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 11: The Plaza
Fifth Avenue at Central Park South

Even the address speaks volumes. There’s nothing else like this place, looking North across to the park and East to the Pulitzer fountain and beyond to Fifth Ave, a glorious Chateau-like structure soaring 20 stories high. From Eloise to Crocodile Dundee to the very, very nasty Christopher Walken pic, ‘King of New York’, you’ve seen the Plaza already a dozen times before setting foot in NYC.
Why the Australian flag out the front? Well, our Tony was in town and he chose the Plaza. He’d left early that morning, my good waiter told me (who’d also served another Australian PM, ‘the woman’. Ah, yes. I remember her.)
There are too many beautiful rooms to show here, but if you’re in town, allow an hour or two to explore this place. It has its own food court that is unlike anything else I’ve seen – including cakes that made this old Delington King stop and stare, mouth open.
So far on this quest, for the big old hotels, there are only two names that matter – Waldorf-Astoria and the Plaza and I choose the Plaza. What’s more, I finished Act 1 of the book here. 3 Acts to go.
Word count: 2377. Word count to date: 30,522

P.S. Watch their site to see how beautiful this place is.
http://www.theplazany.com

  • This was my office. Ahem

  • The iconic Plaza from Pulitzer Square

  • Our PM was in town. He’s got good taste

  • WIP with Pulitzer Place beyond the thick curtains

  • The Oatmeal. Ranks marginally higher that the Waldorf Astoria

  • The Author – ensconced in the Plaza – looking down his nose at you

  • Another view from my place of work. Mid-morning

  • The famous palm court

  • Downstairs is a fabulous food court (but that name really doesn’t do it justice) and the Eloise store

  • A very young Mr Hemingway

Details

Day 12 – Hotel Pennsylvania

Cnr 7th Ave & 34th Street

Lacking former glory – that’s the only way to describe this vast, underwhelming hotel. When it opened in 1919 it had 2200 rooms and sat overlooking the now-demolished Penn Station (the original one). Now Madison Square Garden (surely one of the ugliest buildings in Manhattan) faces it and the area is filled with cheap burger joints and half-finished construction.

It has survived numerous attempts to demolish it, and the current owners have declared they’ll restore it. I can only hope so, because in its current iteration, it’s depressing.
William Faulkner stayed here. Charlie Chaplin too. And like many New York hotels of this era, its ballroom was filled with the Big Bands of Glenn Miller, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and more. But those days are long gone.

As the lobby resembles an airport lounge with people sitting on their luggage, I chose to work in the cafe. With a $10 buffet breakfast, it proved a productive morning.

Word count: 2643

Word count to date: 33,165

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

  • Directly opposite Madison Square Garden

  • Like an airport without class

  • Author and WIP in the very quiet lounge

  • Remember these?

  • The hotel is a wonderful example of art deco – but not as wonderful as this

  • Statler who built the Pennsylvania

Details

Day 13 – Hotel Sofitel

45 West 44th Street.

I was back on 44th Street today, where I began the book. The Sofitel is a beautiful French themed hotel with nearly 400 rooms a couple of doors down from the Algonquin, but the lobby (lobbies, really) restaurants and other public space are more the scale of a much smaller, continental hotel. Which I like. Cavernous, polished marble lobbies – like the Pennsylvania, my previous post – are not my bag.
Above, though, is a soaring 30 storey tower with extraordinary views over midtown.

Having opened only in 2000, this place has yet to build a list of notable writers, poets and l’infant terribles (this author, notwithstanding). But it has unfortunately garnered attention for other, less savoury, exploits. It was here that Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the IMF, attacked a cleaner in his room and ended up being arrested and lead out of the place in handcuffs. Nice. Such things must be a nightmare for the hotel’s management, but don’t let it put you off. It’s a beautiful place.

Today’s word count: 2300

Word count to date: 35,465

http://www.sofitel.com/gb/hotel-2185-sofitel-new-york/index.shtml

  • The main lobby

  • The Sofitel on 44th St

  • WIP on a very bright iPad

  • The cafe faces 45th St and is superb

  • It’s orchid season in New York

  • As befitting a beautiful, French hotel

Details

Day 14: Hudson Hotel.
386 West 58th Street.

I’d challenge anyone to try writing a novel in a New York nightclub on a Saturday night. Whilst drinking martinis. But the reality of summer holidays means the mornings are no longer available to me. So, yesterday I clocked on at 9pm and clocked off at, umm…
This is dangerous territory. The ghost of Hemingway looms large. Disappearing into the vast, pumping city is immensely appealing to this author (day or night) and when truffle popcorn is on offer, the hours easily slip away. When I emerged back onto the street the city was really just getting going, the subway packed, and if I’d had the energy could have found another venue no problem and kept writing. New York, as everyone knows, doesn’t sleep.
Now, down to brass tacks. How productive was I? Bearing in mind that it was too dark to read my notes, I could hardly hear myself think, and I was increasingly distracted by beautiful people dancing only feet away from me (oh, and the music was amazing – will definitely be taking Lynne here for a hot date soon), not to mention the martinis, I think I did OK.
My average word rate so far is (or rather, was, until last night) 823 words per hour. The first hour in the Hudson’s disco I managed: 686. Not shabby at all. However, the second hour produced only 410 words – which those mathematically inclined among you would note is but half my usual. But by golly it was a delight watching how the barman made that lemon twist.
And the third hour? Well, you might have thought it was a catastrophe and in fact I didn’t last a full 3rd hour. But pro-rata, it came to 548. Spooky. An inverse bell-curve.
The Hudson has more bars than I’ve ever seen in a hotel. I counted four on the lobby level alone. I’ve no idea which one I was in, but you can check out the place here: https://www.morganshotelgroup.com/…/hudson-new-yo…/eat-drink
My tip: go at 9pm when they’ll let in people with iPads intent on writing Middle Grade novels. After midnight the rope barrier comes out and you’ve got to get past security (and be waaay more beautiful than I am).

Today’s word count: 1370. Word count to date: 37,051

  • One of the multiple bars in the Hudson. Or it could be reception. I’ve no idea. It’s that kind of place

  • I really should be dancing, but a middle-grade novel needs writing

  • A martini and truffle popcorn. Yes, this is tax-deductible

  • The waaaay cool escalators leading to the street

  • When I left at whatever time it was, the place was really only just getting started

  • A beautiful window display

Details

Day 15 – MGM Grand Hotel, Las Vegas

There aren’t many hotels that can claim to be the world’s biggest. In fact, this one can’t either, but it was when it opened and today is #2 with 6852 rooms. It is simply staggering. The Crocodile Hotel in Ashfield (rest assured I’ve never visited that dive) could fit in its lobby. One of its lobbies.

Those of you who have been reading these updates will know I‘ve been favouring hotels with a literary vibe, or some historical link to the arts, or some historical link to something. Anything. But in Vegas that’s really hard. All the famous hotels you saw in the old movies, or your parents visited in the 60’s (hello Mum), are gone. The Sands. The Sahara, the Aladdin (where Elvis was married), the Desert Inn (where Howard Hughes closeted himself away for the last 15 years of his life) – all torn down and replaced with mega-resorts.

I was last in Vegas 19 years ago and we’ve both changed a lot. If you think that this is a place where the author with an iPad would be out of place, you’d be right, but there’s a strange serenity that comes from the relentless hum and buzz of more than 2000 gaming machines.

Fear and loathing? Not yet. Strong seduction more like it. I have a feeling there’s a lot more writing to be done in Vegas.

Today’s word count: 1503

Total word count: 38,554

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

  • The 2nd biggest hotel in the world

  • This is reception. Plenty of room

  • They play an oddly named game here

  • Working in (one of the) Starbucks somewhere in the airport-sized MGM Grand

  • There are acres and acres of carpet in this place

Details

Day 16 – St Regis Hotel
5th Avenue and 55th Street

This is the heart of 5th Avenue. Within a stone’s throw of this magnificent Beaux Arts building (pronounced ‘bow-zar’, according to my French friend who could barely contain his laughter when I waxed lyrical about this fabulous architectural style, my pronunciation clearly like nothing he’d ever heard before) is Cartier, Henri Bendels, Bergdorf Goodman, FAO Schwartz, Tiffany’s, Bloomingdales and on and on. (Incidentally, on the opposite corner is The Peninsula – another hotel of similar style and size and yet to be visited by this author.)
My impression is this place has undergone a recent renovation and it’s nicely done. The staff too are genuinely among the nicest I’ve met in New York. I watched them speaking with each other several times and there seemed a true camaraderie. No one hurried me, though I stayed for over three and a half hours.
It was only on the way out that my waitress pointed out the famous artwork in the bar (which I wasn’t sitting in at 9am, in case you were wondering).
See the pano attached. Here’s the story behind it.
The St Regis was built by John Jacob Astor, one of the wealthiest men in America. It opened in 1902. Astor already had a (now-demolished) hotel just down the road called the Knickerbocker and had commissioned a painting for it by Maxfield Parrish – ‘Old King Cole’. It’s a monster measuring 8 feet high and 30 feet wide. The joke is that the King is modelled after Astor himself and that he’s shown in the act of, ahem, flatulating. Astor had the painting moved to the St Regis when it opened and it has sat majestic over the bar ever since (though the bar has moved around the hotel once or twice). The bar is beautiful and along with the painting is famous for being the birthplace of the Bloody Mary. Astor was to die aboard the Titanic – the wealthiest man to do so.

Salvador Dali lived at the hotel every fall and winter throughout the 60’s and 70’s.
I drank coffee and had vichyssoise for lunch. Seemed the thing to do in a French-inspired hotel.

Today’s word count: 2,949
Word count to date: 41,503

  • Maxfield Parish’s ‘Old King Cole’. The Bloody Mary was invented in this bar.

  • Beaux Arts beauty

  • WIP in very comfortable surrounds (and wonderful staff too)

  • The Author (once again) looking down his nose at you from the delightful St Regis

  • This is a hand towel

  • One of the beautiful staircases. Note the lights built into the balustrade

  • Without a doubt one of the most beautiful hotels in New York

Details

Day 17 – Empire Hotel.
44 West 63rd Street (across Columbus from the Lincoln Center)

The home of Gossip Girl – apparently. Or featured in it repeatedly, or some such. Anyhoo, I needed a UWS hotel close by as I had less than three hours to dump Johnny at ‘camp’, get to writing location, spend minimum of two hours penning the fabulous adventures of hero Edwardian schoolboy Roger Spoffin, and get back to pick up Johnny. The Empire fit the bill.

Been past this place a million times (it’s on the triangle where Broadway crosses Columbus) and it’s nice enough. Got a kind of jungle theme going on with the colours – all orange and ochre and brass and black. The lobby and bar – which runs off the lobby – were half-filled with guests on their iPhones drinking Starbucks when I arrived. That’s a bad sign, as it usually means no service. And so it was. For two hours I sat writing, no one bothered me, then I left.
The result was the highest hourly word count since I began.

Today’s word count: 2,327
Word count to date: 43,830

  • The Empire – one of the few decent Upper West Side hotels

  • The warm and cozy bar. This is around midday.

  • Whaddaya mean I can’t get a drink at this time of day??

  • The fabulous Lincoln Center is directly across the road

  • The lobby (and bar beyond) at the Empire

Details

Day 18 – W hotel, Union Square

This was definitely a morning of two halves.

Firstly, the hotel. The W chain is a trendy bunch. I had an appointment near Union Square at lunch so it seemed a good choice. The hotel sits on the north east corner on Fifth Avenue and its public spaces are done in the green-brown-silver colour scheme that seems particularly prevalent at the moment. Not offensive by any means but one can pretty much foresee how tired it will look two years’ hence.

For some reason I ordered red velvet pancakes. See photo. They were approximately the size of my iPad. They were beautiful to behold but were sufficient for three meals, rather than one. The writing seemed hard going for some reason (yesterday the muse had struck fast and prodigally), and then things went from sluggish to a grinding halt as I was more than momentarily distracted.

45 minutes into Roger’s latest adventures, 6 girls walked into the lobby. They were all dressed alike in white sneakers, cut-off blue jeans, white shirts, pink scarves with their (long brunette) hair curled within an inch of its life. They sat down not far from me and then a minute later another 6 appeared, then approximately 20 more, then more and more until roughly 40 matching girls sat squished around me. They giggled and chatted loudly and took photos of themselves and commented how nice my red velvet pancakes looked. Being the gentleman I am, I said, “help yourselves” for I’d had my fill and never thought they’d take up the offer anyway. Well, they did. And with gusto. With my mouth open I watched as one after the other devoured what was left of my breakfast. They passed it around, giving me the thumbs up, while I kept a firm grip on my coffee cup.

It was impossible to work under such circumstances. Each time one would say, ‘I hope we’re not disturbing you’, I’d simply smile and look back at the screen and try to concentrate. Which I had trouble doing, particularly when a small group of the lovely ladies who hadn’t managed to find a seat started dancing to the funky music that was piping through the lobby speakers.

It was not an unpleasant morning by any stretch of the imagination, but once they all left, it took me a good 30 minutes to refocus and resume relating the adventures of a 14 year-old, very chaste schoolboy.

Lowest hourly word count ever.

Today’s word count: 1321

Word count to date: 45,151

Oh, just in case you were wondering what was going on, they were filming an ad for a TV series starring Andi McDowell called ‘Cedar Cove’.

Click here

  • The hotel from the park. Romantic looking, no?

  • My gorgeous red velvet pancakes (before they disappeared)

  • The first girl to eat my breakfast

  • More girls having fun with my breakfast. Such fun.

  • Just a few of the 70-plus girls who filled the hotel lobby, most of whom ate some of my breakfast

  • The author wondering if it was all a dream.

Details

Day 19: Book Cadillac, 1114 Washington Ave, Detroit

You could stand in front of this hotel and photograph it and think you were in New York or Washington or Chicago. But turn around and you’ll see urban decay which needs to be seen to be believed. The entire block opposite (and that includes a 35 storey historic skyscraper, the Book Building) is vacant. Trees growing from the roofs. At night, look down Washington Ave, which should be a glorious, grand boulevard, and you’ll see the stop lights flashing amber continually. They don’t even bother to change them to red and green there are so few vehicles. Or it costs too much. Detroit is broke. In fact, it’s worse than that; Detroit – at least downtown – is absolutely shattered.

This hotel is as historic as it gets for Detroit and I hope it survives. It’s big (when it opened in 1924 it was the tallest in the world), it’s pleasant enough (it’s a mock-Renaissance which has been remodeled nicely enough into a modern style) and it’s hosted everyone from gangsters to US Presidents. A slip inside my bar menu (another evening writing session, dear readers) claimed the hotel had hosted every US President since 1924. Quite a claim.

I can’t compare this writing experience with any other. I was comfortably settled, the muse was a trite sluggish but I’d had a mega-busy day, and a glass of average Argentinian Malbec was at hand, but outside was a wilderness. Block after block of boarded up businesses, vast empty carparks, many homeless sleeping on the street benches, no shops (seriously), and those flashing amber lights. I finished my work, took the photos, and was solicited as I was leaving.
Detroit’s a troubled city at the moment.

Here’s the hotel’s official website, but I just want to say to the photographer, ‘Dude, context. Context.’: http://www.bookcadillacwestin.com

Today’s word count: 1201
Word count to date: 46,352

  • The most historic hotel in Detroit. That skyscraper across the road is abandoned

  • I took this earlier in the day. Every building in the picture (other than the hotel) is abandoned.

  • My gorgeous wife on the streets of Detroit – margarita in a can in hand

  • The Author ever-watchful. This ain’t New York

  • Every US President since 1924 has visited the Book Cadillac

Details

Day 20 – Roosevelt Hotel
45 East 45th St, New York

Very nice-ish.
This place is another of the old elegant (and big), hotels located mid city. A stone’s throw from Grand Central, I’ve walked past it and never noticed it though it’s vast enough taking the whole block facing Fifth Avenue. Sure enough, it looks pretty nice in these photos, but there’s a slightly faded air about the place. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a long, long way from the ghastly conditions of the Pennsylvania Hotel (see Day #12) but it lacks the polish of the Waldorf Astoria or the Plaza. Perhaps it’s the Starbucks coffee they serve in the lobby delivered to you in Starbucks branded paper cups with a gentle, ‘Cream and sugar are over there. Sir.’

That said, I enjoyed my time at the place, though productivity was rather dormant at first. I found it hard after three weeks away to get back in the swing of things (my last post was in Detroit, you’d recall). I found I couldn’t remember what had been happening. It didn’t help that I accidentally opened a file over a month old and found myself reading something from Act 1 (‘Hang on. I was sure I’d gotten past this!’)
But once I recalled what was going on, Roger and co were soon back into the swing of things and the word count – helped I’m sure by that paper cup be-vesseled Starbucks coffee – ticked over satisfactorily.

The Roosevelt, not surprisingly, is named after one Teddy R. and there are plenty of portraits of the great man about the place, though hidden away in the lesser travelled corners of the hotel. Him with his family. Him on his horse. As a young lad. If you’re a fan of the naturalist/philosopher/statesman/’cowboy’ explorer then this is the place for you.
If Jennifer Lopez is more your bag though, well you won’t be disappointed here either. J. Lo’s seminal flick, where she starred opposite Mr On-Again-Off-Again-Never-Quite-Fulfilled-His-Promise, Ralph Fiennes, that classic ‘Maid in Manhattan’, was set here.

Conrad Hilton bought the place in 1943 and even though he also owned the Plaza and the Waldorf-Astoria made it his home. It was also the first hotel to have leased storefronts on its sidewalks – rather than lounges or restaurants – which is a surprising feature of many big New York hotels. It’s rather odd, IMO, to discover a pharmacy or grocery store next to the entrance of a magnificent hotel.

I must say, it felt great to be back in the incredible buzz of New York. I foresee skyrocketing word counts in the weeks to come.
(I had the meatballs for lunch with an iced tea, in case you were wondering.)

Today’s word count: 2115
Word count to date: 48,467

  • A dead President utilised as security. Not common in my experience.

  • Myself, slightly unnerved by the threat of Teddy ‘watching me’

  • I worked (and dined, of course) in the alcove on the left

  • President Roosevelt and family.

  • Guy Lombardo from the long lost Big Band era

  • The uninspiring exterior and streetscape. It’s pretty much all retail.

  • Roosevelt meatballs and iced-tea

Details