Writing Book 2 of Roger’s adventures

Writing a book is a story in itself.

In January, 2013, I moved to New York which has given birth to more books, plays, songs and literary works than one can imagine.

A chance remark from a friend about the Algonquin Hotel, on 43rd Street, introduced me to the famous writer’s Round Table which for two decades entertained all manner of poets and writers, Dorothy Sayers and Groucho Marx among them. At the time I learnt about this feisty group, I was mid-plotting Book 2 and I promised myself that once all that preparation was complete, I’d get out into the big, hot, heaving city to write the story. I’d jump on the subway in the morning (or late at night too) and disappear into the endless crowds, find somewhere to write and let Roger’s next tale pour forth.

And that’s what happened.

Authors work alone, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they work the same way each day, surrounded by the same things. With this book, I made sure of it.

Kenton

Day 1 – The Algonquin
59 W44th Street

And so begins a new chapter in the life of Roger Spoffin. In the tradition of Jack Kerouac, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Capote, Steinbeck, Miller, Williams, in fact nearly every American writer of note, I am writing my latest book in the various hotel lobbies of New York. They’re busy places and it can be hard to concentrate but they simply ooze literary history and none more so than The Algonquin. A friend visiting from home brought the Algonquin to my attention. I’d been working on the new book’s outline, character studies etc. etc. from the comfort of my Manhattan pad and my friend listened without interrupting before telling me of the Algonquin. ‘You ought to go write there,’ he suggested.

At 59 West 44th Street, just off 6th Ave, this place is the oldest operating hotel in New York and is famous for its Round Table of writers and misfits. Read about them here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algonquin_Hotel They were a little like England’s Bloomsbury Set, but they hung around for a lot longer and were, ironically, much less influential. In fact, Dorothy Parker – who was there from the start – looking back on the period many years later remarked, ‘The Round Table was just a lot of people telling jokes and telling each other how good they were. Just a bunch of loudmouths showing off, saving their gags for days, waiting for a chance to spring them… There was no truth in anything they said.’ Oh, well.

I entered the Algonquin around 8:30, sunk into one of the deep, brown leather seats, opened the iPad and Roger Spoffin took off. Over the next 4 hours I was swept back in time 100 years as Roger, Marty, Doff, Anna and others (I won’t be giving too many spoilers here) came once again to life. The coffee flowed freely, the ever-professional Algonquin waitstaff left me well alone (I couldn’t help but feel they held a certain reverence for writers – maybe loud-mouths not so much), and by the time I left, I’d clipped comfortably past 4000 words. I feel this writing-in-hotels caper will serve me well.

Today’s word count: 4004.

Total word count to date: 4004.

  • Algonquin from 44th St

  • Day 1 – the Author in the famed lobby

  • The magnificent Algonquin lobby – serene and sumptuous

  • Plaque on the Algonquin noting its famous ‘Round Table’.

  • The original Round Table – a very young Dorothy Parker seated with Harpo Marx standing behind

  • The beautiful Algonquin Hotel – one of a number of gorgeous hotels on 44th Street.

Details

Day 2 – Hotel Carlyle

Cnr Madison & 76th Street.

Comfortable in the Upper East Side, this place is oozing cash. I won’t relate what I overheard at some of the tables near me because if I’m visiting these joints, I’m up to playing the discretion game. And it’s always been thus at the Carlyle. Kennedy kept a suite here for his mistresses – Marilyn Monroe included. There’s even a photo of him in the lobby.

Got to say, it is a gorgeous place. Small and intimate and dark and pokey (had to turn the screen brightness on the iPad waaaaay down) and with 400 staff for 185 rooms, service is, well let’s just say it ain’t the Ashfield Motor Inn. (Don’t expect such class tomorrow. I’m heading for a dive.) Clearly I was enjoying myself as I hung around for over 5 hours and as it was yesterday at the Algonquin, no one bothered me. Except to replenish my coffee.

Today’s word count: 3337

Total word count to date: 7341.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carlyle_Hotel

  • This was my office for the day 🙂

  • Rising high above the Upper East Side

  • JFK exiting the Carlyle

  • Looking through to the Gallery

  • WIP in the Carlyle’s Gallery

  • My photos – warm and evocative as they are – fail to capture the splendour of this place

  • Day 2 – I could get used to this

Details

Day 3 – Hotel Chelsea

222 West 23rd.

This place has seen it all. Sid Vicious killed his girlfriend here. Dylan Thomas drank himself to death here. Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001 here. Arthur Miller, Iggy Pop, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin all lived here. And on and on and on.

But it’s closed for renovations and all the long-term residents have been turfed out. I knew that before I headed there but just to be near The Chelsea was going to rub off in some way. There’s just too much genius that has been through those doors not to.
So, I found myself the only open shop within the building – which served doughnuts and decent coffee fortunately – and parked myself there. And sure enough the muse came quickly (descended from somewhere upstairs I like to think).

There are plenty of tourists coming to gawk at this place. There are more plaques to literary and musical greats than any other hotel in New York and there’s always something romantically attractive about faded glory. Mind you, The Chelsea was always a bit grunge. Hard to say what the place will be like post-reno, but somehow, I think I’ll be back at The Chelsea one day.

Today’s word count: 3827

Total word count: 11,168

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hotel_Chelsea

  • The Chelsea before renovation

  • The front covered in plaques to literary greats (and others)

  • Fortunately, the donut shop is first rate and were happy for me to ensconce there

  • WIP with coffee (in paper cup)

  • One of many plaques

  • The home of 2001

  • Note the subtle reference to Sid Vicious bottom right

  • Tribute to a longtime resident

Details

Day 4 – The New Yorker

Cnr 34th and 8th Ave.

Opened in 1929 and was the biggest hotel in New York for many years. One of the best places to see Big Bands in the 30’s such as Benny Goodman (see photo). Ali would use the place after fighting across the street at the Garden. Nikola Tesla went crazy and died there (not sure if AC/DC ever stayed there. Ha!!). Castro stayed there.

Tesla’s tale is intriguing. In his room #3327, he kept a safe filled with patents and super-secret ideas. One, his “Death Ray”, he described thus: “The nozzle would send concentrated beams of particles through the free air, of such tremendous energy that they will bring down a fleet of 10,000 enemy airplanes at a distance of 200 miles from a defending nation’s border and will cause armies to drop dead in their tracks.” Goodness. Upon his death his body and the safe were whisked away. The safe was impounded by the FBI and entered Top Secret status, never to be seen again. Who knows if the Death Ray was true or not, but Tesla should definitely have turned his hand to Science Fiction.

If you like Art Deco, this place is a must. The only draw-back is there is no cafe or food service in the lobby (there’s a diner though attached) so I sat there all morning and spent not a dime. It’s a busy place, right on 8th Avenue and the vibe is very touristy. I sat amongst piles of suitcases and folks waiting for their coaches and cabs. Still, I was there to work and fortunately the muse flowed well sans coffee.

Today’s word count: 3,012

Total word count: 14,180

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wyndham_New_Yorker_Hotel

  • It’s hard to miss this enormous Art Deco block of history

  • Once the biggest in New York

  • The face of an author without coffee

  • Madison Square Garden is right across 8th Ave

  • His laboratory was next door in room 3328

  • I’ve no idea what a ‘Great new ice show’ means

  • Fabulous ashtray – from a display in the lobby

Details

Day 5 – Dream Hotel.

355 West 16th.

Oh, boy oh boy I’m glad I found this place. There’s cool and funky and edgy and then there’s the Dream Hotel, Chelsea. Being a Sunday, I wasn’t planning on working today, but Ryan had a birthday party at Chelsea Piers so I found myself with 2 spare hours.
This is one cooool hotel. An American flag made of beer cans covering one wall (tastefully done). An array of bespoke leather lounges included a gold one (which I chose for myself). AND A SWIMMING POOL FOR THE ROOF!!

Those of you who know me well, know about the Pool Quest (see here: www.1000pools.com) so can well imagine my jaw-dropping delight when 20 minutes into Roger Spoffin’s latest fabulous adventures, I lean back, take a long, cool swig from my Corona Light (no, I don’t understand what I was thinking either) to see PEOPLE SWIMMING ABOVE ME!! Lost 5 minutes productivity as I gawked up at them. One can just imagine the architects meeting with the owners and revealing, yes, of course, we’ll put the pool above the lobby with a glass ceiling.

Poke around and you’ll find a gallery with some very cool photos of rock stars. Plus flowers growing in the garden in colours I didn’t know existed. Plus grooviness everywhere. I’ll be back with the gorgeous Lynne big time to this place for a hot date one night soon.

I’ll catch you by the pool.

Today’s word count: 1037

Total word count: 15,217
http://www.dreamhotels.com/…/new-york/dream…/hotel-overview…

  • The pool at the Dream Hotel

  • The pool from beneath i.e. the bar

  • WIP at the Dream (except for the Corona Light – nothing dream-like about that)

  • The lobby – note US flag made of beer cans, pool above and gold leather seats

  • Blondie greets you on the way to the gents

  • One of the gorgeous tiny gardens that dot this hotel

Details

Day 6: Standard Hotel.

484 Washington Street, Chelsea.

The Standard Hotel is anything but. This amazing place straddles the HighLine and boasts a cool funk vibe similar to yesterday’s Dream Hotel (also in Chelsea). The High Line, if you don’t know, is a former elevated railroad that linked the ports with the various warehouses and factories in lower Manhattan. After years of lying dormant, it has been converted in stages to an elevated garden. It’s so brilliantly done and popular that about the only time to walk it to avoid seething crowds is mid-winter.

The streets around the Standard are cobbled (not a common thing in New York) and are clearly a fav of fashion shoots as I’ve seen numerous models posing in the  area while their photographer snaps away. The lobby of the Standard blends with the cafe with the beer garden with the grill. Most folks were outside in the garden sipping Mojitos and Marguerites and Mimosas on the day I was there, but I chose a quiet corner and coffee.  Music’s nice too – ‘Shoot that poison arrow to my heart’ was just one of a selection heavy on 80’s Britpop.

I didn’t head up to the roof but apparently there are tremendous views of the Hudson and Jersey beyond. If you’re headed to New York and you’re after a hip hotel in the Meatpacking/Chelsea district chose this one or the Dream. Flip a coin.

Today’s word count: 2,291

Total word count: 17,566

http://standardhotels.com/high-line…

  • The Standard – rising high above the High Line

  • All but deserted inside. But the beer garden was pumping.

  • The somewhat innocuous entrance and the beer garden beside

  • The end of the High Line is just south of the Standard

Details

Day 7 – The Waldorf Astoria

On Park Ave somewhere – massive. You can’t miss it.

Possibly the most famous hotel in the world? Certainly in the US. By golly it’s an impressive monster. Originally two hotels (you’ll never guess their names) it even has, or had, its own train station in the basement (it’s on Park Ave under which run the Metro North trains). 

In the history of grand hotels, basically, there is BC and AWA, that is Before Conrad (Hilton) and After the Waldorf Astoria. Hilton is largely responsible for the massive 1000 room hotels we see around the world today. Before him, hotels were more ‘gentlemanly’ in scale. 200 rooms was considered large. After he purchased the Waldorf Astoria, Hilton hotels have always been on a grand scale. Read his autobiography, ‘Be my guest’, if you’re keen to know more.

While massive, it manages to have beautiful human-scale public spaces. There are two lobbies – both magnificent. I sat in the inner one, which is dark and timber-lined. But it wasn’t a very productive day for some reason. Struggled to get going and ended up writing one scene out of order just so I could get it done. Also, forgot to order their famous salad. Instead, opting for their oatmeal.

Today’s word count: 1300

Word count to date: 19,686

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waldorf_Astoria_New_York

  • The view of the main lobby from my office for the day

  • Majesty New York style

  • Feeling at home in the splendour

  • Conrad and Baron Hilton

  • Oatmeal – with almonds, brown sugar and glacé raisins

  • Hard to tell what Kenneth is selling from this display – but it’s my father’s name, so…

  • The Park Avenue lobby

Details

Day 8 – The Hotel Theresa

2082-6 Adam Clayton Powell Jnr Blvd. Harlem.

In its heyday (which wasn’t this morning) this hotel was known as ‘the Waldorf of Harlem’. It looks so much taller than its 13 stories as it’s thin and there’s nothing much that height around it. It has a rich history. Castro stayed there in 1960 after getting kicked out/fed up with another hotel in midtown (either for killing his own chickens in the room because he didn’t trust the hotel chefs, or over the bill, depending on which story you believe). Khrushchev visited him while he was there. Malcolm X was a regular to the place and famously gave an address out the front.

But it’s a sorry sight today. It’s been closed for years but you my story of the Chelsea Hotel has taught you anything, a closed hotel won’t stop me. The only place open in the building where I could sit and drink coffee and work was White Castle – a hamburger chain that predates McDonalds by about 30 years and is happy not to compete with such a high-quality upstart establishment. I went mid-morning so I was one of the first ‘diners’ (they don’t do breakfast – mind you, anyone who takes their food seriously would claim they don’t do lunch or dinner either). I perched on a stool, opened up the iPad and got to it. Service, it must be said, wasn’t up there with my previous day’s experience at the Waldorf Astoria, but the coffee was surprisingly drinkable. Three hours later I hopped up and walked back up to the counter – which has a bullet-proof perspex screen separating you from the ‘servers’, who speak through microphones when they want to read back your order. I amused myself by quipping in my offhand way, ‘And now I think I’ll try the fish burger.’ No one else seemed amused.

I’ve never been to a White Castle before (nor since) so I’ve nothing to compare it to, but this one functioned more as a community drop-in centre. At any one time, twenty people were milling around with only one or two eating. The main topic of conversation was a police raid nearby on some gang houses – the biggest in New York’s history apparently – that had taken place early that morning.

A productive day with some of the most entertaining customers in a hotel ‘lobby’ I’ve come across.

Today’s word count: 3054

Word count to date: 22,740

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hotel_Theresa

  • Adam Clayton Powell marching towards the (now closed) Theresa

  • The Author ponders why he’s the only one writing a novel in the White Castle fast food joint

  • This is a slider. It is a type of burger. Inexpensive, small and ghastly.

  • Castro and Malcolm X enjoying a laugh at the Theresa back in 1960

  • NYPD outside the Theresa when Castro was staying.

  • Twas a bleak and rainy day in Harlem

  • I pity the fool who dares to deface this garage

Details

Day 9 – Essex House

160 Central Park South

A beautiful, historic art deco building, Essex House has one of the most iconic and easily identifiable outlines overlooking Central Park. It’s not hard to spot with its enormous red lettering visible from halfway up the park.
Summer is now in full swing in New York and the park is heaving, the horse and carriages are doing a roaring trade (after a very long and cold winter) and tourists are swarming. Parts of Central Park South were almost blocked by the busyness.

But for those authors who drift in and out of the hustle and bustle of the city looking for a place to write, may I recommend Essex House. Art deco magnificently restored, large, sun-filled windows overlooking the park, white leather lounges and decent coffee. Suits me, sir.

Today’s word count: 2420

Word count to date: 25,458

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JW_Marriott_Essex_House

  • Just in case you forget the name of your hotel

  • The Author (looking a little smug) and WIP on a gorgeous summer’s day overlooking the park

  • The lobby – where I moved after the cafe closed

  • Unobstructed views north across the park

  • Wollmann rink in Central Park with Essex House beyond

  • The passageway to 58th street

Details

Day 10: Mandarin Oriental.
Columbus Circle.

For some reason I love Columbus Circle. Bottom of the park, Central Park West becomes 8th Ave (and much more aggressive), Broadway cuts across at an oblique angle, busy, busy, busy and traffic moving in a circle (which you don’t see much in New York – perhaps it reminds me of my childhood in Canberra).
And soaring above is the magnificent Time Warner Center (or, Centre). This twin monolith contains a Wholefoods, a beautiful shopping center (or centre), two jazz venues, the headquarters of Time Inc. and a very nice hotel – the Mandarin Oriental.

Now there are not many hotels where the lobby is on the 35th floor. It is stunning – both daytime and at night. Once I sat there with Lynne watching a snowstorm, the little yellow taxis struggling around the roundabout.

If you want to feel you’re in New York, may I recommend lunch at the Mandarin Oriental. Order the Manhattan. Tell them I sent you.

Today’s word count: 2,687

Word count to date: 28,145

http://www.mandarinoriental.com/newyork

  • The Mandarin Oriental is waaaaay up there somewhere

  • WIP and view from the 35th floor

  • Nowhere made me feel more like I was in New York than this place

  • Spectacular view, warm iPad, hot coffee – what else does an author need?

  • The jaw-dropping lobby – 35 floors up

  • Glass tulip/lily/triffid things

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