Saturday, 27 February 2010

Appearing on Radio 4

It’s Saturday morning and I wake before dawn. It’s only my second morning in my new flat and I walk into the living room to look out of the window at the still unfamiliar sights. The sky is still a dirty amber and the lights still shining brightly on the London Eye and BT Tower.

I’ve rarely been up this early before; I’m tempted to say that the view is worth getting up for, but that’s not quite true. The sight of a still, quiet London glowing in the half-light is most certainly beautiful, but not as beautiful as a deep and restful sleep. I’m only up because I have a radio interview to go to.

The marvellous Emma, the publicity guru at my publishers, phoned me when I was in the middle of moving flat last week to tell me I had been booked to appear on Excess Baggage on Radio 4, the daddy of all travel programmes. It’s live at 10.00.

I have always assumed that guests would need to be there hours before, and would sit in the green room like Roman noblemen feasting on enormous bowls of fruit while production assistants run around after them to satisfy their every whim. This is why I am up so early. I want my bowl of fruit.

It’s 9.45, just fifteen minutes before we’re on air and I am standing in the BBC canteen with the other two guest, Chloe Aridjis, who’s promoting A Book of Clouds, and Mark Carwardine, a well-renowned zoologist . We’re sipping ice cold water in plastic cups. There’s no fruit. Not even any biscuits.

Ten minutes before the programme goes on air, we are shown into the studio. John McCarthy, wearing a very fetching floral shirt, greets us warmly and invites us to sit round a carpet-topped table. It has four microphones sticking out of a hole in the middle where there are multi-coloured cables and a computer keyboard. I am handed another glass of water and I can’t help wondering what would happen if I accidently dropped it. Would sparks fly? Would Radio 4 go off the air?

I’m gripping my water so tightly that I barely notice a green light go on. John begins his very smooth opening. He then pauses as they play a recording of a TV programme Mark made about whale-watching with Stephen Fry. I realise this was a programme I saw, though I don’t say anything as I’m not sure my microphone is switched off.

John’s brilliance is that he lulls you into thinking you’re just having a chat, which we are, I suppose, it’s just that we have a million or so people listening. I all but forget my nerves, so much so that I hear a voice inside my head say “Go on, say ‘titty turd’”.

Gosh, I hope that thought wasn’t out loud. John is looking at me, millions are listening. He’s asked me a question. What was it again, something about why I set out in the footsteps of my great grandfather?

I clear my throat and begin to talk, and try to keep the words ‘titty turd’ away from my mouth. (Where on earth did they come from anyway? Who the hell says titty turd?) John nods encouragingly and asks another question and I tell the story about Wilson, the loon who pulled a gun on me during the journey from Veracruz to Mexico City. The version in the book has a fair number of words a lot more offensive than titty or turd, but judging from the smile on John’s face, I think I’ve managed to avoid them.

John directs some questions to Chloe and then more to me and as a final question asks if we intend to go back to Mexico. We all say we do and it’s the end of the programme.

We have a brief chat as we put on our coats and within ten minutes I am in a car heading home. For a bowl of fruit.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Intrepid Travel in Kensington

Billy Connolly once said that there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. He’s right, up to a point. Personally I find weather inappropriate if it’s so cold that it I’m forced to wear so many layers my arms stick out at ninety degrees from my body like a Teletubby.

I’ve never really been one for the cold weather; I’ve never seen the point in it. This doesn’t mean I am one of the head-in-the-sand climate change deniers. I think that having both poles covered in ice is a good idea, I just don’t want it to be North Pole-like anywhere near me.

I guess I’m finding the icy conditions that much more difficult to take this morning after having spent the weekend at the Travellers’ Tales Festival at The Royal Geographical Society. There, I talked with some of the world’s best travel writers and photographers about spectacular corners of the planet – almost all of them warmer than London this February.

I was there to make a presentation on The Mango Orchard. The talk seemed to go well. The audience was appreciative and asked good questions. Afterwards, I had a book signing session in Stanfords, and pleasingly, the book sold out.

Then I set out once more into the rigours of Kensington arctic winter.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Ad-lib lines, well rehearsed.

In a few minutes I go into town to record my first TV interview to promote The Mango Orchard.

In my past life, when I worked in children’s television, I appeared on TV a few times, the last time being on a national Romanian channel, alongside a seven foot purple cat and an equally tall turquoise cartoon character called The Tick. The interview was most notable for the fact that the TV lights were very hot for the poor students in the character costumes. As I gamely tried to promote a kids concert, a sweat patch appeared around The Tick’s crotch, giving the millions of Romanian children watching the impression that their super-hero had bladder control issues.

Anyway, this time, I’m not promoting sweating cartoon characters and the interview will, I hope, be in English.

Ever helpful, my friends from my writing group have challenged me to include certain words into my interview. Just in case it’s not stressful enough to appear casual as I communicate a story that it took me five years to write, they want me to incorporate the words wobble, throbbing, velociraptor, boobies and Islets of Langerhans.

Tune in to the Holiday Show on Travel Channel at 4pm and 8pm this Friday, Saturday and Sunday and see how I get on.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Another Judgement Passed

Just got had a new review in, this time from Jason Webster, a highly celebrated author and journalist. Words taken at random from his review: "charming", "magical" and "...skeletons".

It all makes sense when you read it!

Monday, 1 February 2010

Pre-publishing Nerves

A few months ago I read an interview with Sebastian Faulks in which he discussed his “pre-publishing nerves” prior to the launch of A Week in December. I couldn’t understand how someone with his body of work and track record of success could be apprehensive about a new book coming out.

Now I am less than five weeks away from The Mango Orchard’s appearance in the bookshops, I understand what Sebastian (if I can presume to be on first name terms – we have the same publisher after all) meant, and I don’t have his reputation to fall back on.

Last week I received my first review. Having spent every other week for a couple of years being exposed to the rigorous assessment of my writing group, and then by my agent and publisher, I felt that I was inured to criticism. But with the arrival of the review in my in-box, I realised that while the incisive Jo-Jo, eagle-eyed grammar queen Caroline, Scrabble-session Charlotte and “that’s bollocks” Justin of my writing group might offer some unwelcome truths about my draft chapters, nothing would be as wounding as a mauling by a renowned reviewer of the finished book.

The review was written by the noted biographer and journalist, Andrew Lycett, and it was generous. I scanned the screen, bracing myself for a harsh assessment. Instead of rubbishing the book, he offered phrases such as “very exciting” and “cleverly constructed”.

Apart from the reviews, more of which are expected soon, there’s the launch party to plan.

I love going to parties but I’ve never enjoyed any of my own. The first I ever had was for my third birthday. It didn’t go well. My friend Patrick Edwards lost a tooth in a toffee apple incident and I was sent to my room for sneaking away from a game of pass-the-parcel to eat my entire birthday cake.

I must look up Sebastian’s interview again and see if he offered any crumbs of comfort.