pride of place on the mantelpiece. It sort of shifted time inside my head. They were the inspiration for the story of The Russian Concubine and it was totally right that they were here with me in America to share its success.
This is where the schedule hit meltdown! I fell into bed around midnight and had a wake-up call at 3.30am in order to fly to Washington on time, from the West Coast to the East Coast. Even so, jetting through three time zones meant I’d only have a few hours there, but wow, were they special hours!
Meeting my US editor face-to-face in Washington for the first time was a real plus, then a half-hour interview on satellite radio, and off to a dinner with a fabulous bunch of booksellers whom I blame for corrupting me into the wicked joys of Cosmopolitan cocktails. Afterwards I was taken on a night-time tour of the imposing monuments and buildings of Washington, all illuminated gleaming white in the surrounding darkness. Unforgettable. Thank you, Trudy and Clinton.
And finally to Boston. I had a strange sense of déjà vu as the big black car whisked me through the city, because at times it felt as though I was still in London, England, the beautiful old buildings were so similar. I was treated to a lovely lunch where I couldn’t resist a dessert of buffalo yogurt tart (mmm, delicious) and where the enthusiastic group of booksellers gave me and The Russian Concubine a great send off. I even sneaked in a quick visit to an exhibition of Edward Hopper paintings before one last Lincoln Town Car came to waft me to the airport for the final time.
After a whole week of talking and talking about my book, about how the real-life story of my mother and grandmother as White Russian refugees in China inspired me to write it, where the line divided fiction from fact, and, importantly, how I did my research into China and its history, I at long last shut up. But the voices of all the people I’d spoken to and their wonderful warmth and enthusiasm for The Russian Concubine will stay with me long after I am back at my keyboard – maybe even writing that sequel!