Friday, 30 September 2011

Holiday? What holiday?

By Peter Stuart Smith (AKA Max Adams, James Barrington, James Becker and Jack Steel)

It’s going to be a tough couple of weeks. The taxi will arrive outside the house at ten thirty tomorrow morning – if it doesn’t, then I’m in all kind of trouble – and whisk us off to Gatwick to board a British Airways flight to Venice. Waiting for us there will be a coach to take us to the Crystal Serenity which will be our home for the next twelve days or so. It will be the second time we’ve cruised on board this ship, and we’re really looking forward to it, because if there’s one characteristic that sums up the Crystal cruise line better than any other, it’s attention to detail. We’ve cruised with many of the major lines, and Crystal stands out for all sorts of reasons.
            It’s not a holiday, of course. I have to deliver lectures on board – three on this particular voyage – and although that means standing on my hind legs in one of the theatres talking for only about three quarters of an hour, the preparation work takes me a lot longer than you might expect, usually at least two full days per talk. On this particular trip, I’m doing destination lectures, telling the passengers about the ports the ship will be visiting, and including the history of the place as well as the economy, what to see and do while we’re there, and any other significant points, all illustrated with lots of good quality photographs.
On other cruises, I’ve talked about everything from the real pirates of the Caribbean to the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle (and the biggest mystery there is why so many people think there’s anything mysterious about that particular bit of sea) to writing and getting published.
            From Venice, one of my favourite cities and incidentally the location of the new ‘James Becker’ novel The Nosferatu Scroll (which I’d like to remind everybody comes out as a mass-market paperback in November), the ship cruises to Dubrovnik, Sicily, Sorrento, Civitavecchia (for Rome), Livorno (for Pisa and Florence) and Monaco, and ends up in Barcelona, just over 120 miles from our home in Andorra. From there, we’ll fly back to London, and a few days later retrace our steps south across France to Andorra by car.
            It all sounds like a good holiday, but actually I don’t really take holidays. When I go on a cruise, it’s to work, to get some writing done as well as deliver my assigned quota of lectures. These days, I travel with three laptops because I deliver so many lectures that I’ve given up trying to memorize them.
I have my PowerPoint presentation on an elderly Dell running Windows XP – because XP is dead reliable and that computer will talk to any ship’s theatre projection system without any problems – and I have my script, which I’ll paraphrase when I give the talk, on a neat little Asus netbook. And I carry my all-singing, all-dancing HP Pavilion as well, just in case one of the other two should pack up. Plus a selection of external hard drives and USB memory sticks containing back-up copies of everything, just in case any of the hardware gets lost or stolen.
            I've always found that a cruise ship is an excellent place to work. Food and drink are available 24 hours a day, a stewardess cleans and tidies your stateroom – though we always try to keep everything neat – and there are always quiet little corners where I can sit in comfort, a stunning view in front of me, and lose myself in whatever piece of writing I'm working on.
            This time, I have another deadline looming, with my next book for Transworld to be delivered by the end of October. For a number of reasons, I can't say too much about this project, but I can tell you that it was suggested by my editor there. In fact, what she actually suggested was just a title around which she thought I could create an interesting plot. Unfortunately, a couple of months ago we discovered that for legal reasons we couldn't use that title, and so far we haven’t been able to come up with another one everybody likes. So it’s now just known as ‘Book Five’. Hopefully somebody will have a light-bulb moment between now and the publication date, because ‘Book Five’ doesn’t sound to me like the title of a novel that’s likely to sell well.
            As soon as I get back, I have a meeting with my new publishers – Simon & Schuster – to discuss my second book for them, due for delivery early next year. Again, they have a firm idea for the subject matter, but we have to talk about a number of different approaches and in fact different plots.
            This will be my last blog entry until we get back on terra firma, and I’ll talk to you all again in a couple of weeks.

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