One night stands in the USA
Since St Andrews, I have been in the USA. I went by the Scotrail sleeper from Leuchars to Euston, which is a wonderful way to travel. Nothing better than sipping a single malt in the lounge car as you gently chuff through what you know to be glorious countryside (even if you cant see it), before heading for bed. The last time I went this way, I had just one complaint -- namely unspeakably undrinkable instant coffee in the morning; this seemed to have been solved, up to a point, with a Starbucks franchise.
Anyway the point of the lectures in New York and Washington was to wet the head of my Confronting the Classics which has just come out in America (with a rather different cover). So partly a commercial motive here, I confess. But there's rather more to it than that.
Just like in the UK, when you give lectures like this, you find yourself talking to students, and colleagues ... and generally banging the drum for the whole subject. (As someone I met after the DC gig said, you'd never think more than 300 people would buy tickets for a Tuesday night lecture on the Greeks and Romans; and that means the organisers will think about hosting more classical events, and so on ... and it's hopefully incremental.)
And other thing is that it offers a chance to really get to know the people at the publishers, who are publicizing, selling, and generally representing your book. Of course, whether they meet you or not, they'll do their job for you -- but, put it another way, if you're expecting them to look after your book with all the loving care that you would hope, you might at least have the courtesy to cross the Atlantic to meet them. I've known some people at Norton for years, but it was great to meet lots more, with all kinds of different skills (from social media to stuffing books in jiffy bags).
It is all actually harder work than you might think. It would be easy enough to say..." oh just write a PR piece that hypes the book, and go and deliver it; you could do that on auto-pilot". But it isn't actually like that, or at least not for me. Each venue, each place you go to, has got significantly different interests, and the lecture takes place in a significantly different context. So you can't just spout the same thing. In DC for example, it was not only one day after the Navy Yardvshootings, but I also needed to reflect back to the lecture series I gave there a couple of years ago on images of Roman emperors ... and that meant rewriting and redoing the powerpoint etc. To be honest that fine tuning is several hours work. I'm not complaining, you understand. This is my job. But this isn't quite the falling off a log you might think it to be.
There were, of course, some happy surprises. I went to do a quick interview about "why the Classics matter" on the Leonard Lopate show on WNYC, which was fun. As I left, he was saying into his microphone, "In the next section of the show, I'll be talking to Margaret Atwood..". Down the line from Canada, I assumed.
But no, there she was in the waiting room. And you never guess what, she said she was really interested in Caligula (the man not the movie, I think).
Made my day (but blimey what a star-gazer I am)!