Archive for March, 2007

A Jolly Good Time in England

Friday, March 30th, 2007

Greetings from London’s Gatwick Airport, where Jenny and I are waiting to board our flight back to Philadelphia. We’ve been in London since Sunday to attend the British Book Awards, which took place Wednesday night at the Grosvenor House. I was one of four authors nominated in the biography category. The winner was Peter Kay, a hugely popular comedian over here who has a bestselling memoir out. So I didn’t win, but I was honored to make the short list, and we had a great time. In a live video feed, Kay brought the house down when he appeared in drag to accept the award.

The British Book Awards are a big deal here, and everyone who is anyone in publishing turns out in formal wear for the event. The media were out in full force, too, and I had to walk across a red carpet lined with photographers, cameras clicking. “Look this way!” “Over here, mate!” they were shouting. Man, usually the only ones trying to get my photo are the security cameras at the money-mover machine. It was quite surreal.

John Grisham received a lifetime achievement award, and in his acceptance speech he said something that resonated with me. I’m paraphrasing, but it was along these lines: “Thank you, Britain, for celebrating books and authors in a way they should be celebrated in the United States but are not.” And it was true; the event felt like being at the Academy Awards; the only difference being the hoopla was about books and authors instead of movies and actors. I was heartened to see such excitement over the written word.

Before the awards, we had the better part of four days to explore London. The weather was splendid, a surprise to everyone for this time of year. We enjoyed sunny skies and temperatures in the 60s. Perfect for walking around the city. Our hotel was just a block from Hyde Park and two blocks from the Victoria & Albert Museum, and the Natural History Museum. Harrods, the world famous shopping experience, was about 10 blocks away. We browsed and blinked hard at the prices, which were astronomical. Harrods seems to cater to oil magnates and multi-platinum rock stars. I’m not sure who else could afford this stuff.

Mostly, we walked. We walked through Soho and Westminster. We walked in Chelsea. We walked along the Serpentine in Hyde Park. One of our walks took us along the River Thames, where we stumbled upon one of London’s many hidden gems — the Chelsea Physics Garden, the second oldest medicinal herb garden in Europe, established in 1689. Being an inveterate gardener, I was in heaven. The British make gardening look so effortless; as anyone who has tried to replicate their success knows, it is not. Also along the Thames, we toured the Globe Theatre, a faithful reproduction of the outdoor venue built in 1599 where Shakespeare staged his plays. The place was filled with British schoolchildren in their crested wool blazers, ties and knee socks. “My God,” I exclaimed, “they’re cuter than Labrador puppies!”

One night we took in Spamelot in West London’s theater district. A total uproarious hoot. It was worth every pence including the 30 extra pounds we were overcharged by an unscrupulous ticket vendor in Leicester Square. Live and learn.

My publisher, Hodder, was extraordinarily generous in its hospitality to us. Lisa Highton and her team had fresh flowers and chilled champagne waiting for us in our room, along with a cell phone so we could call our children. They treated Jenny and me to an amazing three-hour dinner on the 28th floor of the London Hilton with eye-popping views of the city, and hosted a table for us at the Book Awards. Thank you, Lisa, and the entire Hodder crew for being such wonderful and thoughtful hosts — and good friends.

Off to catch our flight home now….


The Half Centurion

Thursday, March 22nd, 2007

Thanks everyone for the kind and warm birthday greetings over on the message boards. You helped make my day a special one.

Yep, I turned 50 on Tuesday and managed to get through the day with only a moderate amount of angst. But it was definitely a different experience from turning 40 a decade ago (which I describe in Marley & Me). When I turned 40, I could still look in the mirror and honestly say, “Wow! I’ve had forty great years in which I grew up, made friends, got educated, got married, became a father, found a career I loved and had a lot of fun along the way. AND I’m not even halfway done living yet.” (Assuming I’ll make it past 80 as both my parents did.)

But turning 50 does not easily afford such optimism. I had to admit that the mid-point of my life was already behind me. Not many of us make it to 100. It was easy to look in the mirror and say, “Geez, it’s all downhill from here.” But my friends and family wouldn’t let me wallow for too long. I banned Jenny from throwing me a party on the theory that turning 50 is an occasion for solemn mourning and self-pity, not hoopla. Instead, the whole family and my pals Dave and Sara took me out for dinner. Colleen made me not one but two homemade cards, the boys gave me a mini-amplifier for my electric guitar, and Jenny found me a cool Celtic stone cross for the garden. My publishers secured me an autographed early edition of Frank McCourt’s “Angela’s Ashes,” a book I love. And my agent, Laurie, sent me a hilarious framed New Yorker cartoon showing a writer at his computer who says: “I wrote another 500 words. Can I have another cookie?” That would be me. Bribery works wonders on my productivity.

At any rate, I survived the day and woke up the next morning feeling surprisingly like I felt when I was a mere lad of 49. Hey, life goes on.

Thanks again for all the well wishes.

In other news, Jenny and I just returned from a three-day trip to Palm Beach where I appeared at a literacy fundraiser breakfast with the author Erica Jong, whose first book “Fear of Flying” has sold a phenomenal 18 million copies over the past 30-some years and whose latest book, “Seducing the Demon,” is a candid memoir of the writer’s life, which I’m reading and enjoying. Erica and her husband, Ken, were great company and a lot of fun to hang out with. The weather was spectacular, and Jenny and I got to drive past our old house at 345 Churchill Road, which I can happily report is in nicer condition than when we left it. The whole neighborhood is lookin’ spiffy, and I’m told no longer has murders on a regular basis.

The best part about the trip? We entirely avoided the icy snowstorm that socked the Northeast Friday and Saturday. Now that’s timing!

The British Book Awards

Thursday, March 8th, 2007

I received some great news from across the pond today. Marley & Me has been nominated in the biography category for The British Book Award.

The award is similar to The Quill Book Award here in America, in that both are popular votes with readers choosing their favorite books via online voting. Back in October, Marley & Me won Quills in both the biography/memoir and audio book categories. (Thanks, everyone, for all the votes!)

Now, my book will go head to head with three other finalists, including the runaway bestseller, “The Sound of Laughter” by the British comedian Peter Kay.

To read more about the awards and to vote for your favorite books, please go to:
To vote: Click the vote tab over on the left side of the page. Voting is open through March 26.

Or to go straight to the short list at:

Whatever happens, Jenny and I will be there to attend the March 28 awards ceremony. My wonderful UK publisher, Hodder & Stoughton, is bringing me over, and we’ve tagged on a couple extra nights to take in some of the sights — and a few pints — around London. Wish me luck in not creating any international incidents.

Here’s an excerpt from the story that ran today in The Independent:

The Independent (London)
March 8, 2007 Thursday
Fourth Edition
Kay and Gervais shortlisted for British book award

BYLINE: Paul Kelbie

They are best known for their comic performances, but yesterday two of Britain’s best-loved comedians, Ricky Gervais and Peter Kay, were shortlisted for the British Book Awards.

Kay is pitted against a diverse bunch of writers in the best book category, including the scientist Professor Richard Dawkins and Victoria Hislop, a first-time novelist. Gervais has been nominated for best children’s book for Flanimals, set in a weird world of imaginary creatures.

The Galaxy British Book Awards – also known as the Nibbies owing to the pen nib design of the awards – bring together established authors, celebrity writers and new talent whose work is voted on by ordinary readers.

Kay, who achieved fame with the Channel 4 series Phoenix Nights, is in the running to win biography of the year, as well as book of the year. The Sound of Laughter, which charts Kay’s rise from Bolton’s stand-up comedy scene to television stardom, was one of the bestselling titles of 2006, shifting a record-breaking 600,000 copies in its first two months on sale.

Almost one million have now been sold- making it the UK’s best-selling celebrity autobiography of all time.

The other contenders for book of the year are The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn and Hal Iggulden, which appeals as much to middle-aged men as to children, Dawkins’ anti-religious polemic The God Delusion and The Island by Victoria Hislop, a family drama set in Crete, which has already sold more than 650,000 copies. Hislop is also a strong contender for the newcomer of the year award.

In the best biography category, Kay faces stiff competition from Humble Pie, the tale of Gordon Ramsay’s rise to culinary fame and the surprise hit Marley and Me, the memoirs of a labrador puppy. “I am usually competing against other chefs,” Ramsay observed in expletive-punctuated fashion. “This is the first time I am up for an award against a dog! May the best man or beast win!”

The awards ceremony at the Grosvenor House hotel in London on 28 March will be hosted by the television presenters Richard Made-ley and Judy Finnigan, who oversee one of the most coveted awards – Richard & Judy’s best read of the year, based on their television bookclub.

A Meal Worth Mentioning

Monday, March 5th, 2007

OK, I’ll be honest. I never thought I’d be tempted to put the words “amazing dining” and “Grand Junction, Colorado” in the same sentence. Now I have a reason.

As I mentioned in my last entry, I spent the weekend in Grand Junction (in fact I’m writing this while staring down at the Rocky Mountains on a flight into Denver) as part of the One Book, One Mesa County program, which featured Marley & Me as this year’s selection. The organizers had lined up a full day of activities, beginning with a book signing in the morning, a dog parade in the afternoon, a reception for me in late afternoon and my talk and a second signing at a restored, historic theater downtown that evening. The events went off like clockwork, and Mesa County proved itself a very welcoming place for an author. All 1,200 seats in the old theater were filled for my evening talk, and the audiences’ enthusiasm for books and reading was palpable.

A great part of these One Book/One Community programs is seeing how an entire city or county can rally around a book and foster excitement for reading. Local corporations and businesses usually help underwrite the cost to bring in the author, and retail establishments donate their services and merchandise to help pull off the event.

One of those businesses donating its services for the Grand Junction event was il Bistro Italiano on Grand Junction’s quaint Main Street. The owners volunteered to feed me and a handful of the event’s organizers. I didn’t know what to expect, but I definitely was not expecting what they delivered.

The meal was served family style with plate after plate coming out for us to sample.
It began with antipasto and champagne.
Followed by fried calamari.
Followed by homemade ravioli in a black truffle sauce.
Followed by homemade linguine with scallops in a white sauce.
Followed by thinly sliced grilled sirloin served on a bed of arugula and parmesan tossed in olive oil.
Followed by salmon and olives over risotto.
Followed by barely seared veal over garlic mashed potatoes.
Followed by taramisu and cappuccino.

I may have missed a couple courses, but you get the idea. I told the chef, Brunella Gualerzi, a lovely woman with a broad smile, that her cooking was a gift. After all that fine food, it was a minor miracle that I did not take a break midway through my talk to curl up behind the podium for a nap.

Thank you to Lois and Linda, co-chairs of the event, and all the volunteers who made my stay so pleasant. And thank you, Ron Hall and Brunella, for a memorable meal I won’t soon forget.

Rocky Mountain High

Saturday, March 3rd, 2007

Yesterday, I left stormy skies and flooded roads in metro Philadelphia to fly to Grand Junction, Colo., where tonight I will appear at the One Book One Mesa County event sponsored by the Mesa County Public Library system. By the time I got to my hotel last night, it was dark and from my window at the Doubletree all I could see was inky blackness.

This morning I arose early to get some writing done. I made coffee, sat down at the desk and opened my laptop. I was working away when I noticed rosy sunlight spilling through the crack in the curtains. I pulled the curtains back and — oh Lord, holy cow — what a view! Stretching before me from horizon to horizon was one of the most spectacular mountain views I have seen in a long, long time. My room faces west and looks across about a mile of flat high prairie before the buttes and mesas and red cliffs rise abruptly out of the flatness. The morning sun bathed the soaring, snow-capped stone in golden, pink light. Wow. It felt like I had been transported in my sleep into an Ansel Adams photo.

I like to tell people I live in the mountains of Pennsylvania. And indeed, I live in the piedmont of the Poconos. But they are mere speed bumps compared to what rises outside my hotel room here. As Crocodile Dundee might say, “Those aren’t mountains, mate. THESE are mountains.” From now on, I guess I’m going to have to put quote marks around the “mountains” of eastern Pennsylvania.

Now I need to run. Today is going to be a full one here in Grand Junction. I’m doing a book signing from 10 a.m. to noon, followed by lunch with the good folks who made this visit happen. Tonight, I speak at 7 p.m., followed by Q&A and another signing.

I had to smile last night when I picked up the Grand Junction Free Press and saw Gracie the Lab and I staring out from the top of the front page. Grand Junction knows how to make an author feel welcome.

Now, if only I could find a couple hours for a hike in those amazing mountains…. Maybe next visit.