Oslo-A-Go-Go part 1: Tuesday

Today starts a lot earlier than I’d hoped for. The alarm clock says 04:30 and I’m still not due to get up for another two and a bit hours, but the cat has decided to bestow her affections / neuroses on me. Two and a bit hours later and I still haven’t managed to get back to sleep, which is a shame as today I must sparkle. Or at least glitter a bit. Tiden, who’re going to be the first publishers to bring out Cold Granite (or Kald Granitt as it’ll be called) are generously flying me over to Oslo to do some pre-launch promotional interviews with the Norwegian national media. Turning up looking like I’ve just fallen out the back end of a dog is probably not the best of ideas.

I grumble and groan my way through the obligatory morning ablutions and into my ‘Professional Writer’s Outfit’ – if I keep a vaguely startled expression on my face you can barely see the bags under my eyes – then Fiona gives me a lift to Aberdeen airport, which is just as well as five minutes into the trip she realises I am an idiot. So back to the house we go to pick up my passport. It’s a bloody good job I’m not driving myself, or I’d be in for a nasty shock when I got to Heathrow.

For once the plane takes off on time, though we’re told about a dozen times that some of the cabin crew are wearing the new British Airways uniform which is different from the one they’re wearing in the safety video. Why are they telling us this? Who cares? In the ‘unlikely event’ of the plane crash-landing into water I’m not going to be glued to my seat in confusion because the crew are wearing different uniforms. No: I’m going to be out that exit pronto, taking half the drinks trolley with me.

Heathrow airport is much the same as always, miles of carpeted corridors with little signs of life as I clump my way towards international connecting flights in my big clumpy boots – the things are huge, it’s like wearing a pair of black leather breezeblocks on the end of my legs – trying to get to terminal four in time to catch the plane. I needn’t have hurried: some arsemonkey has screwed something up somewhere and we have to sit in our tightly-packed sardine tin for about three quarters of an hour before Captain Chuckles up front finally takes the handbrake off, flicks his fag out the window and reverses out onto the runway. Hurrah! We’re finally off and the temperature slowly begins to drop below the boiling point of lead as the air conditioning kicks in. But we’re severely behind schedule. I know Monica has booked an interview with NKR P2, the Norwegian equivalent of BBC Radio for not long after I’m supposed to get in, which will be about 45 mins before I actually do. Just to be on the safe side I ask for a large gin and tonic from the enthusiastic young man with the drinks trolley. This elicits an indulgent smile, two miniatures of gin (both pub doubles) and a couple of tins of tonic, I might be late, but I’m going to be relaxed.

Unfortunately there’s no spectacular view of fjords and snow-capped mountains as we come in to land, the whole place is shrouded in a layer of cloud so thick the plane almost bounces off of it. So I have to content myself with a merry sprint through Oslo Airport – which looks like it’s been completely kitted out in IKEA – trying to get to the Flytoget: the express train that will allegedly whisk me into Oslo, where I’m to get a cab to the Hotel Savoy. No problems... Monica obviously has a lot more faith in my abilities than I do. The damn thing makes at least three stops on the way into town and I take a gamble on the one in the middle, the central station. As soon as I’m off the train everything changes. The airport was clean and spartanly functional; the train was clean, quiet and comfortably efficient; the central station is not. It takes me three goes to find a taxi rank where I’m ushered to the car at the front of the line – whether I like it or not – only to be told by the driver that he can’t find the Hotel Savoy in his induction book, but he’ll ask his mate if he’s ever heard of it... ‘Induction book’. I see. Somehow I get the feeling this isn’t going to go too well. It turns out he’s a refugee from Somalia, been in Norway for three years and hates the place. He wanted to get a job in Europe, but they wouldn’t let him and his wife in, Norway was the only place willing to welcome him (talk about biting the hand that feeds you). So he drives a cab now and doesn’t know where the Hotel Savoy is.

They’re digging a lot of Oslo town centre up at the moment, turning our magical mystery tour into a rather depressing crawl past blank buildings, mounds of rubble and tarmac as it slowly begins to get darker and we get more and more lost. In the end he pulls over, apologises profusely and switches off the meter, digging out a huge AtoZ, hunting back and forth for any sign of my elusive hotel. At long last he finds it, hoots with laughter and we’re off.

Ingeborg and Monica are waiting outside the Hotel Savoy as the taxi pulls up, they leap up and down and shout and wave and wiggle copies of Kald Granitt at the figure emerging from the back seat, welcoming this stranger to their home town with exuberant smiles. Only trouble is, it’s not me. I’m still doing a tour of the building site city centre, marvelling at the seemingly random rules at junctions. It’s like everyone has right of way, but isn’t willing to risk it. By the time we finally get to the Hotel Monica and Ingeborg are still outside, only this time they abandon the cheerleader whoops and bounces, not wanting the hotel security guards to move them on for accosting bemused businessmen. Ingeborg is head of crime fiction for Tiden, a five-person imprint of a massive publishing corporation, she’s infectiously enthusiastic, frighteningly well read, a five-foot-three dynamo with a deep, rich voice. Monica is her right-hand woman and my PR guardian angel, a tall, very attractive brunette with sharp blue eyes and brain like a steel trap. My brain is also like a steel trap, only the cheese has gone off and no one’s bothered to empty out the dead rat yet. Grinning like an idiot I shake their hands and accept the first ever, proper copy of my first ever published book. That’s your Polaroid moment, right there. It’s a dizzying feeling, standing there on a street in another country with a book I’ve written but haven’t a chance in hell of reading: it’s all been translated into Norwegian.
Monica slaps on a sympathetic smile and tells me my first interview is in ten minutes.

This is the first time I have ever been interviewed. The man is from Kulturbeitet, he’s read the book and likes it – though he might just be saying that to lull me into a false sense of security – sticks a huge liquorish microphone under my nose and starts asking questions. He kicks off with an absolute bastard: “This is your first book to be published, what question would you most like to be asked?”
Somewhere in the back of my head, something goes ‘Eek!’ “Not that one.” I answer. The rest of the interview goes quite well until he pulls his second bastard out of the bag, do I speak any Norwegian? He asks casually and I try out the ‘I don’t speak any Norwegian except for ‘Fisk’’ line on him. It comes out sounding like I’m chewing Lego. He grins and holds open his copy of Kald Granitt at a page marked with blue postit notes, which I then have to read. In Norwegian. Badly.

After the interview I stagger through to the bar where Ingeborg and Monica soothe my shattered nerves with large gin and tonics. We’re going out to dinner tonight with Lasse Tømte, the poor sod who had to translate 127 thousand of my words. Luckily I have brought the party shirt with me and nip upstairs to change, unluckily the power has blown in my room, so I have to get washed and changed in the dark. Another G&T then we’re off to Ylajali, a restaurant named after an imaginary woman in Knut Hamsun’s semi-autobiographical book about a writer nearly starving to death on the streets of Christiania (as Oslo used to be known) in 1888. The restaurant occupies the same building as the imaginary woman, just across the stairs. It’s one of the great classics of Norwegian literature, have I read it? No, no I have not. In that case, says Ingeborg, with characteristic generosity, she will have to get me a copy!

The restaurant is very swish inside, but cosy in a nouvelle cuisine kind of way. The menu is all in Norwegian (funnily enough) but I’m actually able to make some sense of it. Not a lot, but some. As the ancient Norwegians spent many a happy summer holiday raiding up and down the North East of Scotland a lot of the words are familiar when written and completely bloody unrecognisable when spoken. In the end we go for the ‘Chef’s Surprise With Wine Package’ – seven courses of whatever the chef thinks is best on the menu that day with wine carefully selected to accompany each course – Monica tells our waiter that one of the surprises has to be cheese. And all of this is done in perfect English. Ingeborg, Monica, Lasse, the waiter, all of them speak perfect English (though they all deny it when I say so) and once more I am reminded that everyone I meet in the world of publishing is a damn sight brighter than me. Everyone here speaks at least two languages and I can barely manage one.
When the first course arrives its tiny, mushroom soup froth in an itty-bitty bowl and sautéed chicken and onion on the end of a teaspoon. One bite and it’s gone, which is a shame as we’re all starving and I for one could do with a bit less froth and a LOT more soup. All the courses are like that, very, very tasty and very, very tiny. And as the courses come, each lovingly introduced along with the applicable wine, Ingeborg, Monica and Lasse do something increasingly bizarre: they talk about Kald Granitt as if it was a real book. They debate the characters and their background and motivation. This is the first time this has ever happened. Before, when people have talked about the book, they’ve told me how much they enjoyed it, or that they liked so and so, but this is the first time I’ve ever heard anyone discussing the characters like they were real people. Weird. And I’m left with the feeling that I’m going to have to do some serious remedial surgery on book 2, if it’s going to live up to the first one.
The not-surprise cheese course comes and goes and then it’s the last hurrah of the meal, a medley of not so sweet things that prompts a debate about whether there’s dill in the teaspoonful of blood orange or ginger, and if the liquorish sauce on the parfait really has salt in it or not. We all think it does, the waiter is adamant that it does not. I suspect that after we’re gone he’ll be round the back dipping, his chips in it.

Then it’s back to the hotel for calvados all round and I tell Lasse how impressed I am with what he’s managed to do: translate the book from Scottish English into Norwegian Norwegian, managing to keep whatever the hell spark it is that people seem so enamoured of. The sod from the radio station had only ever read it in Norwegian and apparently loved every minute of it, and I tell Lasse that if the book does anything over here it’ll be more down to his skill than mine. And I mean it too.

Midnight and everyone has gone home. I sit upstairs in my room, now thankfully with electricity, contemplating the minibar, even though I know I’ll never actually do anything to it. A tub of Kims Chili Nøtter taunts me with its indecipherable additives, but I shun its charms and go to bed.

Tomorrow’s going to be a big day.