A few years ago I was invited to speak about dovegreyreader scribbles at a Publisher's Publicity Circle lunch at Foyle's in London. It was in the early days of the blog and though I constantly tell myself that nothing but nothing is ever worse than being subpoenad to give court evidence in a child protection case, I was still a bit nervous. I hadn't slept a wink the night before and had travelled up to London on what felt like the milk train for fear of being late, and so by lunchtime it really was starting to feel like it was time for cocoa, bath and bed. I loitered incognito outside the Gallery in Foyle's and watched the publicists arrive whilst noting to my horror that I was definitely old enough to be a mother to most of them (if not grandmother) and surely I was going to be one huge disappointment when I walked in. I took a turn around Algebra & Geometry to steady my nerves and of course it was fine, they were very welcoming, it was lovely to meet them all and I am still in touch with quite a few people who I met for the first time on that day.
Now there are doubtless those who would argue that this whole blogging thing should be pure and impartial, devoid of any influence from publishers, let alone subliminally influenced by heavy marketing strategies or publicists, and I would argue that this is now increasingly difficult. I have my own avoidance strategies and several checks and balances in place and I will often defer the moment of reading a book until the hype has subsided, or conversely I'm way ahead of the game and have either quietly given up as wrong reader for a book or my thoughts are written long before publication date. In that latter case I often have no idea whether I might be the only person to like a particular book... apart from the publicist that is, because really they have to 'like' and 'be excited' about them all and somehow convince me that I will be too.
Now you could also argue that really we should ignore whatever the publicist has to say because they are hardly likely to pronounce other than effusively about their charges, given they are being paid to do so, but that always seems a bit impolite so I do actually read the little notes that come with the books and the e mails too, I mean I'm no stranger to the art of book passion myself as you all know. So last Friday, when I had a really lovely e mail from Chiara, (and I expect lots of others received it too but yes let's name and praise) the publicist at Allison & Busby, to remind me about a book she had sent in proof, to be published in May and asking had I had time to look at it yet, and if not please would I because etc, I sort of melted. I probably am old enough to be her mum (at least) but I've got a daughter who's trying her hardest to do a good job at what she does too, and I'd like to think people are kind and encouraging towards Offspringette when she's doing her best, and kindness costs nothing so I replied to Chiara to let her know that she had made me uncrack my knees and get up and fetch the book off the shelf (which she had) and of course I'd have a look.
I have a week off from the day job this week so the timing was as ideal as the weather is proving to be, lots more reading and thinking time instead of worrying about the welfare of the nation's children or the bereaved, but I wanted what I can only term as a 'lovely' read to unwind with as well; a really good story, a followable plot with characters I was bothered about. But nor could it be too heavy and not too depressing either and ideally if anyone were to die I'd rather it happened in the wings than in front of me, or could they die 'nicely' if I had to witness it, no weaponry involved and I'd also prefer it if no women, children or cats were hurt and no dogs eaten, plus really I'd like a nice happy ending too. Not a lot to ask is it and finally I get to Chiara's suggestion, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford which has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 58 weeks and has already sold 650,000 copies largely by word-of-mouth recommendation in the US. Small publisher Allison & Busby will be publishing it here in the UK in May and everyone's fallen in love with the book apparently which is enough to make me think 'huh do I have to' and not want to do anything of the sort.
So I have to admit that none of this was encouraging, in fact sometimes the book may have to work a good deal harder to impress. Yet all I could think of was poor Chiara chewing the edges of her desk in an attempt to promote this one on behalf of a small publisher, and with probably a fraction of the budget of the big players, and taking the trouble to send e mails late on a Friday afternoon when I thought everyone in publishing had gone home hours ago after a long lunch and... well the least I could do was read the first twenty pages before sending it to the hospice shop.
This is asking for trouble but publicists may wish to note, clearly my defences are down late on a Friday afternoon because the very next morning and 160 nicely engrossing pages later, here I am at Jericho's in Launceston last Saturday for hot chocolate, cake and newspapers, and forget the newspapers and the review pages because I have lugged this flippin' 400 page proof copy all the way there in my bag for fear of being parted from it because drat, darn and dash it all, I think I have fallen a little in love with it too...
In a sentence a novel that recounts a lesser known aspect of US WW II history, located in Seattle, this is about the internment of the Japanese population after the bombing of Pearl Harbour and via the memories of recently widowed Henry Lee, all prompted by the discovery of the belongings of the Japanese families, stored and forgotten for over forty years in Seattle's Panama Hotel. I won't tell you whether or not it fulfilled all my criteria for fear of giving anything away, and whilst this is not the Booker, a book doesn't have to be high-end literary to be a best-seller, nor is that a requirement for it to wend its way into my heart, sometimes I am as grateful as a million other people for a really good, genuinely heartfelt novel.
So yes Chiara, you were right, those million people weren't wrong and thank you for persuasively ensuring that by Sunday evening, as I turned the final page, I would be the million and one-th to enjoy Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet, and I've decided that if by some grave twist of fate and misfortune I ever find myself on Death Row, I'm going to demote the lawyers and just ask to have a publicist in charge.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet coming to a bookshop or library near you on or around May 9th 2011.