As the maître d’ ushered me into the packed restaurant, I leaned in close and intoned softly, so as not to be heard by the elegant lady sitting nearby who was obviously my date, ‘I’m here to meet…’. And I nodded towards her as I said the name of my New York publisher. Yes, that’s right. New York.
I’ve had fancy conference calls and everything. A lot of very bright Americans say a lot of lovely things to me down a phone line with a two second delay and I say ‘um’, and ‘oh, right’. And they sound confused that I don’t sound more excited by the prospect of a book of mine being published in the States.
I am excited. But in a British way. Added to which reserve you have to factor in my unique brand of chaos. The last time they phoned me, the spaniel wouldn’t stop barking while we were trying to talk about pre-publicity. No amount of shushing would shut her up. So as a series of super-enthusiastic PR girls were explaining how my book had just received a rave review from someone quite famous, I was tutting and gasping, ‘Oh, for heaven’s sake!’
After a while the girls stopped trying to explain all the nice things they had been excited about telling me and one of them said, ‘Is there something the matter?’
‘No, no. Well, yes. There is. The dog is being …Cydney! Get down! She doesn’t like me being on the phone. She’s jealous. Actually, she’s overwrought. She’s had a busy day. We just had a play date on Wimbledon Common with some friends of hers from Facebook.’
Silence. ‘You know, Facebook?’ I said, prompting.
‘Yes. We know Facebook,’ came the chorus of girls down the line. Of course, Facebook was never going to be the part of that sentence that was puzzling them.
‘Er, well, the dog, you see, she’s got her own friends, a sort of fan base, on Facebook.’ Silence. Was that two second delay silence or stunned silence? I think it was the stunned variety.
‘I mean they were my friends to start with. Then they saw Cydney’s pics and put up pics of their dogs and suggested that their dogs fancied my dog and now we all meet up. Today one of their dogs brought my dog some doggie cupcakes.’ Silence. ‘You don’t think that the humour in this book is going to be a little too …er …British for your audience, do you?’
‘No!’ they all chorused.
So they’re ploughing on with selling me in the American market and while the head of the division was in London recently she asked me to join her for dinner at her hotel. I stood there eyeing the classy, older, Jewish looking lady in expensive jewellery thinking, ‘Yup, that’s my New York publisher all right. There she blows.’ And then the maître d’ said, ‘She’s still in her room. I’ll call her.’
Fine. I sat down and waited. And after five minutes, when a fresh-faced young girl in horn-rimmed specs and black trousers walked over and sat down at my table, I nearly said, ‘Oh no, dear, you can’t sit there. I’m waiting for my publisher.’ Then I realised the pretty brunette smiling sweetly over the table at me and extending a slender hand was my publisher. Senior moment. Aren’t the police/prime ministers/publishers getting younger these days?
I couldn’t get over it. After a few introductory remarks I had to pose the question ‘do you mind me asking how old you are?’ because I was genuinely worried she might not be legal to drink alcohol if we ordered it. Also, I needed to orientate myself so that I didn’t waste too many references to things like The Magic Roundabout or Fawlty Towers, because I’ve done that before when trying to reach across the generations and it’s so disheartening.
It turned out she was in her twenties. And she was utterly delightful. We had the most scintillating chat comparing London with NYC. Then she said, ‘One thing I don’t understand. I was in the subway today and the train was delayed and people just queued up and waited. How come?’
‘We’re a nation of queuers,’ I explained. ‘But what else can we do? Nothing works.’
‘In New York, people surge at the barriers and fight if the train is late.’
‘Yes, you just push everyone out of your way shouting fuck off. Nobody minds. It’s just how we do things.’
‘But that’s exactly how I’d do things! I’ve been single-handedly trying to bring in just such a system of pushing and shoving and shouting fuck off for years!’
‘Cydney,’ I said when I got back home that evening, ‘get ready to pack your bags. If this book sells, we’re off to a better place…’