Monday, 17 May 2010

This week's word is: LANDED!

Hello dragon fans. Well, where do I begin. Here we are in New York City, still pinching ourselves to make sure it’s all real. It’s been just seven days since we flew out of England and already we’ve done so much. It nearly went so horribly wrong, too. We were sitting on the plane at Birmingham Airport (UK), when ONE MINUTE before take off the pilot announced that we would have to wait another two hours before we could go, due to volcanic activity. When we did set off we flew up through Scotland, around Iceland, across the southern tip of Greenland, down over Canada (the author waved to the bears in Hudson Bay) and finally into Newark. It added another three hours to the journey – and that wasn’t counting the connecting flight to Orlando, Florida.

Still, it was worth it. We were met at Orlando airport by a great guy called Elliot who took us to a wonderful B&B in a place called Oviedo. Take a look at the picture. The house was built in 1884 when the area was mainly farmland. Indeed, it’s a feature of Oviedo that chickens still run freely in the streets. It’s practically a federal offence to mess with one. It was rather disconcerting to see a cluster of them gathered outside a fast-food joint called Popeye’s Chicken and Biscuits, but they seemed happy enough.

The author spent three days in the Oviedo area talking to children at elementary schools. Thankfully, they all seemed to like his jokes. “How do we compare to British kids?” they asked him. He said, “You’re just the same – but with funny accents!” One little girl wore a Beatles T-shirt to make him feel at home, which was sweet. That was pretty typical of everyone we met in Florida: they couldn’t do enough for us.

British kids reading this will probably not be aware that Florida is the land of the alligator. It’s pretty swampy out there and filled with lakes. One of the biggest is Lake Jesup, which has the largest population of alligators in the United States. One night, Elliot and his friend, Kevin, (two fine dudes if ever there were) took us on an airboat ride across Jesup. The gators were being a little shy, but when they did pop up they were spectacular. We saw an 18 footer gliding through the coastal marshlands like a sea serpent. The captain slowed the airboat down and cut the engine, hoping 'Wally' would 'pop up' again. I was rather hoping he wouldn't! We saw his bubble trail but that was all. It was a terrific experience, made all the better by the birds and other wildlife that inhabited the area. And we weren’t done yet. On the night before we left Oviedo, we went and had dinner at the family home of one of the children the author had spoken to. JC, if you’re reading this, say thanks again to your mom and dad from us.

After Oviedo, we flew down to Miami, where we stayed in a hotel right on the beach. We were on the ninth floor with a beautiful view over the ocean. The author is no swimmer, but even he couldn’t resist rolling up his trousers and going for a paddle. He claims it’s the English thing to do. Me, I stayed on a sunbed with a tall glass of cola working on the ending of Fire World. Everywhere we went we had a media escort called Emily with us. Between events, Emily drove us around Miami, pointing out some of the wonderful art deco architecture. And we sat in a mall drinking mocha and eating key lime pie. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it. We want to say a big thanks to Emily for looking after us so well and say hi to Deborah at the fantastic Books & Books store, which could easily be the setting for part of FW…

And then on Friday evening, we got out of another plane and into New York. Once again we were delayed and the author was pretty tired, but he woke up in time to visit another amazing store that afternoon called Books of Wonder. Sadly, there was a mistake about what time the event was due to start. Fortunately, it was a panel-style event with four other authors. We missed their presentations, which was a nuisance, but even though the author sailed in 90 minutes late, he was still able to pick up the microphone and rattle off the story of how the dragon books began. He even squeezed in a reading from Dark Fire. Afterwards he signed about 200 books for the store – all hardbacks. Thank you, Peter Glassman, for inviting us. Next time, we’ll try to make it on time!

One of the best things about that day was meeting our American publicist, Sheila Marie, and the editor of the dragon books, Lisa Sandell. After a lot of air-kissing and hugging, these two charming ladies took us on a walkabout tour of downtown New York City. We saw the Empire State, the 'flat iron' building, Union Square and Greenwich Village (Bleecker Street, of Bob Dylan fame). And we rode the subway. It was all rather like a more hospitable version of London. We visited a beautiful place called High Line Park, which at one time had formed part of the raised rail network responsible for moving cargo from the Hudson River into the city. The tracks and sleepers had become overgrown with wild plants. But thanks to some careful restoration work, a group of enthusiasts had turned it into a tourist walkway. At certain places you could see the river through the gaps in the buildings, with the state of New Jersey beyond. At the mouth of the river, way into the distance, was the Statue of Liberty

It had always been the author’s intention not to do all the touristy things, but as the weather was warm and mild even he couldn’t resist a boat trip along the Hudson River to view the west side of Manhattan Island. So many astonishing buildings. Too many to talk about really. One of the saddest sights was drifting past the area where the twin towers of the World Trade Centre would have been. For a moment or two the cameras stopped clicking as people paid their respects to everyone who died when the towers were destroyed. A truly remarkable moment. Slightly bizarrely, when we got off the boat we went next door to look at the air, sea and space museum housed on the World War II aircraft carrier, Intrepid. Fantastic museum. The author’s father had worked on such a vessel when he was an engineer in the British Navy. He gave up his naval commission shortly after our hero was born. It’s a small world, really.

Well, it’s now 11pm US time and I need to put away my pencil and pad. I’m sure there will be lots to share with you over the next few weeks. We stay in New York for the next two days, then it’s onto Pennsylvania and Washington DC to wave at the president. Until then, enjoy the pics. Happy reading. Hrrr!

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