I can haz book tour?
I’ve been meaning to update folk on my weirdly wonderful news for a while now. I suppose I’ve found it really hard to believe it’s all happening, but I get on a plane to fly halfway round the world tomorrow, so it must be real.
I’m going on my first-ever book tour. Now this is the amazing, fairytale part. I’m going as a POET. This kind of thing does not happen to South African authors (or very, very few), and it almost never happens to poets. I’ve needed sal volatile ever since first being invited. I’ll be reading from Strange Fruit, and my current collection in progress. This coincides with National Poetry Month, and there’s a feast of events and gorgeous booky happenings going on in Western Canada. And elsewhere, but I’ll be skipping around Alberta and British Columbia for two weeks.
Okay, this is the schedule: I fly to Edmonton via Seattle on 14/15 April, and Peter Midgley of the University of Alberta Press and his spice Julie roll up in a glass coach (one with snow tyres) and take me off to the Rockies, to visit Jasper, Banff and the Columbian ice-fields. (Some of you may have come across Peter’s Counting Teeth, an account of a trip back to Namibia, his birthplace.)
Back in Calgary, on the night of the 20th, I give a reading (along with Kimmy Beach, author and poet who’s been the fairy godmother making much of this happen, and other Canadian poets) at Loft 112, as part of National Poetry Month.
On Monday, 20 April, Peter, Kimmy and I all read at The Olive in Red Deer. That’s them in the pic at the top of this post. Click on it to see them properly, then genuflect in their direction. They are amazing people, and have pulled this series of rabbits out of the hat, and they HAVEN’T EVER MET ME BEFORE. (Peter read Strange Fruit. He loaned it to Kimmy. And that’s what started this incredible chain reaction. The power of one little book of poems. POEMS, people. You know, those things that no-one reads, much less buys, anymore?)
On the Tuesday, Kimmy whisks me off to the badlands of Alberta (no, I didn’t know there was such a place either), where I will be introduced to the world’s largest and most intact Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton. I will pass on your regards.
On Wednesday, 22 April, I join the whirl of the Edmonton Poetry Festival, with a cornucopia of fascinating events. I’ll be reading at one named “Whiskey and Wise Words From Women”. I’m hoping the whiskey will make me sound wise.
On Thursday, 23 April, something really special happens. There’s a big party, Literary Cocktails (inevitably known as LitCocks), at which the University of Alberta Press launches their spring books. Some of you may know that I spent November last year — a time when my brain was broken, and I was terrified I had lost my ability to work — editing an exquisite, intimate memoir: Myrl Coulter’s A Year of Days. (Click on the link to see the beautiful cover. It’s already getting excellent reviews.) Myrl (and Peter, who asked me to do the job) have NO idea how much that manuscript was like the parallel bars in hospitals patients use as they relearn how to walk. So that book will always be particularly special. Can you believe I will now not only be present at the launch — but MC-ing the event? There will also be two fascinating poetry collections launched that night: Small things left behind, by Ella Zeltserman; and Trying Again to Stop Time – Selected Poems, by Jalal Barzanji.
On Friday, 24 April, we all get up at some ungodly hour and fly to Victoria, on Vancouver Island. Where the Creative Non-Fiction Collective of Canada is having its annual conference. At which (pinches self, tries not to hyperventilate) I am giving a masterclass on editing. Fortunately, I do that on the first day, so then I can relax and enjoy the panels, parties, readings and general jollity.
Right, there is no way I can describe the rest of my itinerary without sounding like I’m bragging. Myrl and I are going on a roadtrip up the island to this place. Isn’t it faint-making? And that beach is called Long Beach. So I’ll be able to say I’ve walked on Long Beach in Noordhoek and on Vancouver Island. We’re going to spend two days walking and writing and breathing in the scent of sea and conifers.
Then I get on a ferry and thread my way down through the islands to Seattle. Then two days at Mount Rainier National Park, where there is no wifi, internet or cellphone reception, or even phones and TVs in the rooms — but they let you borrow snow-shoes for free.
Next (and this is really the stuff of bucket lists), I take the train right across the continental US of A. Clackety clackety clackety whoo-hoo … I adore trains. And they have wifi and laptop plug-in points, so I’ll stare out the window, then write. Then stare some more. Then write. Fact: it takes 24 hours to cross North Dakota.
I arrive in Boston, and somehow squeeze four friends into the next 12 hours as I head north through New Hampshire and then Maine. The next bit is amazing and makes me a bit weepy. I will be attending — on Mothers’ Day — the memorial of a woman who was my de facto American mother, many years ago. I’ll be staying in the 18th-century sea-captain’s house she and her husband lived in, which overlooks Penobscot Bay, in Castine, Maine — which Rolling Stone (I think) once nominated as one of the twenty prettiest towns in America. Stephen King is close by over in neighbouring Bangor.
Another week of writing, and then I go down to New York City, where I’ll be hosted by the Coal Shop Brooklyn Creative Workshop, and giving a reading on Saturday, 16 May. Next stop is Reykjavik for two days (it is a loooooong story, but flying via Iceland is just about the only affordable way to cross the Atlantic one-way), where I’m taking our Girl publishers out for a LARGE drink. Which will probably cost R1000, and will be worth every penny. Then London, where I’ll attend a jamboree at Forbidden Planet being held for our old friends Lauren Beukes and Sarah Lotz. Then I go book-fairing with them, and finally settle down in Shropshire for some more writing. If all goes well, Paige Nick will join us in Ireland (it just seems like a good idea, and means I can stalk Daniel Day-Lewis), and we’ll all feed off each other’s creative energy. Or go for long walks and talk rubbish and recharge.
So you see why none of this feels real. I’ll be having the adventures of a lifetime (I haven’t said anything about the flamenco course in Granada, Spain, ahem — file under things Saffers do while their Schengen visas are still valid) AND writing.
It’s impossible to explain the extent to which this trip is going to be a waking dream. I’ve wanted to visit the Canadian Rockies ever since reading Hammond Innes’s Campbell’s Kingdom when I was about ten. Then, at fourteen, I fell in love with John Denver’s Rocky Mountain Suite, which begins with the words “Up in a meadow in Jasper, Alberta”. Discovering that my childhood sweetheart had been born there was the cherry on top. National Geographic photos of ferries trailing up and down the straits of British Columbia had me, a child of high bleached Karoo skies, tough bossies, sandstone mountains “with no fat in them” (Stephen Watson’s unforgettable phrase), imagining dense conifer forests, grizzly bears, islands thick with greenery, and above all, boats as a means of transport. And now I get to ride the magic carpet. And it’s all because Colleen Higgs of Modjaji Books opted to publish my first collection of poems. I am awash with gratitude.