Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Things I Learned On The Road by Penny Dolan

Two weeks ago I was out on the road on a publisher organised tour. No doubt many Awfully Big Authors have done many such trips and tours but this was my first “official” time on show.

I am not new to the game. I’ve been doing school & library visiting for year – and still do if asked - but this was the first time I felt part of somebody else’s plan. Usually I’ve been a big part of the organising chat so have picked up some sense of what I’d been meeting, and been able to spread the events out to give some recovery time. This time, the knowledge was just a five-day paper schedule.

The trip was – with due respect- a low-key version. It wasn’t me swanning about among the venerable stones of Oxford, Cambridge, Bath, Cheltenham. Edinburgh. There were no hotels away from home, no glam meals and not even a Hogwarts express to whirl me along.

This was me, alone, driving to Lytham St Annes, Rotherham, Leeds, Stockton and Preston version, and not truly the worse for that. My publicity manager came all the way up from London to support me on Day One and Two, as well as meeting new on-the-ground contacts with a view to future visits by other authors.

So what do I know now that I didn’t before?

I know that having a kind of ”visit uniform” - no matter what style this takes - to put on in the groggy time after the alarm rings get greater as the week wears on but also that the putting on the "Showtime Coat" - as we call it home here - gets easier as the rhythm of the week goes on.

I know now that the sand dunes of Lytham St Anne’s are closer than I thought. I love learning the landscape, even when there are gale warnings across Lancashire and Yorkshire. The A59 has wonderful early morning views unless you get so dreamy about the hills (and the hour) that you forget to watch out for the pushy lorries, erratic tractors and slow tankers.

I know that a using a fixed book talk with powerpoint – rather than segueing through various titles as I have usually done - makes it much harder to edit down a talk when you must cut twenty-five minutes or risk book sales because the visiting schools arrive late and want to leave early and the kind bookseller is sitting there with piles of books on view.

I know that technology is definitely not all. The power behind the lamps of projectors is very, very variable which mattered when some of the images in my talk were archive photographs. One morning I had brand-new double screen clarity and brightness. That afternoon, even the best images could only be seen in the front row on a tiny unfolding screen. Ah, bless those 60’s plate-glass libraries with their daylight! So back to the original version, the "plain" author talk complete with a large display book of illustrations carried around the corners of the audience.

I know to check the tour sheet well. The schedule had a blip, a cut and paste address sent in that didn’t match the named school. If I hadn’t neurotically googled all the venues, we'd have lost one of the most positive and delightful schools of the week.

I know now that Publicity Managers need special skills. They need to be full of energy to cope with the early mornings, long days and late nights; full of calmness when not everything is as they had been told by their contacts and full of diplomacy when they have to witness the usually private witterings of pre-session authors. Time after time.

I know that I have met some brave people out there working as independent booksellers: the Storytellers Inc bookshop and creative space in Lytham St Annes, Silverdell of Kirkham which is both bookshop and ice-cream parlour, and Radish, a small eco-bookshop in Chapel Allerton, Leeds.

Last of all, I know that at the end of the day, I just love the Go Home button on my satnav and that any form of speech or sociability has given out by the time I get there.

But thanks to all involved!


Joan Lennon said...

Well done, you! Now take a deep breath, a brief break, and get back to writing! (Nanny Joan here)

catdownunder said...

Oh, I do admire you doing all that!
You deserve your catnap!

Sue Purkiss said...

Sounds amazing and completely exhausting!

Penny Dolan said...

Wasn't a catnap, catdownunder. More a long hide among the clean sheets in the linen cupboard until people came looking for me. And a Friday dinner out on the strength of it.

adele said...

Good on you, Penny!Sure all the kids you saw had a good time!

Shelley said...

As a writer, I never would have thought of neurotically googling the venues! Thank you!

And congrats on making it to the Wikio Top Ten list.

Emma Barnes said...

I think a lot of writers will be using this piece as a checklist. And I'm going to look up some of the bookshops you mention. I do already know Radish - a great bookstore - and I like the sound of the bookshop plus ice-cream parlour!

And technology makes life so much easier, doesn't it, until it goes wrong? Today I also punched Go Home on my satnav - at which point it started giving the direction in Afrikaans.

Linda Strachan said...

Well done, Penny. A bit of a marathon but it sounds like it was a great success.

I don't think people realise quite how exhausting it is adding a lot of travelling to the kind of energy you need to 'perform' making it exciting and new for each audience and passing on your passion for what you do - and so much more when it goes on day after day!

I agree there is no substitute for being uber-organised and checking everything beforehand. And technology can be a boon (not so much to tote around with you) but you do have to be ready to discard it and go on whether it works or not.

Despite all the hard work and travelling it is always the good parts we remember and that make it all worthwhile- the great bookshops, libraries and schools and most of all the children, who are the best reason in the world for doing it!

Malaika said...

I'm exhausted just reading about it, Penny - but despite the odd hiccup, it sounds as if you - and the children lucky enough to have a visit - had a great time.