Thursday, September 5

On the Lam with Thomas & Mercer

You know when you get an e-mail that seems too good to be true? Well, in the true genre of Nigerian princes, permanent tumescence and unexpected lottery wins, I received one on 26 April 2013. The subject line was 'You’re Invited – Thomas & Mercer’s On the Lam 2013'. It was an invite from my publishers, Thomas & Mercer to a weekend conference in their home town of Seattle from 22 to 25 August. And they were picking up the tab. The entire tab. I read through the whole e-mail, waiting for the line where I just had to provide them with my bank details and they would be able to book a place for my Esteemed And Valuable And Notable Customer Thank You. But it never came. The e-mail was from Jacque Ben-Zekry, in her role as Author Relations Manager. It was legit. 22 to 25 August has come and gone. I have indeed been On the Lam. Authors more organised than I such as Jo Chumas and Lee Goldberg have already done great posts. I'm not as organised or as articulate as them. I think in Top Tens. So here's mine: my Top Ten On the Lam.

1. Where's My Sodding Phone! (Or,The Flight to Seattle from Amsterdam):
Damn, I should have pictures. It was a day flight- with no clouds. I saw Greenland (Oh my God! It really is green! But with glaciers! Huge ones!). Newfoundland & Quebec, all exposed brown rock and deep, deep blue ocean and lakes, looking just like the map in my school atlas. The Rockies. More ice and snow and remote lakes that would shame a sapphire. Mount Rainier in the afternoon sun as we flew in. But my phone was stranded in an inaccessible bag and I would have had to climb over at least two sleeping strangers to get it. I'm not that brave. Sigh. 

2. Be Careful When Mentioning Nuns (Or, Starbucks Coffee):
Given the city I was staying in, it was hardly a surprise that the hotel room coffee machine was provided by Them. 
Unsurprising (But Nice) Coffee
But I did learn over the weekend (on a nifty boat cruise put on by T&M) that Starbucks was not the original name choice. No. To my quiet joy, it was Pequods. On such decisions  fortunes are made and lost. Going for a Pequods (for me) implies a) Tentacles b) A certain fishiness. And I should know about the delicacy of this naming business. It was suggested to me at one point pre-publication that my medieval thriller, The Fifth Knight, should be called The Nun's Tale. I still feel chilly when I think about that. Readers would've been expecting Audrey Hepburn or, at a push, Julie Andrews. I think I might have lost them by page 38. Skull-shattering belongs in a different genre.

3. Amazon Publishers are Real People! (1)
Yes, they actually are! Trouble is, when you are several thousand miles away and communication is by e-mail, it can sometimes feel a bit like having imaginary friends. But no: they really exist and I finally got to say hi in person, which was wonderful. Here I am with Jacque Ben-Zekry, sender of that auspicious e-mail and erstwhile Author Liaison manager- and responsible for making the incredible On the Lam weekend happen.
In person, Jacque is very (very) petite but with energy you could run batteries off. For shorthand, think Turbo-Charged Tinkerbell and you might be partly there.

4. Amazon Publishers are Real People! (2)
Cue Andy Bartlett, the then editor at Thomas & Mercer who said, yes, he'd like to buy The Fifth Knight. 
Andy Bartlett- Has a Great Taste in Books

If Jacque is Tinkerbell, the Andy is surely the Fairy Godmother (if you/he will pardon the metaphor). Even when I said hi for the first time, he produced a goody bag containing nice things. A granola bar, bottles of water, a T&M notebook...oh, and a sparkly new Kindle Paperwhite with T&M leather cover. See what I mean? But without him, The Fifth Knight might never have made it to publication. Being able to say thank you in person was wonderful. I think once I'd said it for the 402nd time, he got the message. I hope.

5. The Space Needle
Iconic, of course, but so cool, whether you're up it, beside it, or (as I was one evening) underneath it.
The Space Needle at Night
6. Meeting Other Kindle Serials Authors (Or: I Was Such a Fan Girl):
My path to publication was through the Kindle serials route. Many Serials authors are T&M authors. I'd seen their book covers along with The Fifth Knight's many times. (This wasn't because I was checking my Amazon ranking or anything but out of passing interest.) So to meet so many of them in person was amazing. Andrew Peterson (creator of the hugely successful Nathan McBride series) was one, and Daniel Judson was another. Daniel is the author of the Serial The Betrayer. More importantly, he is the rescuer of a handbag (Trans: purse) when my exit from the town car was less elegant than I had hoped.
Daniel Judson- off of Kindle Serials
7. Teaching Ex-CIA How To Swear Correctly:
I don't think this was on the official itinerary but it happened anyway. Suffice to say Barry Eisler now knows how to pronounce a word with the correct Hibernian cadence. The word rhymes with 'kite'. That is all that needs to be said.
Barry Eisler- Learned a New Skill
8. Visiting Chief Seattle's Statue:
At university in Cork in the 1980s, I joined a tiny organisation called the Ecology Party. Some people thought was hilarious that there was an organisation that was concerned about the environment. Most thought we were eejits (Trans: bonkers). My late father was convinced they were ill-disguised Communists. The prevailing view was that the environment was just fine. It clearly was and is not. But of course Chief Seattle was someone who was referenced by our small group. How wonderful that I got to see his statue in Tilikum Place in person. And even more lovely that someone had left him flowers. Seattle is so great.
Chief Seattle
And as coincidences go, this pleased me: I found out on my return that his statue was unveiled on 13 November 1912. The Fifth Knight was released on 13 November 2012. I like when things connect.

9. Taking Part in a Panel (Or, Oh My God, I Hope I Don't Mess this Up):
I had the huge privilege of being asked to take part in a panel, 'Setting: Time & Place Boundaries in Fiction.' Chaired by T&M editor Alison Dasho, the rest of the line up was Charlotte Elkins, Dan Mayland, Jim Fusilli, Audrey Braun and John Enright. No pressure then. As it turned out, it was fine. Erin Havel did a great write up for the Huff Post too, which was such a lovely added bonus. But the credit for holding it together can't be all mine. As well as Alison's effortless chairing, it always helps if there's a friendly face in the room. One that I remember, with his great smile and loads of encouraging nods, was the charming William Lashner.
Weekend's Best Smile- from William Lashner
As well as being a New York Times bestselling author, Bill had a previous life as a prosecutor with the Department of Justice in Washington. When I asked him for the highlight of his previous career, I was told: 'Prosecuting a Nazi.' I think was can all agree that Bill is an all-round Good Egg.

10. Why An Umbrella Is Essential Kit:
I've already mentioned the T&M goody bag. IMHO, the best thing in there was a customised T&M umbrella. It was a nice touch, given Seattle's reputation for rain. I live in Manchester in the UK, which is also wet through most of the time. I expect to be reminded of my Seattle trip frequently when walking the dog.
Poppy Tests Out the T&M Umbrella
I would say one thing about the weather claims. Yes, Seattle, you might beat Manchester on rainfall, with your 38.6 inches a year to our 31.76. But I'm from Cork in Ireland, where we are unfazed by a whopping 47.5 inches a year. (And yes, that is indeed why it's so green).
So what can I say? 'Goodnight Seattle, we love you.'? Trouble is, i think someone's said that before. Just can't think who.


  1. Love it. Far more eloquent than mine!!! A right, romping good read with the photos to give it that warm, fuzzy feeling!!

  2. I managed to sneak into one of those photies. Kind of.


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