Author in America

What a week! I just got back from my trip to New York and Kansas City. Here's what this very jetlagged author got up to in the States.  

If you live anywhere near the bookshops I mention in this post – all indie – do stop and pay a visit. They all sound brilliant and the booksellers attending Winter Institute 8 were incredible: knowledgable, creative, and passionate about what they do. The US independent bookshop scene still has a strong heartbeat – let's keep it pumping!   

Tuesday 19 February 

View from the Flatiron Building

I got up at 5.30 to catch a 7.00 coach from Oxford to Heathrow. After our flight was delayed for a few hours, Alexandra and I flew out to New York's JFK airport and got a cab to our hotel in Soho, NYC. Too tired to do anything but sleep, I curled up in bed and did just that.

Wednesday 20 February 

Wednesday was a busy day. After breakfast, Alexandra and I headed to the Flatiron Building on Fifth Avenue, where Bloomsbury USA is currently based, to meet the team. Among them were my wonderful US editor, Rachel Mannheimer; George Gibson, publishing director; Cristina Gilbert, executive director of marketing and publicity; Laura Keefe, marketing director; Marie Coolman, senior director of publicity; and Nancy Miller, editor-in-chief. George, Cristina, Laura and Nancy would be my travelling companions at the Winter Institute later in the week. Needless to say they were all very welcoming and made me feel completely at home in the Flatiron office. 

First on the agenda was a lunch to introduce me to US book reviewers, organised by Marie. I was a bit shy at first, but I had a great time and some really interesting discussions, including a long chat with Laura Miller from Salon. After lunch, I met up with my Massachusettsan friend Laura (so many Lauras) for coffee. After being kicked out of a crowded Starbucks ('You can't sit on the floor here, guys'), we made a valiant attempt to find Soho – battling through the worst Atlantic wind imaginable, so bad I couldn't feel my fingers – but ended up in Times Square, almost on the other end of Manhattan. (We're great at navigating.) After a much-needed coffee at Pret, Laura caught the last bus back to Amherst. I was forced to give up on finding my way to Soho and hailed a cab to get me back to Fifth Avenue, vowing to buy a map before taking another bite out of the Big Apple. 

Alexandra, Rachel and I spent the evening with Bloomsbury editor Anton Mueller, his friend Michael Ripp, and the English author Patrick McGrath. After lots of book-related chat, we headed back to the hotel. 

Thursday 21 February

After a traditional New York bagel breakfast, I went to the Flatiron Building early to do a short video about The Bone Season and my writing process. Preview here. After a quick lunch, I met up with my very old friend Joëlle for coffee and a catch-up in Chelsea. By amazing coincidence we were in the US at exactly the same time: me for writing, Joëlle for photography.  

I can has book?
After spending the rest of the day in the hotel reading, I headed back to Flatiron, because I'd forgotten to buy a map and no way in hell was I going to try and navigate NYC by myself again. Nancy, Alexandra and I braved the New York subway and went for dinner at George's apartment. George's cat Anna, the sentinel of his home, is very protective of her copy of The Bone Season

Friday 22 February 

Last day in NYC! I signed out of the hotel and spent the morning meeting the Macmillan sales team at the Flatiron Building. Macmillan distributes Bloomsbury's books in the US, and it was great to meet the team that will be selling The Bone Season later this year. After lunch, it was time to head to the airport. Alexandra stayed behind in NYC, while I went ahead with Laura and Cristina to Newark Airport, where we boarded a tiny United plane to Kansas City, Missouri. Following a severe blizzard, the city was blanketed in beautiful knee-deep snow. We took a cab to the Sheraton Hotel, which is attached to the Crown Center, where the Winter Institute would take place, via a long glass skyway called the Link. After getting ourselves settled in, we went for dinner. I'd forgotten my ID and was thus refused my glass of sweet wine. In the UK the drinking age is 18, so I didn't even think to bring my driving licence. Ah well.

Saturday 23 February

Good morning Kansas.
I woke up early to a gorgeous Kansas City sunrise. Later in the morning I met the celebrated American author Gail Godwin, whose beautiful book Flora was the other Bloomsbury pick for Wi8. John Irving calls her the modern-day George Eliot, and I think she richly deserves the title. Gail is wonderful: warm, friendly and, of course, a prestigiously talented writer. She'd read The Bone Season and knew it back-to-front.  

After an early breakfast with Lori Fazio (R. J. Julia Booksellers, CT), Nancy, Gail and I decided to have some lunch and hit the mall, so we called a cab from the hotel. As we drove up the street, the cab was abruptly rear-ended by a Ford Explorer, which smashed us straight into a snow bank. The noise was incredible. When you see collisions in movies you never think how loud it is for the people inside the car, but my God, was that a loud crash. Being the only passenger in the car wearing a seatbelt, I managed to avoid a concussion, but both Nancy and Gail hit their heads. A woman came staggering out of the Ford and started frantically asking if we were okay, interspersed with curses. She insisted she looked but 'just didn't see' us in our bright yellow cab. We managed to get out (after a minute of me wailing 'we have to get out of the car right now!', thinking they might both explode, Michael Bay style) and into a nearby store, in which the staff seemed utterly unfazed by our accident – their response to 'we've been in a car crash' was 'oh, right, okay'. You have to applaud their poise. Outside, the cab company supervisors and police were called. After waiting for the police report, which included a subpoena – the officer assured me that I wouldn't be summoned back from the UK to witness – we made our way to the ER. Nancy had a minor concussion and Gail received a long lecture on the functioning of "old brains" – more, she said, than she really wanted to know.

I wasn't in pain, so I wasn't too keen on waiting hours in the ER, but the Bloomsbury staff insisted I get a check-up. I was sent to a room and asked to wait for a doctor. It wasn't until I sat down that I realised I was in pain: the muscles in my neck started to spasm, and I could hardly lift my head. After waiting a long time to be seen, I was diagnosed with whiplash and given a muscle relaxant called Flexiril, along with a strong painkiller. Fortunately I avoided a neck brace. George, Cristina and I reached the booksellers' dinner about half an hour late, but we made it for the main course. Among the attendees were Margot Sage-El (Watchung Booksellers, NJ), Anne Holman (The King's English, UT) and Ed Conklin (Chaucer's Books, CA – best name ever for a bookshop). Midway through a lovely conversation with Sheryl Cotleur (Copperfield's Books, CA), the muscle relaxant kicked in and I felt myself melt. Every muscle in my body turned to butter, I slurred my words and my eyelids felt like barbells. I was quickly spirited away in a cab, back to the hotel, where I was fast asleep as soon as I hit the pillow.

Sunday 24 February

Snow daze.
When I woke up, the muscle relaxant had worn off and boy, could I feel that whiplash: my neck was rigid and most of my left shoulder was painful. Still, I was determined to get up and meet more booksellers. It was also the day of the biggest event of Wi8: the author reception.

I made it to breakfast with some more indie booksellers, many of them from the South. I have a weird fascination with southern accents – possibly a side-effect of watching True Blood – so I was content to just sit and listen to a lot of the conversations. The attendees were Richard Howorth (Square Books, MS), Karen Hayes (Parnassus Books, TN), Daniel Goldin (Boswell Book Company, WI), Suzanna Hermans (Oblong Books, NY) and Sara Goddin (Quail Ridge Books, NC). At lunchtime, Laura, Cristina and I ventured out to find some true Kansas City cuisine. En route, we observed that Kansas City has very few people on the streets; it's definitely not a walking city like NYC and London. If a zombie apocalypse hit it, you probably wouldn't notice a thing. I was humming Keep the Streets Empty for Me while I walked. Still, the barbecue place was bustling, and no wonder: the food was divine. After trekking back to the hotel through the snow, I spent the rest of the day resting in bed with ibuprofen and a pile of ARCs. One of those I finished was She Rises by Kate Worsley, a naval adventure set in 1740 – one of the best books I've read in a long time. Kate is one of my fellow Bloomsbury debutantes and she's a fantastic writer: her prose is rich, lively and colourful, and the story has a brilliant and unexpected twist.

Gail and I with our galleys.
The author's reception took place in a beautiful ballroom, decked with chandeliers. Tables were arranged around the edges of the room, where authors sat with their books and booksellers could go and get one signed. I sat next to Gail with a big pile of shiny US galleys. When the first bookseller came to get a signed one, I was so excited I practically jumped out of my seat to greet them, whiplashing myself even further. (Note to self: try not to nod too much with whiplash. It hurts.) Gail had a lot of booksellers coming up to tell her how much they admired her work, which was lovely. I was very happy to meet Kenny Coble from King's Books, WA, who was undoubtedly the most supportive and enthusiastic bookseller I met at Wi8 – he was evangelising about The Bone Season for most of the night, so I had lots more booksellers coming up to get galleys ("So I just spoke to Kenny, and he said your book is awesome"). Kenny, you rock. Thank you!
Me with the awesome Kenny.
After the reception, I was off to the last dinner of Wi8. I had a wonderful evening talking to a big group of booksellers, including Heather Duncan (Tattered Cover, CO) and Mindy Ostrow (The River's End Bookstore, NY). (And I finally got the glass of wine I'd been chasing since arriving in the US.) During the meal I discovered whipped butter, yet another fascinating foodstuff of the States. I mistook it for whipped cream but was convinced by Heather to put it on the bread, and hey presto, it tasted like manna. After the meal, I said goodbye to George and went with Cristina and Laura to catch the last of the Oscars.  

Monday 25 February

Up at 3am. Laura, Cristina and I head to the airport at 4, and I fly to Chicago to await a transfer flight to London. When I get back to Oxford, I sleep. A lot. 

So there you have it: an author's adventure in America. Sorry for the delay, guys – jetlag is a killer. Now go shop at indie bookstores!

A big thank you to all the staff at Bloomsbury for hosting me and organising such a wonderful trip.

Next week I'll be posting a short interview with my agent, David Godwin, who will be answering the questions you submitted earlier this month.


  1. You've had a real adventure!

  2. I was waititng for your next post for ages! Literally!
    Yeah..the apparent adventure was pretty heavy, just trying to imagine how you'd have gone through all this...
    I was eager to read the answers to our questions asked to your agent, which you've told is for next week.
    I hope you do..
    For ya related??
    let me think...
    I've read that ya category have readers from 12 or 14 to 25, then with a protagonist of 13, would it be under category of teen or ya?

    1. Yes, my agent's Q&A will be posted next week. And okay! I'll pass that on to the YA agent.

  3. Quite the odyssey you've got here. A car crash isn't exactly the best welcome, but I'm glad you're okay though!

    The wi8 and Bloomsbury stuff sounds really exciting. I'm pretty jealous right now, but happy for you at the same time. You're living out a dream right now! That little clock is almost under 170 days now, can't wait until the readout reaches zero.

    And as a little sidenote, my Literary History class was reading Emily Dickinson today, and it got me thinking of you. What's your favorite Dickinson poem?

    1. It was an odyssey! But great fun, despite the car crash.

      I don't think I can choose a favourite Dickinson poem, I have so many! A few of my top picks are:

      'Twas a long Parting - but the time
      Size circumscribes - it has no room
      I tie my Hat - I crease my Shawl -
      I've dropped my Brain - My Soul is numb -
      Could that sweet Darkness where they dwell

      I could go on and on and on, though. I have a loooong list.

    2. It's one of her more famous ones, but I've always liked "Because I could not stop for Death-"

      The last poem on your list is pretty interesting, too. Shorter than I expected, but it's impactful. Probably the poem with the fewest amount of her dashes, too.

  4. Aww I'm so sorry to hear that your adventure abroad included a car accident :(. Very nasty stuff. I hope you heal quickly!

    I love all the pictures! Thanks for taking so many :). I think the cat's caption is hysterical!

    Good luck with the jet lag :)

  5. Hello, awesome post, and the question for the YA Agent is does age matter when they are if they want to represent an author?


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