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 21 – Marriott Marquis
1535 Broadway.

“If you want to make an omelette, you’ve got to break some eggs.”
So said that doomed Robespierre and broken eggs come to mind when you dig into the story behind the massive Marriot Marquis.

This place has no historical literary associations whatsoever that I can uncover. Type ‘Marriott Marquis Great Authors’ into Google and you won’t be overwhelmed. However, try ‘Marriott Marquis Historic Theatre Destruction’ and you’ll find yourself in much more fertile soil. You see, no less than five old Broadway theatres were demolished to build this 2000 room space-age monster. When it opened (way back in 1985 when Bobby Brown ruled the airwaves) Times Square was nasty, nasty and so the city was keen to try to turn it around. Demolishing five theatres was part of that plan.

As such, I like to think working here is true to the intention of writing the new novel in an artistic space (the ghosts of five theatres and countless performances surely can’t but help the muse). Plus the views are kinda amazing.
Yes, it was Saturday night and time to head into the office so I chose this place – right in the middle of Manhattan madness. New York gets a million visitors a week and most of them end up in Times Square. At night the place glows for blocks around (we can see it from our pad on 85th Street – that’s 40 blocks away) and sure enough if you want to experience the true city that never sleeps, Times Square is it. Goulburn this ain’t.

And so it was I headed off at 9pm, iPad in my man-bag, rode the elevator to the 48th floor, ordered my Blue Moon (a perfectly acceptable local wheat beer), and clocked on. As I rotated in the sky watching the lightning storms over Jersey, the hours spun by and Roger Spoffin came to life.
Productive night, you ask? Well, who cares really, but the answer’s, ‘Yes. Good enough’. Hourly word count was more than acceptable and incidentally, the novel ticked over 50,000 words to date.

When I’d had enough, I rode the elevator back down to the street. As if from Mount Olympus, I descended from the lofty heights back to the grit and lights and rain-soaked streets and of course, New York was still abuzz. It’s never let me down yet.

Today’s word count: 2086
Word count to date: 50,553

  • The massive, massive space-station-like Marquis Marriott.

  • Looking for the barman who served my beer with an orange slice.

  • The vast Marquis Marriott rising up out of Gotham. It was raining too.

  • The incredible interior.

  • My taxi – about to whisk me through the wet streets of Gotham.

Details

Days 22, 23 & 24
Washington Square Hotel
Gansevort Hotel
The Peninsula

104 days of summer vacation is not something to laugh about. I had to restrain myself from throwing my arms in the air and yelling ‘Freedom!’ when our three treasures finally went back to school. It’s hard to sit writing in hotel lobbies with three children buzzing around. Now, the summer gone, I could begin hitting the hotels again and by week’s end another 10,000 words had poured forth onto the iPad.
In brief, here’s how it panned out.

Day 22 – Washington Square Hotel
103 Waverly Place

Bob Dylan lived at this little hotel in the early 60’s in room 305, when it was the Hotel Earle. I popped in and walked through to the very casual café at the back, and asked the server for a coffee. He said to help yourself. Tres casual, I thought. Very airport hotel vibe before you catch a shuttle. I grabbed a coffee and a bagel for good measure and set to work. A couple of hours later I tried to pay, and the server asked if I was staying in the hotel. No, says I. Oh, says he, genuinely bemused. Seems the café (and goods within) are just for the guests of the hotel and free of charge. Laughs all round. Not wishing to besmirch my good-natured Australian reputation (I’d just been praised for my honesty, you see), I offered a $5 tip and said, I’d be back tomorrow. Great laughs!
Do try it sometime at the Washington Square Hotel. They’re very pleasant there.
Daily word count: 2935

Day 23 – Gansevort Hotel
18 9th Avenue

Uber hip Chelsea digs. Not far from the Standard and the markets and with cobblestones on each side. Coffee and pancakes, sitting beside a large plate-glass window with the sun streaming in did wonders for the hourly word count, which ended up being the best I’ve ever done. It’s got a fabulous pool on the roof too (but of course I didn’t get to see that).
Daily word count: 2870

Day 24 – The Peninsula
700 5th Avenue

Another Beaux Arts hotel on Fifth Ave directly across the road from the St Regis (which is also a very nice place to work). Wasn’t as productive a morning as usual as I got talking to a chap from Switzerland who was in town to oversee the production of the second series of a tv show. This fellow also ran an orphanage in India and had done all manner of extraordinary things in that country, so I got distracted. But that’s one of the risks the author-at-large faces in New York. You keep running into amazing folk.
Daily word count: 2069

Total word count to date: 58, 427

  • Happily working away with the free food & coffee

  • The Washington Square Hotel

  • NY University film-makers in Washington Square

  • More NYU film-makers in Washington Square

  • Ultra-groovy Gansevort. There’s a v hip pool up there on the roof.

  • Everything is cool. Everything is hip. There’s even a panda bleeding black blood.

  • iPhone iPad Coffee – Gansevort style

  • Bond art in the Gansevort

  • A beautiful, intimate space in the Gansevort

  • The magnificent imposing entrance of the Peninsula

  • The intimate interior of the Peninsula

  • Breakfast at the Peninsula’s long table

  • Nearly bought one. Put a deposit on a Manhattan apartment instead.

Details

Day 25 – The Lexington

511 Lexington Avenue

‘Fly me to the Moon’

It was raining in New York, really raining hard, when I headed from the Rockefeller Center across 5th, Madison and Park, past the Waldorf-Astoria, to the Lexington (on Lexington Avenue, of course, though the folks round here call it ‘Lex’). There’s something about navigating the city in the rain, giving the doorman a nod as you fumble with your umbrella on your way to the lobby of a big New York Art Deco hotel then hearing Frankie (who’s pad was nearby) singing one of his classics. It don’t get cosier than that.

A lot of business gets done at the Lexington. You can just feel it. Highest concentration of iBooks I’ve ever seen outside of an Upper West Side Starbucks. Coffee cups everywhere (take-away believe it or not, as the hotel has no service in the lobby) and heaps of guys and gals in suits interviewing, selling, reading the NYTimes.
But in one corner of the room, Roger Spoffin’s latest exhilarating adventures in the sands of Persia (I daren’t give away too much) took shape. Three hours later, just as I was winding up, Frankie’s smooth voice came back on.

Fly me to the moon? Nah, I’ll take New York.

Today’s word count: 2958

Word count to date: 63,543

  • The Lexington on Lexington

  • My pano hasn’t done the crowd in the lobby any favours

  • Autumn rains outside. Old Blue Eyes playing in the lobby. Perfect

  • Unfortunately, there’s no service in the lobby so I had to drag this in with me

  • Art at the Lexington

  • Relief in the cafe (where I found coffee)

  • In the gents

Details

Day 26 – The Grand Hyatt

East 42 Street

Another massive mid-city hotel but this place holds a special significance for me, as it was the location of the first children’s book writers and illustrators conference I attended in New York.

Way back in Feb of 2013, when we’d been in town barely 24 hours, I headed here for three days with my portfolio tucked under my arm. Back then it was all Widodo the tree kangaroo, but whether it was due to a latent hostility towards marsupials in the target readership, or perhaps his adventures were just a little too cutting edge at the time, or maybe the story just totally sucked, the project got no takers.

So it was with a hint of sadness, I must confess, I re-entered this modern marvel of a hotel. Not only that, but having worked at a Hyatt many years ago, I am always struck by a slightly nostalgic air whenever I see their logo and I remember a simpler, more innocent time. Actually, not that innocent, come to think of it.

Once Roger got underway, however, all nostalgia and marsupial reminisces faded from memory (not unlike Widodo’s particular species one day, should they keep cutting down his habitat. Avoid the palm oil if you can, folks) as the plucky 14 year-old hero continued his epic quest against the forces which will do him harm (and an awful lot of London too, if I can reveal so much of the upcoming tale so soon).

Today’s word count: 2158

Word count to date: 63,543

  • A great shot of a very modern hotel.

  • The vast, stretching lobby.

  • The Author, at breakfast.

  • Grapefruit brûlée – one of the most amazing breakfasts I’ve ever had.

  • Jaume Plensa’s sculptures adorn the lobby

  • Looking up at the lobby from the entrance on 42nd Street.

Details

Day 27 – Bronx Opera House Hotel & (former) Concourse Plaza Hotel
436 E 149th St, Bronx & Grand Concourse and 161st St, Bronx

An historic day, for a couple of reasons.
It occurred to me that so far all the hotels that have given birth to Roger Spoffin’s latest epic adventure have been located on Manhattan (save for the Book Cadillac in Detroit). There are good reasons for this, obviously. But the rest of New York has been around for a while too.
So I Googled ‘Historic hotels the Bronx’ and realized immediately why I haven’t been heading up there whenever I wanted to put pen to paper. But there were two. Kinda.

The Bronx Opera House opened in 1913 and in its early years featured Houdini and the Marx Brothers (the comedians – not the self-proclaimed hero of the working classes and his little known, less despotic sibling). It was the centre of culture in the Bronx. But this was a long, long time ago. It survived until around 2004 as a church, but like much of South Bronx had fallen into decay. The hotel opened only last year and I headed there full of hopes to see an historic gem, converted to new use, perhaps the lobby where the stage was, the pool in the orchestra pit. No luck. All that remains is the façade. And the name over the door with a few posters inside. The link to the past is tentative.
Nevertheless, the dudes on the front desk were very cool and after I’d explained what I was there for they let me in to help myself to complimentary coffee in the ‘guests-only’ breakfast bar (memories of the Washington Square Hotel came flooding back).

Then, I walked up to the Concourse Plaza Hotel. This former luxury hotel on the hill above Yankee Stadium was opened in 1922 and famously hosted a young JFK in 1960 when he was the Democratic candidate for the Presidency. But it was already on a downward slide then (which wasn’t helped a decade later by the catastrophic deterioration of the neighbourhood – type ‘Burning of the Bronx’ into Google to see what I mean). It’s been a nursing home since 1974, and not surprisingly it’s a nursing home that doesn’t permit random authors to write Middle Grade fantasy adventure novels in its former lobby. No matter. I managed to physically enter the building – through the ‘buzz me in’ security door but that was as far as I could go. And, unlike the former Hotel Theresa in Harlem, there was no White Castle for me to dine in. So, I worked in the park opposite and let the shadow of the hotel pass over me.

So, three ‘First’s’ were achieved that day.
First New York hotel outside of Manhattan.
First time I wrote at two hotels in the same day.
First time I didn’t actually write a single word inside a hotel.

Today’s word count: 2587

Word count to date: 66,130

  • The Bronx Opera House Hotel. Pretty much what you see here is all that remains of the original opera house.

  • The Author enjoying his complimentary coffee.

  • The news that morning. First strike inside Syria.

  • An original poster in the lobby.

  • Many famous performers featured at the Bronx Opera House.

  • The Concourse Plaza from the very pleasant park where I worked on a beautiful Autumn morning.

  • Panorama from the Bronx courthouse on the left, Yankee Stadium and the Plaza Concourse Hotel far right.

  • Guests no longer check out of this place.

  • The insalubrious entrance.

Details

Day 28 – New York Public Library
Cnr. Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street.

I know this isn’t a hotel.

But if there were ever a place in New York where an author can feel all inspired, and overcome, and utterly humbled, surely this place is it. The names chiselled into the marble in the foyer (yes, literally chiselled and literally marble) are enough to make your mouth drop open. Here is the history of New York – the men and women who built this city physically, artistically, socially, you name it.
And the wonders come to you before you even set foot inside as you stand on the front steps between the famous lions (named ‘Patience’ and ‘Fortitude’, how apt for the author with a WIP) and gaze around knowing that, yes, here they filmed Ghostbusters.

The plan was to go to the famous Rose reading room – the largest in the building at nearly two blocks long. However, it’s closed for a major renovation. ‘At least a year,’ the security guard told me. But, trust me, in a building of this size there are more than a few options. Opposite the entrance to the Rose room is the delightful Edna Barnes Salomon room, so that became the office for the day.

It goes without saying that you can’t order coffee and grapefruit brulee at a place like this and it might not surprise you to learn I’m not a man who’d be seen carrying a Thermos (unless in some kind of emergency, the likes of which I can’t imagine at the moment). So it was a ‘dry write’. But it went well. Perhaps it was the countless portraits staring down at me (either urging me on, or snarling, ‘you call this working?’ I can’t be sure which). Or, maybe it was the still grandeur of the place (marble has a strange, sense-of-history effect on me). In any case, the words flowed freely. Roger Spoffin got himself into trouble then out of it again and it was only the rumbling of my stomach that made me cease and descend those marble stairs and go searching for a burrito.

Today’s word count: 3275

Word count to date: 69, 405

  • ‘Patience’ outside the library. Imagine what his eyes have beheld.

  • It wasn’t until these guys turned up in 1984 that New Yorkers really started to notice the New York Public Library.

  • I can say with confidence the Ashfield Public Library doesn’t have doors like these.

  • The entrance to my office for the day.

  • The Author – with WIP – coming to terms with the lack of coffee service in the Edna Barnes Salomon reading room.

  • Beautiful Bryant Park right behind the library.

Details

Day 29 – Bossert Hotel, 98 Montague Street, Brooklyn and
the Hotel St George, 100 Henry Street, Brooklyn.

Brooklyn ain’t Canberra (but it’s still pretty nice).

This week the New York Times wrote a piece on an OECD study that rated my hometown, Canberra, as the best place in the world to live. Based on certain criteria such as the likelihood of being shot (Mexico faired very well there), access to non-corruptible Government officials (Mexico faired poorly), and the proximity to abundant marsupials (Mexico faired poorly again), it made me reflect on one area where Canberra does very well (and New York not so much) which is cleanliness. New York is determined to hang onto its grunge factor, which is part of its charm many say.

All of this is just to say that this part of Brooklyn is nice. Not all of Brooklyn is nice (head to Coney Island for a shock – particularly if you’re silly enough to tell your kids, ‘it’ll be a bit like Disneyland’). But this area just south of where the Brooklyn Bridge touches down is well looked after with many streets lined with brownstones and a heap of funky shops. And here, are two historic hotels, neither of which is currently open.

The Bossert is under renovation and will soon reopen as a 5 Star hotel. It was a beautiful place in its day and by all accounts will be so again. As the crow flies, the Bossert is closer to Wall Street than Greenwich Village, but there’s a river in the way and that makes all the difference. Back in the 1800’s some predicted that Brooklyn would be where the New York of the future would be centred as, with Long Island stretching beyond it for 100 miles, it could expand forever. Manhattan, one cross-eyed prophet predicted, would eventually be filled up. The thing is, it turned out everyone wants to be on Manhattan. You need a Manhattan address. Manhattan keeps growing therefore, but up – not out. That’s where you’ll find everything that matters – the finance sector, the local Government, the cultural icons, the top restaurants and hotels, the famous shops. Everything else, I’ve found, tends to identify itself by its proximity to Manhattan. I don’t think you can understate the psychological effect of Manhattan’s physical nature as an island.

I worked in a café opposite the Bossert, sitting on the street in the wind, then walked north to the Hotel St George. Incredibly, it was at one point the largest hotel in New York. It took up an entire block and boasted the largest indoor salt-water pool in America. Who builds New York’s largest hotel in Brooklyn, you’d have to ask. It is so vast it would have to offer very low prices in order to even remotely fill its rooms. It sits right on top of a subway and you’re at Wall Street in two stops, but Manhattan has plenty of cheap hotels too. It’s no surprise The St George is no longer a hotel and is used mainly for student accommodation. I worked across the street in a tres funky café called Vineapple (on Pineapple street, believe it or not) which had the highest concentration of MacBooks I’d seen outside the Upper West Side.

I wish the Bossert well when it reopens, it will certainly be the hotel jewel in the crown in this area. It’s not that far from Manhattan either. But there’s a river in the way.

Today’s word count: 2537 (pretty poor for 4 hours IMO)

Word count to date: 71,942

  • Closest cafe to the Bossert I could find.

  • The Bossert – a while ago.

  • The Bossert on the day I visited.

  • View from the Bossert towards Manhattan (a while ago).

  • The Hotel St George – at least one corner of it.

  • Another corner of the Hotel St George.

  • The Hotel St George in its glory days taking up an entire block of Brooklyn.

  • St George hotel pool – once the largest indoor salt water pool in the US. Most luxurious in the world?? Hmmm.

Details

Day 30 – The Royalton
44 W44th Street

And then came Ebola.

Here’s a multiple-choice question for you.
Imagine you’ve been caring for Ebola victims in West Africa. You return home and start feeling nauseous and fatigued with a rising fever. Do you:

  1. Stay in bed and try to get better
  2. Go to a hospital
  3. Catch the subway and go bowling

You can imagine the topic of discussion in New York this week and the general sense of bewilderment at the circumstances surrounding Case #1. After all, it’s only the most populous city in the country. But New Yorkers don’t strike me as hysterical types and everything seems pretty normal around the place. Anyway, as my doorman says to pretty much everything, ‘Waddaya gonna do??’

Keep writing’s the answer. And so I should because Act 2 (of 4) just won’t end. I’m nearly there and it is the longest of the Acts, but on and on it goes. Acts 3 and 4 will tumble forth in an avalanche in comparison.

In the Royalton, I was back at 44th Street where it all began (at the Algonquin). The Royalton has no literary history I can uncover, but it is used for a lot of film premieres. My very chatty waiter told me Bill Murray’s latest flick had been presented there last week (and Bill too). We both agreed ‘Groundhog Day’ was his best work. (Which reminds me of his co-star Andie MacDowell and the 70-odd lookalikes I ran into in the W Hotel one morning who ate my red velvet pancakes.)

Nothing much to report about the Royalton. Very dark, timber lobby. The sort of place to disappear into in the middle of the day. Would be a lot of fun at night, I imagine. Maybe I should try that as hourly word count was pretty average (again).

Today’s word count: 2533 (over 4 hours this ain’t great)

Word count to date: 74,475

  • The Royalton

  • Cover of the New York Times this morning.

  • The Author with WIP (and coffee, of course)

  • Pano of the lobby which stretches from 44th to 43rd streets. This is at 9am.

  • Breaking Bad in the Royalton.

  • Location of the Royalton on 44th Street.

Details

Day 31 – Bryant Park Hotel
40 West 40th Street

How sad is this???

I had hoped to finish Draft 1 of Roger’s 2nd fabulous adventure here in New York. But we leave next week and I’m still in the throes of Act 2 (nearly complete but not quite). So this is, most likely, probably, barring a miracle, the last writing post from NYC. Sincere sob.

And there’s a poetic symmetry to it all too as I began today on 44th Street ordering my coffee (macchiato, if you must know) opposite the Algonquin where, way back whenever it was, I first put fingers to iPad and began Book 2. Now those words, those new characters, those spell-binding scenes that were first realised that day are available as a teaser at the end of Book 1 (which launched last week, in case you hadn’t heard). They’re truly alive.

I have so many regrets. I never worked in Staten Island (my doorman, who commutes from there assures me in his ‘glass-half-empty’ Montenegrin way that there are no hotels on Staten Island). I never worked in Queens. Only twice did I go out at night and struggle (though it wasn’t really that bad) with writing in the dark in a hotel bar with a Manhattan by my elbow.
But it was always a lofty ambition and I’m glad I did it. Roger Spoffin #2 will be all the more vibrant, quirky and totally un-dull and vapid because of it. Remember this? The morning I worked in Harlem, in the White Castle burger joint, hours after the cops arrested 150 gang members around the corner and all the clientele could discuss nothing else. Remember the W Hotel on Union Square where the sudden apparition of 70 (yes, I’m not kidding) girls in the lobby dressed as Andie MacDowell, sitting next to me, eating my red velvet pancakes, giggling, left me stunned for an hour after they left, wondering at the beauty of creation. Do you recall The Plaza, and me trying not to listen to the Texan ladies beside me reflecting on their botox-shopping holiday.
Roger Spoffin #2 will be all the richer for it. You, dear reader, will raise an eyebrow here and there and wonder, ‘How on Earth did he think of that?!?’

So, to the Bryant Park Hotel. One of my favourite parts of New York. A beautiful park; the library; Sixth Avenue and a little, hip hotel waiting for an author to step inside. The day at the office was brief – my shortest ever – for I had a friend to meet for lunch. The word count was about 8 words per hour shy of my average. And the food was average too. But I took my time packing up, knowing full well that this was goodbye to New York. A big part of me wanted the iPad to glow forever.

I need to end here with a thank you for all who have been following this writing quest over the past 6 months. I need not tell you writing is a lonesome business. We have no colleagues to joke or spar with. The exchanges with the servers (as they’re called here) are flippant and brief. But then the iPad fires up and the world of imagination once again sweeps over me. It’s a privilege to write.
It’s always nice to hear your comments on these posts. I’m glad you read them and enjoy them. I have no idea where the next one will come from, but come it will.

Yours, Kenton

Today’s word count: 1148
Word count to date: 75,623

  • The Bryant Park Hotel

  • Last post from NYC

  • Yep, that’s red leather in the lobby.

  • ‘Most Romantic Hotel’ in New York – and I discover it in my last week!!

  • The Bryant Park with winter decorations.

  • The beautiful ice-rink in the park opposite.

Details

Day 32 – Grand Hotel, Stockholm

Stockholm in mid winter. 4, maybe 4 and a half, hours of sunlight.
It’s definitely more Stieg Larsson than Roger Spoffin (though oddly Roger wears a dragon amulet – not tattoo, however – early on in Book 2. There’s a little teaser for you.)

The Grand Hotel is Stockholm’s most famous. It’s sumptuous and in a beautiful location overlooking the Royal Palace but from an author’s perspective the thrill comes from its links with the Nobel Prize (and of course there’s one of those for literature). Attendees of the famous ceremony have been guests of the hotel since 1901, when the awards began, so if you know someone who’s won the Nobel Prize, odds on they’ve stayed here. A little of all that genius has to rub off, I like to think.

While it might seem the obvious location in which to write, there is another very serious contender in town. The Rival. Never heard of it? It belongs to one Göran Bror Andersson – aka Benny – who founded ABBA. As an Australian (and a bit of a musician too, I like to think) who grew up in the ABBA era and fell in love with all of them, the thought of sitting in Benny’s piano lounge with him pounding out ‘Knowing me, knowing you’, or, ‘Fernando’, or (dare I even entertain the thought) the heart-wrenching ‘Winner takes it all’, almost had me heading to the Rival. However, my Swedish hosts assured me that it would be highly unlikely that Benny would be tinkling the ivories on the day in question (or any day, in fact), so I went instead to the Grand.

In any case, sitting in the same room with Benny playing ‘Winner takes it all’ would have ensured no writing whatsoever was done. One can’t type on a tear-stained iPad.

As it was, Roger’s adventures progressed very satisfactorily.

Today’s word count: 1421

Word count to date: 77,044

  • The Grand Hotel, early afternoon.

  • The Author and WIP – and a northern, herbal, heart-warming tonic.

  • The lobby of the Grand Hotel with Christmas decorations.

  • The King and Queen of Sweden – quite a while ago.

  • The view as I left.

  • Beautiful northern sunsets (at 2:30pm!!)

Details