You may think it counter-intuitive of me to write a post about New York at this time, after the disaster that Sandy has been, in the light of the dreadful tragedies that have yet to come to light so soon after the storm of a generation. But it's not odd, for me, to be writing this now. You see, I fell in love with the place when I went there for the first time in my life in June this year. And I've been meaning to write about it for an age. And now seems the rightest time of all.
I had expected to be intimidated, overwhelmed by the size of the place, and half-expected to be jetted into scenes from all the dreadful and not-so-dreadful police dramas I've half-caught on TV, but it was nothing like that. It was a maelstrom of humanity, yes, but the surprise was that it was such an intimate place, such a friendly, welcoming place, even at night, late at night, when I found myself wandering around Brooklyn and then around Union Square well after midnight. If I were asked to go back right now, I would. If I were asked to move there, I would.
The background, of course, is that I was over there to launch the newly-published hardback edition of Dead Men (and note the link is to my wonderful publisher, the Overlook Press). Overlook and I had been working for months towards suitable dates (the actual release date clashed with my wedding anniversary), looking for venues which would be prepared to host a first-time novelist launching a book which might, at first sight, appear as quintessentially English (the mystery of Captain Scott's death on his way back from the South Pole), and looking for an indie bookshop which would be a suitable place for a talk about the book.
Anyway, we dealt with all those things, and arranged some engagements in New Hampshire (which shall be a separate post), and even overcame this Yorkshireman's natural tendency not to want to spend money, and, on 13th June, I finally touched down at JFK on an overcast and gloomy afternoon, revelling in the excitement of travelling alone again for the first time in a very long time, and full of trepidation, too, at being a very small man in a very large city.
I needn't have worried. Besides being very well looked after at Seafarers & International House
on East 15th Street (to whose small library I contributed a copy of my book), and being overfed, on that first afternoon, by the guy at the sandwich counter at the Food Emporium (the salami sandwich and the extra roll I got were my lunch on Day 1 and my breakfast and lunch on Day 2), everyone, without exception, even people I accidentally bumped into in my myopic wanderings, was unfailingly friendly and helpful. Even people in suits who, in London, to my dismay, are invariably aggressive and shouty and in too much of a hurry even to look you in the eye (and that is painful to say for me, who adored London and lived there for a long time).
I'll write about the launch and everything else another time. I just wanted, now, to send my most positive thoughts to everyone I met (and didn't meet) in New York, to hope that the damage to the ground I trod there, and to the souls who inhabit that place, is not too great and will be mended soonest. I hope, one day, to be back.