As I pack my bags and leave Brooklyn, it is with a great deal of sadness. I was dreading this trip, yet now I'm at the end of it I realise I have had such a good time.
My day yesterday saw me walk 16,000 steps traversing the sleepy streets of South Brooklyn hunting out all of the independent bookstores nestled in amongst the literally thousands of dry cleaners and dog parlours there seem to be here.
There is a palpable quietness in Brooklyn, less noise and buzzing energy than in Manhattan. for that reason it has proven itself to be the perfect 'toe in the water' for me to test my independence.
So, to the practicalities of getting around with partial sight in a place I don't know. Well, it wasn't as hard as I thought it was going to be. Firstly, there are literally hundreds of Starbuck cafes with their free Wifi. I hovered (I think the American word is actually loitered) outside countless of these places stealing their free connections to locate myself on SatNav. In fact, the funny little blob on my phone's map moved as I walked regardless of Wifi, so mostly I knew where I was. Now, that got me to thinking. It has dawned on me over the last few days how much I don't navigate myself around anymore. My husband and I have divided roles – we always have had. I cook, sort the kids and the house – and he hunts. We are the typical hunter-gatherer family. I mean I work too – I've written a book ! but in really basic terms we do fit into these roles. When we travel he is the one with the maps, deftly navigating us around whatever foreign parts we're in. I'm the one who has packed water and snacks. But, this trip might have just has changed that.
Yesterday's adventure took me to 6 Brooklyn bookstores, with the sole intention of finding my book. I was kind of following this helpful article. My first stop was Books Are Magic on Smith Street. I have to admit, this wasn't very hard as it was around the corner from where I was staying! Its a lovely airy bookshop with wooden floors and a very welcoming atmosphere. Sadly, the young and trendy assistant told me they didn't stock my book, but she did give me Emma the owner's email (who I promptly wrote to !) I also noted there was a book launch on that night (serendipity no less).
Next stop was Greenlight bookstore which was a larger shop. The apologetic assistant there also told me they didn't stock my book, but when I asked for a cafe to work in recommended the place opposite. I sat down in this cafe, somewhat browbeaten, but also determined. In the space of two hours I managed to do a huge edit on the new book proposal I have been battling with recently. I also fired off emails to several Podcasters based in Brooklyn (having read another cool article here) – telling them I was here in town and available ! Hugely galvanised at my enormous productivity I set off again. It was around 29 degrees so I was pretty hot, but I kept to the shady parts of the street to avoid the worst of the heat. Navigating the enormous roads has been a particularly onerous challenge here. I have found myself waiting for others to start crossing first – not trusting I can see the little 'man' light – terrified I might have got it wrong. One time, I was scuttling across one particularly wide-spanning road when an enormous red truck came straight at me. I yelped, but then realised he had to stop for me. I made it to the other side sweating and somewhat panic stricken, but relieved I hadn't been squashed.
My next stop was Community bookshop on 7th Avenue. This was a dark and quite musty bookshop, with piles of new books blocking the shelves. It would have been impossible to mooch around here surreptitiously, so I found myself blurting out the 'I've just popped in to see if you have my book…' spiel. They didn't. By now I was feeling quite disheartened, particularly as this last assistant was clearly very busy and didn't really have time for an unknown author whose book they didn't stock. However, as I stood back outside, I knew Barnes and Noble was only down the road, and although not an independent, it definitely stocked my book !
On the way there a polite young man asked me to test out his iced teas, which was a refreshing break, and spurred me on. I arrived at Barnes and Noble to find a modern glass building with trendy chocolates and candles for sale alongside shelves of books. My book however, was nowhere to be found. Eventually giving in and looking it up on a wall-mounted screen I saw that the 'one' copy they had was downstairs under 'P' in biography. Heading downstairs (having to go up or down an escalator for a newly published author is death for sales) I finally found it, but it was spine-side out and totally hidden away. Muttering that my book was a memoir – not a biography I quickly left.
I nearly gave up then. It was 5pm, and whilst I'd had a productive writing day, this book promotion lark was not going well. I sighed and decided to brave a Subway ride back to Court Street. Popping out of the subway ten minutes later I felt emboldened that I had managed to navigate the myriad of subway lines by myself, and decided to visit the last Barnes and Noble bookstore on my list.As I walked towards the storefront I could see a large window with everyone else's books proudly displayed for all to see. Sighing I wandered past – just a tiny bit hopeful. However, as I have not found my book displayed in a single bookstore window to date, I wasn't hopeful. But, miracle upon miracle – there it was – shouting out like all the other books ! Utterly delighted I shrieked and whirled around hopeful to catch someone's – anyone's eye so I could tell them this amazing news. Of course, this was New York, so everyone just stared at the sidewalk. Rushing inside the delights didn't end there. My book was on the first table in the store – prize position ! What's more – there was a veritable collection of them ! Darting over to the manager – a brusque young man in a checked shirt, I explained I was the author and did he want me to sign the books? Shrugging he said sure thing. As his colleague collected up all of the books they had I babbled on excitedly. I think my enthusiasm must have spilled over for he began to thaw and even suggested he took a picture of me to share. Which of course I did.
Later that evening my friend Sophie and I went to the book launch for Michael Turkell's book Acid Trip. It was an highly entertaining talk, and opened my eyes to the enormous history and complexities of vinegar making and what's more – the weird world of vinegar drinking. It was one of those topics I didn't know anything about, but I was so glad to find out about. I even managed to connect with the owner of Books are Magic, so we'll see if my book appears in her bookstore !
The final end to the day came in the form of three replies to my earlier emails. All of the podcasters were keen to discuss an interview…I couldn't really have asked for more.
I realised at the end of that day how many hurdles I had overcome; some more obvious than others. As I watched the manager in Barnes and Noble stick on 'signed by author' stickers I could see what an important lesson I had just learnt. Never, ever, ever give up.
Vanessa Potter published Patient H69: The Story of my Second Sight through Bloomsbury in July this year, which she's still in shock about. She's more in shock though about being nominated for an Inspiring Woman Award ! If you fancy voting for her online you can do so here. Her Twitter page is here.