Friday, March 26, 2010

On the Road Again

An increasing proportion of a writer’s life these days is taken up with promotion, and from tomorrow I embark on a huge, three-month promotional adventure that will take me all over France and the United States.

The adventure begins in Paris - a good place to begin adventures.

The French capital is a four-hour train ride north of where I live in the south-west, and I will spend three days there at the Paris book fair, talking to publishers, meeting readers, and signing books.

Book fairs - or “Salons de livres” as they are called here - are a common feature of French life. Almost every small and medium-sized town in France has an annual book fair. Most are of a general nature, covering all the genres, but there are many that specialise in “polars”, or mysteries.

Most of the book fairs are subsidised by local or national government, which invests heavily in the arts, and they are phenomenally well-attended. The French of all ages still love to read and turn out in their thousands to buy. I am fortunate to live very near to the second largest book fair in France, at Brive la Gaillarde, which attracts more than a quarter of a million people over one weekend each October.

Writers are invited to attend salons by the organisers who pay all their expenses, arranging meals and accommodation. There are debates and discussions, lectures and readings, and of course lots of signings. Books are provided by the local bookstores who set up stands for the writers.

After twenty years as a screenwriter in television, where writers are commonly treated with little more than (well-paid) contempt, I was amazed to discover that writers in France are both revered and respected - even if poor (which most are). The organisers of book fairs, publishers, and booksellers, all bend over backwards to accommodate the needs of the writering fraternity who are regarded with something approaching awe by readers.

Signing a book for a reader is not a simple matter of a signature, and perhaps a date. You are almost expected to write another novel. Readers are disappointed if you do not cover the title pages with your hand-written thoughts on life, the universe, and everything. I very quickly had to polish up my written and spoken French to accommodate such requirements.

In June I will be attending books fairs from the Alps to the Pyrenees, from the Mediterranean to the English Channel, but the intervening two months will be spent touring the United States.

After the salon in Paris, I fly off to the first stop on a very long tour. Minneapolis, Minnesota. I will step off the plane after a nine-hour flight, to do a stock signing at Uncle Edgar’s Mystery Bookstore, and a talk and signing at Once Upon a Crime, before flying on the following morning to Denver, Colorado. Two events in Colorado in two days, are followed by one in Seattle, and then a whole host of events down the west coast, from Sacramento to San Diego. And so it goes on, finishing up two months later in Washington DC, from where I will fly home to Paris.

It’s hard work, but I do love these tours. I get to meet the amazingly dedicated independent mystery bookstore owners who are the lifeblood of the genre. Without exception, great characters and lovely people. I get to meet my American readers (who, thankfully, only require my signature on the title page). And I get to see the wonderful diversity of geography and culture that goes to make up the biggest English-language market in the world - the United States of America.

And when I say adventure, I mean adventure. Previous tours have variously seen me wrestling with burst water pipes, whale-spotting in the Pacific, losing a tooth and spending a fortune on dentists, driving three hours across a desert to attend a book event that the store owner had forgotten about...

As always, I will keep a daily blog of my travails for friends, family, and readers. You, too, can follow them on my blog here. And in case I am coming to a town near you, you can find the full itinerary on my Facebook fanpage here.

But I shall also keep readers of Type M for Murder up to date with a Friday digest during my two months on the road. I hope you’ll join me.


Vicki Delany said...

Envy! Your descriptions of book fairs and how writers are treated had me positively drooling. I get the feeling sometimes, here in Canada and in the US, that writers are at the very bottom of the publishing chain. A minor inconvenience at best. And as for mystery writers - pond scum.

Donis Casey said...

Amen, Sister.