Book deal: An ode to Lady Luck

6 months ago I was despairing. I should have been celebrating. Jeremy and I had just launched www.ExchangeMyPhone.com, we were still high on paint fumes (having rolled 7 gallons of eggshell white all over our Brooklyn flat) and were paying our bills.

We had moved to New York with no jobs and no savings and we had survived our first winter. I was proud of us.

And yet my latest rejection from a literary agent was staining my desk. Memoirs were no longer vogue, she wrote. Stuttering wasn’t a subject that had mass appeal. Good luck elsewhere.

I added the last rejection letter to my pile. I knew what she was really saying. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t be an author. I’d never get a book deal. My dreams were foolish.

writing: good luckFortunately when Lady Luck thinks she has trampled on your soul enough times she decides to give you a break. Yesterday I danced around my office, drank a celebratory Manhattan and ate some amazing homemade pasta with friends. I had just received my signed contract from Simon and Schuster.

It took me three years to get my book deal. I’m not sure whether that is a long time or a short time. It felt long. It felt hopeless towards the end. When I left England in October 2008 to research my book I had no idea what a challenge I was setting myself up for.

Writing was no joy ride. I faced far too much rejection, mockingly blank pages, a year of horrendous work and a very sad looking bank account.

Is it worth it? Definitely. I met Jeremy, I met hundreds of people from all over the country, I travelled, I lived in Chicago, I moved to New York and finally, at the end of it all, I ended up with an amazing editor, a highly respected publisher and a lovely agent.

I still have a long way to go. I have to finish the writing, I have to prove myself to everyone who has put their trust in me, and I have to get the piecemeal manuscript on my laptop into a real life book. But, with this book deal, I’m one step further along than I was.

I have no advice, sadly. It seems like there is no one clear path. It is not like becoming a lawyer, or an accountant, or a banker. There’s no clear ladder to scramble up with a pot of gold at the end. You do it because you have to, because nothing else will do, because you have some latent faith that, at some point, maybe, you will see your dreams come true.

New York Living: Pumpkins are making me patriotic

On Monday night I walked into the supermarket and saw a pizza combing the frozen foods, a dinosaur being carried through the bakery section and a slew of superheroes at war in the dairy aisle.

On my way home I walked past houses with giant spiders crawling through their windows, witches swooping over their doorways and impressively ghoulish pumpkins guarding their entrances.

Over the weekend I partied with a host of Sega characters, a giant white swan, Hunter S Thompson and Santa. It was messy. You can imagine.

New York does Halloween very well indeed. It makes me adore my adopted home just that little bit more.

And yet, as much as I love this place, there are still pieces of England that I long for…

I miss the way everyone apologizes for everything. “I’m sorry” or “pardon me” prefix everything from asking where the bathroom is to simply navigating a busy city street. In America I sound perpetually apologetic, in England I sound like everyone else.

I miss the fact that no one claps for the pilot when he lands the plane safely.

I miss the NHS.

I miss rolling hills and a pint at a country pub.

I miss the stiff upper lip. Fall down a flight of stairs in Britain and you are expected to do nothing more than crack an embarrassed smile and limp away, protesting that it is really nothing at all.

I miss Sunday roasts, blackberry crumble and hot cross buns.

I miss taxi drivers who know every address in the city and haven’t learnt to drive by playing Grand Theft Auto.

I miss chatting to friends over a cuppa rather than over Skype.

I realize that England has its problems, there are pieces of the country that I don’t miss at all, and I have no immediate plans to return to the homeland. But those thoughts are much too practical…I’d rather sit in my cozy New York flat picturing the UK as an idyllic land of digestive biscuits and sarcasm.

New York versus London

Travel Writing: The best job in the world?

Not many jobs include taking a holiday in the name of research, snapping some shots, talking to locals and then writing a piece that inspires people to follow in your footsteps. I’ll admit that it may involve quite a bit of internet heavy research before you set off, but we not exactly talking hardships here. It all sounds pretty ideal.

I sense that the NYT’s Frugal Traveler may have nicked my perfect job, but there is still hope for me yet. I have been commissioned to write a couple articles on the wonders of New York State by a very nice editor at Car and Travel magazine.

I hadn’t quite realized what a large area New York State covers. The project feels akin to researching the entire country of England. I had thought about taking one very large trip but it turns out that taking two weeks off work is slightly impractical. So I’m doing it in long weekend stints and I’ve asked Jeremy to come along for the ride. This past weekend I sold it as a fun-filled road trip to the Adirondacks. I may have forgotten to remind him about my car-induced narcolepsy or irrational fear of merging.

travel writing in the adirondacks

It turns out that road trips are fun if both people can stay awake long enough to keep each other company, there is a radio station that plays something other than organ music, you can sneak in some exercise so your legs don’t seize up and you end up at a very nice cabin in the woods at the end of the day.

Being a travel writer seems to mean experiencing the good, the bad and the ugly on behalf of your readers. They don’t need to face the same navigational hysterics or drive through the multitude of disappointing towns. Instead they can eat at quaint cafes, take some glorious hikes, pack the necessary plasters and end their peaceful day at a cozy cabin in the woods.

Because even if you fall in the mud on your hike, drive for miles in the wrong direction or find yourself screaming at the radio, a rustic cabin and a fireplace can do wonders to make it all seem like the glorious adventure it was supposed to be.

New York, New York: Sinatra had it right

Spring has finally come to the big apple and it is time to forgive the city anything.

Brooklyn New York

When Jeremy and I first arrived on New Year’s Eve, we had sublet a beautiful but miniscule space in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. The snow had formed 4-foot walls down the semi-ploughed roads and we were paying three times our old rent in Chicago. It was a baptism of fire and there were times when we questioned our sanity. New York had been a dream, an east coast adventure and a chance to live in the pulsing heart of the publishing and business world. As we hibernated in our apartment and gave up on any sort of privacy we wondered if the city was too much for us, too expensive, too gritty.

Last Tuesday, teaching my first class on public speaking (here is the next one), I played a spontaneous speaking game with my students. In their own way each of them told us a story about their New York, the city they called home, good or bad. One hated and loved Times Square in equal measure, one told us about a crazy saxophonist on the subway with questionable personal hygiene and one told us about her apartment nightmare living with a dominatrix housemate.

This city is like marmite, you love it or hate it, and sometimes you do both at the same time, but once it gets under your skin it is hard to shake off. Today, sitting in our apartment with the sun shining through my window, I love it. I love the beauty of my neighborhood, the old Italian men who sit on their stoops every day, the morning coffee at my local café, the bookseller down the road who has used tomes scaling the walls and spilling out on to the sidewalk.

Central Park New York

Of all the cities I have been to, nowhere has the sheer diversity of New York. It is hard to beat the experience of all that variation than from the back of the bike. Brooklyn and Queens have great bike rides that I will tell you about some other time, but my New York story, the New York journey that I love the most is the one that takes me from our place in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, to the best bagel I have ever eaten on 107th st on the Upper West side of Manhattan. It is not a short bike ride but it is an ideal way to spend a Sunday in the city.

The rush of adrenaline as cars screech past me on midtown Manhattan’s 6th Ave, the intense gaze at each parked car for fear of a door flying out into my path, the joy ride up central park, the in-line skaters, the table tennis players in Tompkins Square Park, the mysterious Chinese gamblers in Columbus Park. On top of it all is the food. In my mind, cycling 15 city miles entitles me to some treats on the way. There are hundreds of places on route but here are a few favorites:

1. Ted and Honey – fueling up with a breakfast sandwich and an iced coffee in Carroll Gardens.

Ted and honey

Image: Cobble Hill Blog

2. Grabbing a few biscotti from a cart here in Little Italy after rolling over the Brooklyn Bridge.

3. The Pickle Guys – if you like pickles, my favorite is the somewhat controversial pickled pineapple but you’re never short of choice. If you’re not so into pickles and prefer your treats a touch sweeter, check out the lower east side location of the Doughnut Plant across the street.

Pickle guys

Image: Robbie Virus

Doughnut plant

Moishe’s bake shop – anything is good for a pastry picnic in Tompkins Square Park.

Moishe's bake shop

The grand finale of them all is the best bagel I have ever tasted. I realize that some people are partial to H&H but we were introduced to Absolute Bagel by a friend and I think my loyalty may already have been forged. An everything bagel, hot out of the oven, with a thick layer of white fish spread…it gets me on my bike every Sunday.

Absolute bagel

Image: Carnivore and Vegetarian

Tell me a story…do you have a favorite New York place, food mecca or journey?