So, I got back from New York about a week ago and I've been meaning to blog about it ever since. Seeing as I've got a miserable cold, I shall reminisce to soothe my scratchy throat and tender nose…
Unlike the last time I visited the great Oz-to-which-we-all-aspire (courtesy of Adam Gopnik) across the ocean, this time I had people to see. It makes a big difference to find friendly faces in a place like NYC, even for a solitary misanthrope such as myself. The people-to-see weren't the reason behind the trip - that was more to do with Aer Lingus having a special offer for flights in March and the Manhattan hotels slashing their prices - but they were a major bonus.
This time I stayed right in the heart of it, two blocks south of Central Park in the Salisbury Hotel. I can recommend it to anyone who wants a Manhattan hotel room with a private bath without having to sell their own house to afford it. A bit dated, slow elevators, but a massive room with this view of 57th Street and Carnegie Hall just across the way…
When I arrived I almost shrivelled into a quivering ball. I have never been so cold in my life as when I was standing on the platform at Jamaica station waiting for the LIRR into the city. I mean like Eskimo cold. Like polar bear cold. Like so cold penguins couldn't take it, even if they huddled. But, it did mean I got to see Central Park in the snow…
I also had more time to enjoy some of the finer things New York has to offer. The Natural History Museum was fascinating, even if the stuffed animals were a bit creepy. And all the little girls screaming "Eeeewwwwwww!" at the Neanderthal men's wedding-tackle. I went on a Friday. Friday seems to be the day all the schools go. I would have given medals to all the teachers keeping the kids under control. Anyway, I also had a good day touring the Metropolitan Museum of Art, during which I discovered that Damien Hirst isn't the fraud I thought he was (really, that shark thing is amazing).
Anyway, on to the highlights of my visit:Meeting Nat Sobel
It was a huge pleasure to meet my agent (who, I am not afraid to say, changed my life with an email almost exactly a year ago to the day) Nat Sobel. I went to his office-cum-home near Gramercy Park on my first full day in NYC, and it is one of the most wonderful settings I could ever imagine living in. It's a quiet street with beautiful buildings, extraordinarily peaceful, but just steps away from Park Avenue and the maelstrom of Union Square. Nat and I discussed several things, including the economy, my upcoming debut, and of course, my literary hero, James Ellroy. I got to see the cover art for Blood's a Rover (stunning, by the way - exactly what you'd want Ellroy's apparent masterpiece to look like), but Nat also told me something else about James Ellroy which I'm bursting to share. Something that I think will be utterly amazing, and Nat tells me is absolutely extraordinary. But for now, my lips are sealed.
I also got to meet Nat's excellent assistant, Julie, who made me feel quite at home.
Nat then took me to lunch at a very beautiful restaurant on Park Avenue where we met his wife and business partner Judith Weber, who is one of the most charming and elegant ladies it has ever been my pleasure to encounter. She kindly took the time to write out a list of restaurants in the city that I should check out, some of which I did - Trattoria Dell'Arte is a fine Italian bar and restaurant on 7th Avenue, just around the corner from my hotel. Thumbs up from me. Anyway, it was a lovely afternoon, and Nat and Judith were wonderful hosts.Meeting Soho Press
I had a brief but fun meeting with the folks at my American publisher, Soho Press, on the morning of my departure. Laura Hruska, the head of Soho, is charming, vivacious, forthright, formidable and very, very nice. She strikes me as a whip-smart and passionate publisher, and it's no wonder her independent press is held in such high regard around the world. I also met Sarah Reidy, Soho's publicity whiz, who was ready to take all my questions about promoting The Ghosts of Belfast stateside. Unfortunately, my mind went blank when it came to it. But it was still great to meet the people who will be publishing me in the US; I'm in good hands. And they sent me away with a bagful of free books, which can't be bad.Meeting Moonrat
This is where it all goes downhill
We all read Moonrat's blog. Along with Nathan Bransford's and Janet Reid's excellent corners of the interwebs, Moonrat's is one of the most informative and entertaining publishing blogs out there. Thing is, you probably have some image in your mind about our dear beloved Moonrat. Perhaps you think she is a quiet, bookish young woman. Thick spectacles, likely a quiet demeanour. Demure.
Dear God, Moonrat can suck back cheap wine and wail ABBA like no one I've ever met before.
I met Moonrat at her office (more free books!) in a nondescript building somewhere downtown. I got a quick tour, met some of her charming co-workers, before being whisked off to a local pub. A pub which appears to be frequented by all the extras from The Sopranos. I'd never heard the phrase "you guinea fuck" used in actual conversation before, but I have now.
So, a few pints of Bass, some chicken strips, and a pizza later, we head off in search of a liquor store. We need the liquor for the next stop on my bizarre night in NYC, which is at a karaoke … something. It wasn't a bar, because we brought our own booze. I don't know if it was a club. It was more like what I'd imagine the inside of a bordello to be like. It was on 34th Street (I think), and it was an anonymous door between some shops. We climbed several flights of rickety stairs at the top of which Moonrat raps a door. A gentleman answers, Moonrat utters the password, and we are ushered through corridors until we enter a gaudily painted room with tattered couches, lots of alcohol, and around a dozen or so very drunk people singing into microphones while a selection of AOR classics plays out on a big projector.
After that, it all gets a bit hazy for a while. I remember the young ladies whose party it was, and thanking them for letting me tag along. I remember one of them wanting a song by "Spand-oo Ballet". I also remember Moonrat's hot friend Marie (from Boston, I believe) chiding me for not liking U2 while she demonstrated her novel methods of storing Guinness, which involved her getting cold bosoms. And Moonrat herself, who knows her way around a karaoke machine. She also out-drank me by a ratio of approximately two-to-one.
To round off the night, Moonrat, one of the party's hostesses, and another gentleman whose name I can't recall (but he was a teacher) and I went to a Korean restaurant where I had some sort of spicy pork broth-cum-stew which I made a fool of myself with by attempting to eat it with chopsticks. Bear in mind, KFC is considered exotic where I come from. I have to say the appeal of the cinnamon tea at the end of it all was rather lost on me, but it was quite a night.
So, that was my trip to New York. No wonder I was so exhausted when I got back.