This book tour has been wild. It started with a week in Berlin, and then we hit London like drunken teenagers hitting Cancun for Spring Break. But without the umbrella drinks. Interviews with Yahoo.com, the BBC, Simon Mayo, Angie Greaves, and many more. I’ve signed at least 1,200 books. I’m not kidding. 500 of those were upcoming SHIFT special editions. The rest were huge pallets of book stock. I’d sign 1,200 more if they put them in front of me.
Today was the icing on the cake (not that we’re done by any stretch). I got up a little before 5 this morning, wrote a bit, grabbed my coat, and took a cab to Heathrow for an 8:00 flight. We landed in Dublin and were joined by Vivian, our chauffer extraordinaire. What followed would have to be seen to be believed. Seriously. I would tell you that it was impossible, except that we did it.
The rundown after the break.We didn’t get out of the airport before setting to work. The WHSmith stores had loads of Wool across three locations within the airport. We spoke with store clerks and signed 20-30 books. Then it was off to the first of three bookstores in Dublin to sign stock and meet staff. Natalie, Vivian, and I made like Olympic speed walkers. We practically did a lap of downtown Dublin on foot. On the way to our first interview, we detoured down through a department store to a small grocery to grab sandwich wraps, fruit, and water. Vivian took these and warmed up the car. I hit the first interview.
It was a pre-recorded radio spot. Through the soundproof doors, I plop down in front of a mic, out of breath from walking so far so fast, and with almost no prompting, we are off. I answer questions like it’s the first time I’ve ever heard them. As soon as we’re done, another interviewer is waiting. I knock that one out, and then it’s out to the street to meet Vivian in the car. We just have enough time to get out of town to a hotel where a TV shoot is set up. I scarf down my wrap and get done just in time for the phone to wring. Yup, we’ve scheduled an interview to coincide with the drive.
That interview wraps up as we reach the hotel. Upstairs, a crew of 5 are adjusting lights, which are directed at a red velvet chair. This is where my butt goes. I get instructions and meet Nadine, the host. There’s a bit of glare on my forehead, so I get an application of powder. Nadine fires a series of questions, and I answer them. Then, some complex work with a mirror and another set of shots make it look as though her silhouette is behind me, asking the questions. I think we’re done, but it’s not even close. They want a shot of me in a wasteland, and they know just the spot.
There isn’t room in the van or the SUV, so we take Nadine with us. The convoy sets out, separated by thick traffic, and at one point, we lose the lead car on a roundabout. To continue straight will put us miles out of the way, so Vivian backs down several hundred yards into oncoming traffic, two wheels up on the curve. The mood in the car is tense. There’s no way we have time to make it to this other shoot, but their star is in the car with us. We are forced to follow along as we wind our way out of town and up more and more desolate hills.
The time is 2:30. We’ve been running around, hitting bookstores, doing three interviews, a TV shoot, and now we’re racing like madmen in this convoy. Our flight out leaves Dublin at 6:30. AND WE STILL HAVE THREE INTERVIEWS TO GO.
As someone who likes to be at the airport gate three hours before departure, you can imagine my headache. It was pounding. We decided we would have to leave the TV shoot at 3:00, no matter what. This was relayed to the rest of the convoy. The frantic driving grew desperate. The landscape outside began to resemble Mars, if Mars had bleak clouds. It’s 2:45 when we finally see brake lights. The director and I hurry on foot down a muddy road to a post-apocalyptic bonanza: a depression in the earth full of foul water, bits of metal poking up, ominous bubbles percolating forth. It looks like nothing could ever live here. It’s fucking cold.
The sound guy finally catches up and wires me with a remote. Adjust the scarf to block the wind. Hoodie up or down? Up. Okay. I have to read a scene from Wool three times. Look at the camera. Now Nadine walks forward to this mark. Again. Again. The cameraman walks around me, a lens in my face. My hands are completely numb. Two or three takes of me looking back over my shoulder at Nadine. The entire time, I’m glancing at my watch. 2:59. 3:00. 3:01.
The crew thanks us; we bid farewell. Vivian is already in the car, two football fields away. Natalie and I jog down the dirt road. Our flight is in three and a half hours, and we still have three interviews to perform. This is impossible. I keep telling myself that the worst outcome is that we spend a night in Dublin, which should’ve been our reward for the hectic schedule. Vivian races down a mountain, telling us we’ll make it. Natalie phones ahead to let them know we’ll be late.
It’s 3:38 when we get to RTE Radio. The receptionist will soon get sick of us, as we inquire about one recording studio after the other. The building is a maze, and we get lost more than once, but each interview comes off without a hitch. No second or third takes, just questions and answers. I have to do another reading for one of them. And then I have to talk about some piece of art that has inspired me. My headache is pounding by the time we’re done, but thankfully we have time to go down the hall and meet Rick O’Shea, a radio personality who has been a huge supporter of Wool.
The meeting with Rick is a highlight. He’s a huge fan, and I’m incredibly grateful. We talk sci-fi, comics, Joss Whedon, and more for the next fifteen minutes. I sign his Wool proof set, and Natalie gives him the hardback we’ve been carrying around for all the interviews. Hugs and departures, and then it’s off to the airport, which is 30 or 40 minutes away. It’s now 5:00. Our flight boards at 6:05. We’re gonna make it.
After clearing through security, Natalie wonders if there’s time to grab a bite to eat. But then she spots a WHSmith we missed. More stock to sign!
This location has another 20 or so books, prominently displayed (the ones in the above pic was only one location). I sign them and chat with the store clerk, who says we just missed the manager, who is a huge fan. We pass along our thanks for ordering so many, and I grab a salad that was probably green early earlier that morning when it was set out. It was probably green right about when I was landing at the same airport 10 hours earlier. Now we’re both looking rough around the edges. After a few bites, I realize the headache medicine I picked up requires dropping a tablet in a glass of water. I take a huge swig from my bottle and pop the tablet into my mouth. I can only stand the fizzing for a count of ten before I have to swallow. Zones A and B are boarding.
On the plane, Natalie and I finally have time to sit and relax. The impossible tally of events is somehow complete. We visited at least 6 bookstores to sign stock and gab with booksellers. I had 6 interviews. There was a TV shoot with two locations. We grabbed two meals on the hoof, dealt with traffic, speed-walked for miles, and at every turn had to rush off to make the next meeting with zero time to spare. It was the first time in my life that I’ve flown somewhere only to return on the same day. That meant dealing not just with airports twice, but also customs, immigration, and security. And I am leaving out all the mini-adventures, like getting in the wrong passport line and losing 15 minutes by having to wait in a different queue.
To top it all off, we’re just starting to descend toward Heathrow and London when I have to use the bathroom, which I hate doing on an airplane. Even worse: I’ve got the window seat with two people beside me, so they have to get out. On my way to the bathroom and back, I notice how many people are reading physical books and e-readers. Was it worth it, all the zaniness we just endured? What would come of it? Would I ever see a stranger reading my book in public?
I get back to my seat and turn to Natalie. “The only thing left is to see someone reading Wool out in the wild,” I say. And it sounds crazy as soon as I do. The chances are much too slim. Natalie asks if I ride the subway back home. I tell her it would have to be someone at the beach. And then I say that the odds are ridiculous, unless it was during one of my flights on the U.S. tour.
One minute later, Natalie squeals and jabs my arm. She points toward the aisle, where two men are standing and a woman is heading off toward the front of the plane. I think — based on Natalie’s reaction — that the woman is being escorted by security and has a bomb or something. Only this would align with the noise she made.
“Look!” she says.
The woman is just going to the bathroom. The two men were letting her out. One of them is holding a copy of Wool.
“No way,” I think. He sits down directly in front of Natalie. I reach through the seats and tap him on the shoulder.
“What do you think of that book?” I ask.
He turns and looks back at me, sizes me up. There’s something about the odd way I asked him that gives him a clue. I’m not sure how he knew. But his reply was: “Are you Hugh?”
“I just started it,” he explains. He shows me how far along he is.
“If you don’t like it,” I tell him, “get in touch. I’ll refund your money.”
He laughs. “I’d have you sign it,” he says, “but you already have.” He opens the book to the front page. It’s one of the copies from the last WHSmith.
“Yeah, but I can personalize it.”
And I do. I sign it to Kevin and write down my promise to refund his money. We’re about to land.
Natalie and I get off the plane after Kevin, but he’s waiting at the gate.
“A real fan would ask to have his picture taken with you,” he says. “So my kids will believe me.”
I laugh. It’s the perfect end to a brutal day, an end that makes it all worthwhile, that puts it all into perpective. “Sure thing,” I tell him. “As long as I can take one with my camera.”
He gives me a funny look.
“I promise you,” I tell him. “I’ll be bragging about this day more than you will.”