So much for a good night’s sleep. It doesn’t help that the mattress feels like a sponge stuffed with elbows, or that some demented bastard decides to perform ‘Eclectic Percussion Solo For Wheely-Bin And Broken Bottles’ at half six in the morning. I’ve been drifting in and out all night, always painfully aware that time is crawling by, never staying asleep for more than 45 minutes at a time. Knowing that the next 45 minutes of restless slumber is going to be a long time coming. Good job I’ve got nothing important to do tomorrow, like lots and lots of press interviews for the book. Oops.
Monica has lined up four sessions for this morning: 09:00, 10:00, 11:00 and 12:00 – three national newspapers and the website for one of Norway’s biggest television stations. Good job it’s just the website and not the telly as I look like squeezed poop, with massive rucksacks under each bloodshot eye. Smile and twinkle, smile and twinkle... Oh God...
I ablute, struggle into my patented writer’s outfit, complete with new birthday shirt, and stagger downstairs to find Monica already waiting for me. My 09:00 is with Aftenposten, and will take place over breakfast, only when they turn up (bang on time) they’ve all eaten, but I shouldn’t let that stop me. And like the idiot I am, I don’t, munching on my plateful from the cold buffet, always managing to have a mouthful on the go when the questions are being asked. While we chat (and in my case masticate) the photographer circles the table, clicking and whirring away. It’s a bizarre experience – don’t they know I’m just some beardy bloke from Aberdeen? The questions are good, insightful and it’s more than once that I have to sit back and really think about the answer: why did I make the book about murdered children? No idea. Has to be some reason. Can’t just make one up. Come on Stuart: think! But it seems to go well. I go on about Salve’s part in any success the book has, and how great Ingeborg, Monica and Tiden are too. Which isn’t hard. Much easier than talking about myself in fact.
Am I happy the book’s coming out in Norway before anywhere else? Damn straight I am. I like Norway, it’s like Scotland only you get to eat smoked salmon, prawn cocktail, cheese, and pickled gherkins for breakfast! How cool is that? And Norway is such a hugely literate society: the read A LOT. The reason Kald Granitt is coming out here first is that every Easter pretty much the whole country migrates from the city to cabins and hotels in the mountains, where they ski, barbecue and read crime novels. Not romance, or fantasy or anything else: Easter is a time for chocolate eggs and dead bodies. I can’t think of anywhere else in the world where an entire country gets together to read the same kind of book. It’s a great idea.
After the questions we go outside and take more pictures of me in my ‘I Do Write Books’ costume. No one says anything about my looking like a young, bearded David Hasslehoff, which is lucky, but people walking past in the background are grinning and waving, which puts me off my mysterious brooding for the camera. They’re probably going to go home tonight and tell their loved ones how they saw that bloke off Baywatch this morning, but he’s really let himself go. Before we’re finished Rolf (the photographer) asks if I’ll sign a copy of the book for him and I have to fight to keep the huge grin off my face – he didn’t even ask me to make it out to ‘eBay’
The 10:00 people are from VG (Verdens Gang, a hugely popular tabloid I’ve seen on pretty much everyone’s tabletop since I got here), a very serious looking journalist and her photographer. The questions keep coming back to the nature of the crimes in the book, and how could I write about such things. I get the feeling she didn’t like Kald Granitt that much, but soldier on as best I can, trying hard to make her smile. I succeed a couple of times, but worry about looking like I’m trying too hard and coming across as a vapid arse. We end with a couple of photos taken in front of a picture of stairs (next to some real stairs) in the hotel lobby. No one asks me to sign anything. When it’s all over I tell Monica how it went and she tells me not to worry, by finishing a half hour early (the last interview took up almost the entire hour, but this one lasted slightly over 35 minutes) we’ve got time to see the Tiden offices before my 11:00.
Tiden’s offices are less than two minutes walk from the hotel (which is two minutes walk from the imaginary woman’s restaurant last night), up a long, twisting staircase. Here I meet the legendary ‘punching man’ so gleefully discussed last night: a red plastic and rubber thing they all beat the crap out of when they feel stressed. It’s huge and when I give it a gentle poke – not having anything personally against the man I don’t take a swing – it barely rocks. The thing weighs a ton, but Monica proudly tells me she’s knocked it flat to the floor more than once. I decide not to upset her.
The place is virtually empty, one other author (a proper one) is finishing up some edits on his book ahead of a big boozeup at the Tiden offices tomorrow, another on Friday, and a big industry bash at the weekend – and the office manager, a young woman who blushes when Ingeborg tells me she’s the one who does all the real work around here. They have a big, old, yellowing jukebox in the corner full of vintage Rolling Stones, Manfred Man, Harry Belafonte… there’s even a Tommy Steel 45 in there. Ingeborg slips on ‘Dream a Little Dream for Me’ the music crackling out from the old vinyl and older machine. Tiden looks like a fun place to work, hopefully they’ll be allowed to retain their individuality when they have to move offices and re-enter the bosom of their parent company in a new, custom built building.
11:00 and it’s the turn of Vibeke Johnsen from TV 2, and I seem to make less of an arse of myself this time round. All that experience from yesterday’s radio and the two this morning must be paying off… That or I’m every bit as crap, but have entered a blissful state of ignorance. Either way the interview goes on for an hour and a bit, with lots of brand new questions, I have to think hard about before answering. We finish with a photo outside and that’s me for the day. My 12:00 has had to cancel due to ill health, which is a sod as Monica had to turn down some other offers to keep the slot free for them. The paper don’t want to send anyone else either as they’ll not have read the book, so won’t be prepared. And just as I was getting used to this being interviewed lark. They’ve got a big supplement out tomorrow on the crime books for Easter and the interview would have been in it. Just have to hope they feel suitably guilty and give the book a glowing review.
But all this means we get to have a leisurely lunch down at the harbour, and enough time to stop past a bookshop and see the thing on the shelves for the first time. I’d thought it wasn’t going to be out until the 17th, but there it is, in the second bookshop we try. Large as life. Cheesy though it is, I ask Monica if she’d mind taking my picture next to it (how sad is that?). A further testimony to the Norwegian love of books, there are people wandering the store with shopping baskets piled high with novels; they’re not buying one at time, they’re buying six. Then Ingeborg arrives clutching a copy of ‘Hunger’ she’s bought for me to read on the plane on the way home. Which is such a sweet, generous gesture I have to love her for it. We’re about to go when I have my first ever ‘celebrity moment’: Atle, the man who runs things has recognised me from the photo on the book jacket and tells me he really enjoyed the book and will be recommending it. And he’s also going to get some of the English version in when it’s published in May. The man’s a star!
After the bookstore we go for a walk and Ingeborg tells me why they’re digging everything up in the middle of Oslo – this year marks the centenary of Norway and Sweden parting company and is to be marked with celebrations and roadworks. Behind the safety barriers and fencing, Oslo’s town centre is a pretty place, brick and stone buildings with curls and fluting, painted in bright colours. It’s a shame most of it’s hidden behind construction work, but hopefully, if the book does well, I’ll be able to see more of it next year. I’d like that.
Lunch happens in an American-ish-style diner called ‘Beach Café’ where I have the Special Burger – I was going to go for the Favourite Burger, but somehow it just didn’t seem as special – and everyone has a beer, long, cold and very welcome. My visit has come to an end, it’s time to go home. Unfortunately my burger came with slices of raw, red onions which I have wolfed down with delight and this means poor Ingeborg and Monica have to put up with oniony goodbye kisses. They’ve been unbelievably generous and hospitable: flying me over, putting me up in a hotel, plying me with gin and tonic, dinner, more drinks, lunch… my first real taste of being a published author. You have to love Norway: it’s the law.
The duty free at Oslo airport yields up returning home presents –women-shaped sweeties (complete with boobs) for the men and chocolate for the ladies, which isn’t being sexist as they don’t seem to make jelly men with willies over here. Fiona gets some sweet, brown Gjetost cheese and the drinks cabinet gets a bottle of grapefruit vodka and a litre of Aquavit. It all weighs a ton and there’s a scramble to get on the plane back to Heathrow. We’re already a good half hour late, which the pilot informs us is due to it taking longer than normal to get the plane clean and ready for the return trip. The king and queen of Norwegian were on the inbound flight, he tells us with a wink. Which doesn’t really explain why it took so long to clean the plane, I wouldn’t have thought them likely to trash the place. But eventually we’re back in the air, told not to worry if the aircrew’s uniforms aren’t the same as the ones in the video (again) and then the man with the drinks trolley comes past and it’s large gin and tonic time again.
So that’s it, I am now, officially, a published write-ist. No more desperately wondering what it would be like to actually get a book on the bookshelves; now I know. It’s bloody weird.