So last week saw a break in my usual novelist’s routine of onesie, animal husbandry, school runs and plot-related despair. I went to New York.
I’ll just say that again. I went to New York (now imagine it said with a kind of nonchalant head-toss, like going to New York for business is just, you know, my NORMAL routine). I was there at the behest of my American publishers (Me Before You comes out in the US at the end of the year) and the fact that someone else was actually Paying For Me To Be In New York meant that I was not only terrifyingly giddy by the time I got to Heathrow, but pretty much the whole time I was there.
Because there is something about New York; the never-ending din, the scale of the buildings, the bad smells, the raw energy, the naked ambition of the people striding too fast past you on the packed sidewalks. The last time I came here I was 23. I came for a weekend with my best mate. We did not sleep for three days, examined the inside of pretty much every drinking venue from the Village to Central Park, and I flew home in extreme turbulence weeping and clutching the hand of the complete stranger in the next seat.
This time, I came as a grown up. A professional. A woman who had just escaped a week’s worth of Parentmail, VAT reminders and children’s homework. Jet-lagged and mildly disorientated as I was, I spent the first day walking the length of Manhattan, gazing upwards and trying not to spontaneously exclaim at passers by: “How great is this??” (I did talk to two cops. I asked them where the doughnut shop was – I banked on them being too young to get the reference).
And it did not disappoint. I was on 6th Avenue at an ATM when I turned and became dimly aware of a young Asian man in a Brooks Bros suit, standing outside the lobby. I punched in my number – distracted by my conviction that it was not going to give me any money – and happened to look up, just as a young woman walked up to him, and carefully tipped a large paper cup of McDonald’s drink – lemonade or water – straight over his head. When I looked back, open mouthed, she was gone. He simply shook the excess water from his face and walked away. No matter what my editor says, I refuse to believe this is not an everyday occurrence in New York. It was like a Junot Diaz short story made flesh.
Likewise, bumping into Meg Ryan. I was standing on Prince Street in Greenwich Village, between meetings, and she walked past with her daughter. I was on the phone to my husband, and the conversation went something like this. “don’t forget H’s drama lessons… and how’s the dog’s ear?… Meg Ryan just walked past me… OHMYGODMEGRYANJUSTWALKEDPASTME.”
I can report, happily, that she looks impressively fit, and also, that I managed not to shriek while she was actually in earshot. Because if she had turned and registered me I would probably have begged her to do the Harry Met Sally Deli-gasm, just for the purposes of my full on New York Experience, and she would probably have had me sectioned.
I had too many life-enhancing experiences in five days to repeat here without boring you in the manner of someone showing off holiday snaps (“oh and that’s Trevor again with the woman we met in the restaurant… what was it called?”). So I’ll just highlight my compulsory $10 manicure on 6th with a very nice woman who spoke no English, note that I was defeated by breakfast pancakes (each one the size of an eclipse), and that Tiffanys, inside, reminded me a bit of a hotel in central China where I had once stayed (though the jewellery was pretty nice). I also discovered I am an utter failure at the New York food order (“No, really, just ham and some bread. That will be fine”) but have a very good memory. I walked into a small, downtown bar with my friend Janine and immediately recognised it as a bar where I had spent my first night in New York, 20 years previously. That time had involved Wall Street bankers, a supermodel in a lift, and a random fridge-shaped man who offered me a bag of cocaine the size of my head outside the ladies’ loos. So, usefully, I was able to tell Janine where the Ladies was.
And most importantly, I did Shopping (the capital letter is important). Two hours before I was due to meet a number of New York’s finest journalists – my main reason for being there – I realised that not only was my dress All Wrong, but that something had happened to it in transit, and it smelt a bit … vintage-y. I had aimed for Quirky and English. What I had was Eccentric Lady Novelist With Vague Aroma Of Dog And Turmeric. All of which meant that I was forced to have a Saks Fifth Avenue Experience. The one where you are waiting at the door when it opens, and the woman brings in armfuls of clothes to your dressing room and you panic buy a designer outfit and a pair of spike heeled shoes and come out slightly faint, having spent more money than you have ever spent in your life, without purchasing something you can either drive or actually raise a family in. And I’m sorry, but it was fabulous. Even having seen my credit card statement in the cold light of day, it was fabulous.
Anyway, without wanting to say too much about the publishing side, just yet (although it was lovely to see the indie sector in such fine fettle stateside), I arrived home in the early hours of Saturday, some eight hours before my husband was due to fly to Korea (our most extreme game of Child Tag ever.) Within four hours of waking, I had to fix a leak in the coolant tank of my old Volvo, clear three disembowelled mice from the living room carpet where the cat had left them, and wash a rugby kit that really required the use of a Hazchem suit and tongs.
But I’ll be back, in January. And in the meantime I’ll be practising ordering things on the side, holding other things, without mayo, and on rye. New York, you’re a wonderful town.