Thursday, June 19, 2008

Jim Crace, The Determined Author
Great story this morning from Shelf Awareness:

On Wednesday, June 4, British author Jim Crace (left) was scheduled to read at the Downer Avenue branch of Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops, Milwaukee, Wis.

In a piece in the current Schwartz newsletter, bookseller Bayard Godsave recounts why the event almost didn't take place and how one determined author went beyond the call of duty to get to his reading.

The dense mist that had settled on Milwaukee was like something out of one of Jim Crace's books, where lost worlds tend to materialize slowly from the pages with the poetic quiet of grey summer afternoons. The store had just gotten a call from Jim's publicist at Vintage Books: There was trouble with his plane, and he'd be taking a later flight. But not to worry, she promised us; he'd make it there on time.Well, I thought, this is all very dramatic.

But the real drama was unfolding elsewhere.Above our heads the British author sat in his seat, patiently waiting as once again the voice of the captain came over the 727's PA system. This time, there were no more assurances that they would be landing "just as soon as this fog lifts."

This time he told them that he had bad news, that the plane could no longer circle the skies above Milwaukee, awaiting a break in the weather. They would have to turn around and return to Minneapolis. There was grumbling from the other passengers, but Jim, though disappointed, sat quietly. "I'm British," he would say later, "and we'll sit through anything politely."

Milwaukee was the last stop on what had been a three-week tour promoting the trade-paper release of his latest novel The Pesthouse, and his appearance at Schwartz was to be, in all likelihood, the last place he would read from that book. Ever. A pity it would be if he missed that.As he thought about this, the captain's voice came over the PA once more. The plane was running low on fuel, and would have to land in Madison. "But," the captain said, "this is only a refueling stop. We're not letting anyone off the plane."

Once on the ground, there was a genuine revolt. Angry passengers--men and women who lived in Madison, and only wanted to be allowed home--got up from their seats and insisted they be let off the plane. The crew resisted for a while, but finally they had to relent, and Jim Crace slipped in with the stream of Americans making their exodus from the plane."But how am I to get to Milwaukee?" he would later say. "There was a bus, something called a Badger Bus? But it wouldn't get me into Milwaukee until seven-thirty, and that wouldn't do. So I decided to do as I would have done when I was a young man. I decided to hitch a ride."

He stood on the side of the road, just outside the airport, put out his thumb, and waited. And it wasn't long before a car stopped, one of his fellow passengers, stranded, like Jim, in Madison. He already had two sailors riding with him. "Where you going?" the man asked."Milwaukee," Jim said, in his British accent."Get in."
Jim's reading that night (which was on time and as scheduled) was amazing. As he spoke about the genesis of his latest novel, he spoke of the importance of letting the story take its own directions. "Narrative has been around for as long as human beings have, it's learned a few things," he said. "Narrative is wise." And I thought of all he'd been through to get here. It was as if the story he'd told, the story of his trip, had always been waiting to happen, and it was by trusting in that story, and letting unfold as it would, that Jim was able to get here safely, and on time.

Good on you Jim, hope lots of copies of your book were bought.
And here is the New York Times review of The Pesthouse at the time of the hardback publication last year.
And The Bookman's review on this blog.

1 comment:

Lilly said...

And if you liked that story, you’ll love this one!
I went to a Lloyd Jones reading at London University a couple of weeks ago, hosted by the Centre for NZ Studies at Birkbeck College. Lloyd Jones was only a few minutes late arriving although he’d had a hell of a day trying to get from Hamburg to London – missing flights, flying via Stockholm, etc etc. Anyway, he finally made it to Heathrow without about an hour to spare, but he took one look at the tailback through Immigration and realised he’d never make it to Birkbeck if he had to queue. And there, to the right, was the empty ‘by invitation only’ fast track...
Got to be worth a try.
Lloyd approached the official, and tentatively explained: late for a lecture at London University, wouldn’t make it unless ... The official looked sceptical.
“And why are you going to the university, sir?”
“I’m giving a talk. I’m a writer.”
“Oh yes, sir? And what do you write?”
Lloyd braced himself for rejection.
“I wrote ‘Mister Pip’,” he offered tentatively.
The official paused, grinned widely, and stood back.
“Come right on through, sir! This way sir!”
Who knew that Customs & Immigration officials read the Booker shortlist?