May 11, 2013Edmonton

Okay, first of all, don't mess with jetlag, especially if you're old like me. Three days into this odyssey and I'm still falling asleep at the dinner table, napping at noon, out cold by 10 o'clock. Edmonton is seven hours behind Dublin. So far this feels like a 'stumbling around shaking the gravedirt off my shoulders and eating brains' kind of tour, but I'm hoping I'll perk up eventually.

Edmonton is warm and sunny, and there are actual bunny rabbits frolicking on the lawns beside my sister's house.

On my first day I walked past four churches to get to the local stripmall, where I succumbed to nostalgia and ordered a poutine from Mary Brown's. If you're not familiar with this death-defying snack, it consists of fries smothered in salty gravy and topped with cheese curds, or in this case, just a mound of finely shredded cheese product. I ate it. I liked it. But then a tight band of horror constricted around my heart, and I wondered if I'd ever make it home. Don't mess with poutine either.

poutineMore horror followed as I found out that a Calgary bookclub which had initially agreed to take on Cinnamon Toast was now refusing. The head of the club had discovered that my protagonist, Stephen, is the kind of boy who wants to kiss other boys right on the lips, and so thought the choice was 'too controversial' and 'wouldn't appeal to a general audience'. On one hand, this was not a big deal I wasn't sure how I would have found the time to come and talk to this club anyway. But I was also mystified and a little alarmed. In Ireland grannies and church ministers have read my novel and liked it. Is this an early taste of the Canadian reaction to Cinnamon Toast? I hope not.

Then yesterday I went to my first 'event', which involved hanging out at Audrey's Bookstore on Jasper Avenue for an hour and making myself available for chatting and signing to anyone who wandered in. But in reality people who step into their favourite book haunt on their lunch break aren't expecting to be confronted with a grinning, first-time author the moment they open the door, and most of them backed away from me like I was selling Scientology. A few people did pluck up the courage to chat, but only after I stopped with the hard-sell friendliness and pretended to be busy doing something else. Meanwhile, my niece Alice Brown had a good time pulling all the cards out of her mother's wallet and spreading them on the floor and hiding them - but so cutely! Alice Brown is incredibly cool. Audrey's Bookstore is a fine place to browse as well.

As I left the store I realised that I'd forgotten to call a taxi, and although this was the city centre, I couldn't find one anywhere. I saw a yellow cab parked in the distance, walked three long city blocks to find it, then stood yelling and gesturing by the window as the driver stared demurely into his morning paper and ignored me. Back at Jasper Avenue I tried and failed for several minutes to get anything taxi-like to notice me. Then a white pick-up truck pulled up to the curb. 'We'll give you a lift. This is a scab-cab!' the driver giggled. Why the hell not? So I got taken for a nice truck ride by Donny B and his wife, who got me home in twenty minutes and charged me fifteen bucks, and in the process I got to hear all about somebody's cousin's brother who went out to China looking to get laid and ended up married. Love comes to us all.

More bookstore visits on Monday morning - I'll be at the University of Alberta bookstore from 10 a.m. if you're around - and then it's on to Calgary.

I feel another travelling song coming on...


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In Canada...or try here. Or go independent.

"...astonishingly good....a juicy coming-of-age story...also an important read." The Globe and Mail

"...poignant...heart-wrenching. This stunning debut will surely appeal to both teenage readers and adults." Quill & Quire, starred review

"Witty, devastating, with a melancholy humour..." Sunday Business Post

"...page-turning, top drawer stuff..." BGE Book Club

"...warm, witty, heartfelt and utterly engaging..." The Irish News

"A stunning debut. I loved it." The Irish Examiner