Friday, October 18, 2013

A Perfect Week

The tour started on about June 13th, with an event and a signing in Bath. It went to the US and to Canada, then came back to England via Holland, and it finished in Scotland at the end of August. I signed about 75,000 books while I was on tour, most of them copies of THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE. Six weeks on, I came back to the UK and did a mini-tour for FORTUNATELY, THE MILK. It was the appendix of tours, the last bit. Even so, it had a few of my favourite moments of the year, in it and one of my favourite evenings ever.

My first day in the UK, I went to the opening night of THE LIGHT PRINCESS, Tori Amos's beautiful musical, at the National Theatre. It's a fairy tale, and is about feminism, ecology, and the importance of showing and having emotions. It contains some amazing performances, beautiful songs, and flying (and floating) effects that are jaw dropping. The audience loved it, and gave it a Standing Ovation. I came out certain that it would divide the critics, and the papers the next morning were mixed – the Daily Mail's reviewer gave it one star and described the audience who had loved it as “weak minded”, the Daily Express gave it five stars and said:

 With shades of panto, ballet, circus and opera as well as musical theatre, this bonkers but beautiful fantasy defies categorisation. Amos has said that any man taking a woman here on a date is guaranteed to get lucky afterwards. I’m not the best judge of that kind of thing. All I know is I’d go again tomorrow, and again the day after that.
I thought it was magic.

Ian Lamb, Bloomsbury's Children's Books Publicity Honcho, had set up several really enjoyable events. They began with a literary lunch at the Savoy Hotel, which reopened in 2010 after a three year long remodel. The food was wonderful, and between courses I wandered around with a microphone, talking about the book, reading from it and answering questions. This was only the second of the lunches, and I don't think that any of the people there were Savoy regulars: the ones I recognised were all regulars from signings and events, most of them looking a bit nervous and intimidated. The Savoy staff were really nice.

I was on SATURDAY LIVE, the BBC Radio 4 Saturday morning show, along with a comics creator, a Rock Manager, Tori (and elks), and a former Yeti. It was a delightful 90 minutes of radio. I forgot to talk about FORTUNATELY, THE MILK.
(You can listen to it here.)

I went to Cheltenham, and talked and signed at the literary festival there: 400 people queued up afterwards, most of them in the rain, and I felt very guilty indeed. I met Marcus Brigstocke for dinner – the first time we'd talked properly since we did the commentary on the DVD of A SHORT FILM ABOUT JOHN BOLTON, my short film in 2002, which Marcus starred in. From Cheltenham to Manchester, where I did another book event and signing, less formal and significantly less rained on.

Up first thing the next morning to do the BBC Breakfast Show (the segment is up here, but you may need Tunnelbear or equivalent to watch outside the UK). Normally Breakfast TV book spots are an excuse for the interviewers to not talk about the book, but the presenters (and their children) had read and loved FORTUNATELY THE MILK, and asked me about it, and I made up for not having mentioned it on the radio. (The Amazon rating went up from about 240 to 12 in an hour, for the curious.)

That night was astonishing: I gave a speech on behalf of the Reading Agency. It's about reading, and about libraries, and about our obligations to the world and to the future. Before the speech, I sat in my seat, and I looked down at the words I'd written to say and was consumed by a strange form of stage fright in which none of the sentences that I looked at seemed to make any sense. In a kind of awkward terror I got up and delivered the speech, and somehow it all made sense and all the sentences were sentences after all: it worked.

It's been widely reported, and published in edited form in the Guardian, and people everywhere have started using it to explain to other people why books and libraries and such are to be protected and endorsed, which is a wonderful thing.

The next day was the best day of all. It began early when my wife, Amanda, flew in to the UK to surprise me. And, because she knows me, she texted me the day before to let me know she would be surprising me at that night's performance of the whole of FORTUNATELY, THE MILK at the Westminster Central Hall.

I had spent a few weeks gathering together a motley and wonderful band of performers to help with the night's entertainment. In addition, Chris Riddell was going to come on the stage with me: I would read, and he would draw.

It was amazing, and I was amazed.

About 2,500 people were there. The tickets had sold out immediately – we could have done an event twice the size. My only regret was that there could have been more kids in the audience.

Andrew O' Neill was our master of ceremonies. T.V. Smith and Tom Robinson played two acoustic songs (and played pirates and such); As the story started Chris Riddell quick-drew amazing illustrations; Siobhan Hewlett was a pirate queen and stole the show; Mitch Benn stole it back with a song about Lady Pirate Captains; Tasha Hawley and Niamh Walsh were ponies – and got a round of applause from the audience – and Niamh returned as a wumpire; Lenny Henry brought the house down as a special surprise Dinosaur Space Patrol T. Rex, and asked me twitter questions. Then Amanda came on and played her Ukulele Anthem with final lyrics rewritten to be about FORTUNATELY THE MILK. And then it was all done.

Chris Riddell draws...

TV Smith and Tom Robinson perform THE THIN GREEN LINE

Mitch Benn, Andrew O'Neill, TV Smith, Niamh Walsh, Tash Hawley, Siobhan Hewlett

Mitch, Tim and Andrew do a very important plot dance. Lenny Henry and I do not dance.

(All of these photos from this great photoset I found on Flickr.)

I cannot thank any of these people enough for a perfect night.

(In the background, making things work for us and for the 2500 people, were Andy Quinn from Foyles, Alex Rochford from Time Out, and their respective teams, the lovely and talented Holly Gaiman, and the extremely terrific Kelly Fogarty who helped make everything easier and took the following wonderful backstage photographs.)

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