I don’t travel well.
I don’t travel well.
I travel even less well when it’s just me tracking my scuffed trainers through various airports in a sans Katie situation, which is what we’re dealing with here and now.
It’s 3:52am, and my too-fucking-hot hotel room is filled with the sounds of my tippy-typing fingers, and the tidal whispers of a dual carriageway in the grey, bleak heart of London. The double-glazed windows render me mostly immune to the never-ending traffic, but before the last few years I lived in cities anyway, and nighttime traffic is as relaxing to me as the ocean is to deep people. I’m at Heathrow. I was born very near here. Close enough to walk in half an hour, or drive in a few minutes. I find that slightly uncomfortable, though I’m not sure why. A life left behind.
Part of the reason I don’t travel well is because I don’t like travelling. I lack that sweet and sexy gene all Cool People have, where they sit on long haul flights and talk to strangers about “The time in Rio when I was backpacking and this hot girl with a machete taught me how to drink alcoholised yak piss and fuck at the same time.” I hate too-hot hotel rooms that give me puffy eyes and never cool down no matter how low you set the AC. I don’t, in general, like travelling at all – unless it’s in my car, with my friends, and my music, and my sweets. The latter must be raspberry bonbons, without fail.
And part of the reason I lack that Go Get ‘Em attitude is because I travelled a lot as a kid. I don’t use it as the whole reason – I’m perfectly willing to admit that by most people’s standards, I’m probably just antisocial and boring. But when you stood in the shadow of the Sphinx at age 8, licking your cracked lips, and watched jackal-shapes flicker between the ruins of Luxor at night, it can breed a sense of the blasé about, well, this, that and the other. My reaction to travel is often “I did that already,” or “I’ve already done something just like that.”
But let’s not be arrogant about the whole thing. A lot of it is that I’m just an uncomfortable, hostile sort of person. I don’t take any solace or special snowflake-ness in my social anxieties, and rather than share them with the world, I tend to lock them away where no one can use them to colour their brief views of me. I like it that way. But in real terms, travelling involves a lot of things I can’t control, which is the #1 way to make me pop my neck frills and spit blinding venom, before scampering away into the undergrowth.
Also, I’m always late with novel deadlines, which translates to always being under pressure at work, which in turn melts into the reality that I’m always sort of at work because my bed is literally 20 feet from my office. I don’t have downtime. I have vague discomfort that what I’m doing at X point in time probably isn’t helping this year’s massively late novel. All of this means I’m almost always secretly, slowly panicking behind my eyes, which in turn means I react badly to being away from my desk – suffering a delicious cocktail of guilt, terror, and irritation.
So, no. I’m not a graceful traveller. I’d have been a fucking appalling astronaut, which is painful to admit as I’d been harbouring hopes that would eventually be my destiny until embarrassingly recently.
You might think this sounds ungrateful and shitty to say, especially given that I’m in the privileged position of getting sent to other countries for free, purely to sit around and have people who like my work come up to me and tell me that I’m great. You might think – and you’d be right to think this – that I have the best job in the world.
Mostly, I say Yes to conventions and signings because of Katie. She’s owed at least some tangible recompense for putting up with a shut-in who works 12 hours a day and acts like a tortured artiste prick the rest of the time. I like getting the chance to take her places, and turn her loose with my credit card in New York, for example. I like spending time in weird places with her. I like the fact she can see people queuing to see me, because it refreshes both of us: it shows there’s a real impact, an endgame, beyond the cold dryness of sales figures on printouts. When you live in the middle of nowhere and your job involves sealing yourself inside a room alone for countless hours a day, you can very easily become distanced from the fact there’s anything past the process of staring at a screen and sending in a novel once or twice a year over email, before going for a long walk, listening to Razed in Black, then sitting back down to do it all over again. It’s worse for her, because I’m extremely public and accessible on several forums, and Twitter, and Facebook, and emails. I ‘see’ a lot of my feedback without leaving the house. She doesn’t. There’s an element of vacuum about the whole thing, sometimes.
But I’m still not a great traveller, and you can see why it’s worse when she’s not here.
This isn’t to say I don’t enjoy conventions and book signings. I really don’t, as it happens, but it’s probably not for the reasons most people might think. It’s not a matter of ingratitude, or inconvenience, or not giving a fuck about the people that read what I write. Nuh-uh. I should note, and may regret it, that I give away all my author copies every time, to people who write to me with romantic/heartbreaking requests. Your husband takes great care of you, loves my work, and you want to get him a signed copy or two? With a shivery lip, I send whatever I have. Your boyfriend’s going to Afghanistan in a few months and you’re doing Christmas early for him because he won’t be here? Oh, God. Here, take these. You were the first person to email me and discuss baby stuff out of the blue? (Hi, Amy). Here, take all this, and I’ll add your beautiful baby girl to the dedication.
(I should mention, I have no copies of anything left right now. You’ve been warned.)
I love the fact anyone takes the time to read my work, let alone post a message or whatever to comment on it. For all my squillion thrilling flaws, ingratitude is really not one of them.
It almost always comes down to the fragile headjunk simmering inside my skull, which keeps up an internal monologue of deadline guilt, panic at saying something stupid that’ll get me in trouble with my overlords (there’s always something), and general discomfort around people in situations where I’m miles from my comfort zone. A lot of people with public gigs say the same thing: that when their fans (or equivalent demographic) come up to them and say nice things, they can’t help feeling a bit like frauds. I remember very exact moment when I saw someone was literally, actually nervous about coming up to speak to me. I’ve never felt so weird in my life. I just wanted say grab him by the shoulders and say “You don’t understand. I shouldn’t be here. I’m just a guy that has a level 85 Rogue and reads fantasy books all the time.”
Mind you, I look at Alexander – who’s now almost 6 months old – and think similar things. “You don’t understand. I shouldn’t be here. I’m not a Dad, I’m just me. I trip over clothes that I can’t be bothered to put away, and think stupid shit like how people probably saw in black and white before I was born.”
I’ve been writing this for about an hour, with many deletions, and I should probably start making tracks to the airport terminal. if you’re at Chicago Games Day, I may just see you on Saturday. If you are, please be nice. I miss Katie and Alex like crazy, I’ll be jetlagged to Hell and back, and I’m so late with this deadline that I’m considering having my editors assassinated, so I can vanish into the jungle.
For anyone who follows my Facebook messages: No, I didn’t put one of Katie’s thongs on my head and pretend to be Bane on the plane. I was, however, immensely tempted.