Alexander Gordon Smith

Archive for the Category Furnace 4


US Tour Part 5: Yo Donovan… We Did It!!

I have to confess I didn’t know much about Philadelphia before heading there. In fact, it was the city on the tour I was least familiar with. All I really knew about it came from the movies, especially from one of my favourite (and one of the most awesome) films of all time: Rocky. But Rocky wasn’t the reason I was in the city – I was here for the Public Library Association’s annual conference!

I flew in on Wednesday, a very pleasant 5-hour flight (I think I’m actually getting used to being up in the air, I never thought I’d say that)!! I barely had time to duck in and out of the hotel, though, because I had my first event lined up for that evening! I was doing a reading and a signing in a beautiful bookshop called Children’s Book World, along with fellow writers Gregg Olsen (author of literally dozens of books, including the brand new Envy, which looks amazing) and Siobhan Vivian (author of The List, amongst other things, which again looks like a fantastic book). Unfortunately, having been up since five, having endured another time zone shift, and having a very short-tempered Turkish driver who kept yelling “You be late! You be late!” (even though there turned out to be plenty of time), I ran out of the hotel and totally forgot that I was supposed to be giving Gregg a ride in my car!!! (Sorry again, Gregg, I can’t apologise enough!!!) I only realised when I got to the shop and asked whether he had arrived yet, whoops!

Anyway, Gregg was an absolutely lovely guy, and very forgiving, and together with the equally wonderful Siobhan we had a fantastic evening. It was a very laid back event, with authors, staff and audience sitting on the floor basically just chatting about books and writing and reading. I love events like that!! I really, really enjoyed chatting to everyone, and luckily I also managed to remember to give Gregg a lift back to the hotel! We popped to the bar for a quick drink afterwards, which was lovely! I want to say a huge thanks to Heather and everyone else at Children’s Book World for such a lovely event! I just wish I had some photos!

To make up for the lack of event photos, here’s one from my hotel window. What a view!!!!!

This was the only hotel I had during the tour which didn't have a view of a wall or an air conditioning vent!!

Thursday was the day of the conference, and what a day it was!!! I got to the enormous convention centre (seriously, it was vast, the escalators were bigger than the ones in the London Underground) at half seven in the morning, and met up with the Macmillan staff. I was soooooo looking forward to meeting them, because although I have been published by Macmillan for two and a half years now I haven’t met the lovely people there, or even spoken to them on the phone (apart from my wonderful publicist Lizzy). It was AMAZING to finally get to know the awesome people who publish my books and who have done such a great job promoting them! They are so cool! A big hi to everyone from Macmillan I met at the PLA conference, especially Wes, Emily, Michelle, Lucy, and Noa!

I was doing a panel event at the conference, along with Gregg, Siobhan and the delightful Gayle Forman, author of If I Stay and Where She Went. We were all scheduled to give a short presentation, then answer some questions. I went first, and it was so much fun. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love librarians. They are the most awesome people, so dedicated to books and so enthusiastic about reading and storytelling. So it was a real pleasure to be able to speak to an audience of over 200 of them! It was brilliant hearing all the other authors talk about their books too, we all had something different to say. Afterwards, we all asked the librarians a question, and I asked them if they had any advice for any of my UK librarian friends who are facing the fight of their lives to keep the libraries open. Thank you so much to everyone who answered, and to those of you who emailed me afterwards, your advice and support is so appreciated! It really was a fantastic event, and I was so honoured to be a part of it. Thanks everyone for coming!!

Me and my Little Book of Monsters at the PLA!

After the presentation I went to my signing booth where I spent a very happy few hours signing books and chatting to librarians. It was such a lovely morning and I met so many cool people! Here is me with one of them!

Me and Lesley (sorry Lesley, I stole this photo off your website)!!

Another great thing about the day was that I finally got to meet my editor, Wes. He is the guy who brought Furnace to the States (so please everyone say a huge thank you to him)!! And he is a thoroughly amazing, interesting, funny and generous man. He took me out for lunch at an Irish bar, and we chatted for ages about the books, about how amazing the ride has been so far and about how excited we are for the future. It really was so good to finally be able to chat to him face to face (in fact, we realised that we had never actually spoken, just emailed, which is a little strange!) and we got on really well. I am so grateful to Wes for signing the Escape From Furnace series, and for working so hard on them, and it was lovely to be able to tell him this in person.

Me with my AWESOME editor Wes!! :-D

Wes and I headed back to the convention centre afterwards for another signing, this time at the booth of the distributors Baker and Taylor. I sold out of books (well, they were free!), which was great, and spent another couple of hours chatting away to all the librarians. Thanks to everyone at Baker and Taylor for hosting me, what a lovely bunch you are! I had an hour in the hotel to freshen up, then it was straight out to dinner with the Macmillan staff and some of the librarians we’d met that day. Librarians, publishers and dinner, how could it get any better?! We dined on spectacular food and talked about everything under the sun (although mainly books and writing and the fight that libraries are facing against ignorant, short-sighted, selfish, pathetic governments). Thanks so much to everyone who came, it was an amazing night!!! I know people were taking photos so I’ll post them if I can find them!!

I slept like a log that night, and woke the next morning bright and early for an event at Ridley High School! It was super fun, and great to meet another bunch of enthusiastic readers and book lovers. There were so many questions at the end, and everyone seemed to enjoy it! Thanks to everyone, especially the librarian Amy for letting me visit, I had a great time! Amy wrote an article about it here! And she also posted me some Ridley Raiders goodies, including a T-shirt, because I am now an honorary Raider, so cool!!

Me and some of the awesome students from Ridley High School!

I had the afternoon free to explore the city, and although Philly is an incredible place with a huge amount of culture and history, there was really only one thing I wanted to do – visit the Rocky steps!!! The steps from the movie actually lead up to the Art Museum, but I didn’t want to see art (even though there was a Van Gogh exhibition on), I wanted to stand in the shoes of the greatest hero ever! It was quite funny, actually, as there were hundreds of people there, but maybe ten of them were in the queue for the museum, the rest were running up the steps and posing by the huge Rocky statue in the museum gardens. I didn’t technically run up the steps, I walked then kind of jumped awkwardly up the last two, but I still felt like a champion! Here are a couple of photos!

Gordy Balboa!!!!

Underneath my hoodie, my body is just as sculpted as that... We may as well be twins.

I had a good wander around afterwards, and ate quite a few Philly cheese steaks (OMG, so delicious)!!! Although I was only there for a couple of days, Philly really was an awesome place and I had a fantastic time! From Philly there was only one stop left on the tour, NEW YORK!!!!!


US Tour Part 4: Furnace vs Alcatraz!

I was so excited to visit San Francisco, it’s such a cool place! I flew in on the Sunday (did I mention the flight from Pasco to Seattle was THE most terrifying flight ever?! The plane was doing a drunken jig for the whole hour) and took a cab straight to my hotel. It was right on the edge of a neighbourhood called the Tenderloin (although I have no idea why it’s called that), which was actually one of the places that people had told me to avoid when I was there because of the… interesting… locals. But I was curious to explore, so I set out for a walk as soon as I got there and everybody seemed very friendly and nice (although quite a few people did ask me if I had any Tylenol, and didn’t seem too impressed when I offered them a Lemsip instead). It was great to explore the city, although I didn’t have too much time because I had a busy few days lined up!

The awesome Martha!

It all started at 6.30 Monday morning, when I was picked up from my hotel by my driver, the wonderful Martha. She drove us up to the Alameda County Juvenile Hall for my first event. This was one of the ones I’d most been looking forward to, and it didn’t disappoint. I met up with the librarian, Amy Cheney, who is a remarkable person. She created the library inside the facility, and has been working non-stop to encourage the boys to read – and by doing so has single-handedly turned many of their lives around. We were due to speak to the youth in maximum security first, as they had been reading the series, but unfortunately they were in lockdown (how ironic is that?!) because there had been a riot the day before. It was such a shame, as it would have been so cool to be able to meet them. But I had two more sessions with the other boys and both groups were amazing. I talked to them about the books, and about how I’d gone off the rails when I was a teenager, how I used to get into fights, how I stole stuff from my parents and from my school, and how I’d failed at school first time round. They were a super audience, attentive and interested and full of questions too. They all came up and shook my hand afterwards. I signed a load of books, some for the library and some that the youth would get to take with them when they are released. And I had a chance to speak to some of the maximum security guys too, although it was brief. Afterwards, in the library, I read some of their creative writing – published in a magazine – and was blown away. There is a huge amount of talent there, and I hope the boys go on to use it (the girls too, although I didn’t get to speak to them). It really was a highlight of the trip, and a real privilege to be able to talk to the guys. Thanks Amy!! Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take any photos inside the facility, but here I am with Amy in the fantastic library!

Me and Super-Amy!! We look a little weird as Amy was trying to teach me a trick to getting rid of my double chin by angling my head in a certain way!!!

Afterwards, Martha took me on a guided trip around San Francisco. It was great to see the sights – especially the incredibly steep hills, and a drive over the Golden Gate Bridge – although it was a whirlwind tour because we were on a deadline! But we did manage to grab a burger in an awesome fifties-style diner. I signed books in half a dozen shops, then we raced up to Berkeley for the second event of the day at Berkeley High School. It’s a lovely school, in an amazingly trendy part of San Francisco, and I spoke to a couple of hundred students in their enormous library. It was great fun!! There is a cool blog post about it here, and a photo of me strutting my stuff (not the best angle, I certainly didn’t do a good job of hiding my double chins in this one)! Thanks so much to Amy again for organising it, and to everyone at Berkeley High for being so awesome!!

Me and my chins doing my show at Berkeley!

To finish up the day, Martha drove me over to Kepler’s Books out in Menlo Park, which is a gorgeous independent book shop. I did an event there to a lovely crowd, signed loads more books, and had a long chat to the lovely Angela (a fellow Brit). I also recorded a little video for Kepler’s website, talking about Furnace 4, which can be found here! Thanks for having me, Angela!!

Tuesday was less busy, but no less fun! I had one event in the morning, at Ida B. Wells High School in the city. I spoke to a couple of classes about writing, about horror, and took a look at their creative writing projects too, which were amazing! Both groups were full of questions (although quite a few were about gangs and weapons!), and it was a nice, informal event with a lot of chatting about cool stuff! It was great to see so much enthusiasm for books and writing! Thanks to Dorothy for being so awesome! Thanks too to Jennifer, who was the contact from the San Francisco Library and who stayed for the show! Afterwards, Martha, Jennifer and I had lunch, then went on to my final San Francisco event at the John O’Connell High School. It was a wonderful hour, with the library practically overflowing. Another fantastic group of students, and so much excitement and enthusiasm. Thanks to everyone – especially Elaine the librarian – for making me feel so welcome!

It was mid-afternoon when we finished, but I had special plans for the rest of the day. I was going to Alcatraz! I couldn’t exactly go on a tour for the Furnace books and not visit the world’s most famous prison!!! And I wanted to see how the place compared to Furnace. Martha dropped me off at the pier and I took the boat out to the island. By this time it was absolutely chucking it down, but the gloomy weather was perfect for such a gloomy place! And it really IS gloomy. Although I don’t think Alcatraz the place could ever really be as bad as Alcatraz the legend – as a prison, it actually had a reputation for being tough but fair – and it was hard to get a true sense of the prison with four hundred other people there, it still had a strange atmosphere about it. The best bit was when, right at the end of the tour, I found myself in an aisle of cells by myself, with nobody else in earshot. Suddenly I got a true sense of the intimidating, haunted (and it’s definitely haunted), bullying atmosphere of the place. I knew that if I was there by myself, at night, something bad would come for me. It’s an amazing place to visit, just make sure you don’t miss the last boat out!! Oh, and take the audio tour, because it’s full of sound effects that really make you feel like you’re stuck in a nightmare!

One thing for sure, though, Alcatraz isn’t anywhere near as bad as Furnace!! For a start there are windows, with probably the best view of San Francisco I had while I was there! Oh, and there are no wheezers, mutant dogs, berserkers, blacksuits, rats or Warden Cross…

Me on the way to Alcatraz, wearing my awesome Bad Teachers biker hat (thanks again Steve!!) I appear to have a seagull stuck to my head...

At least they got a cell to themselves, not like in Furnace!!

When the crowds were gone, Alcatraz was a SPOOKY place. There were ghosts there, no doubt.

And there were DEFINITELY ghosts in here!!

At least the prisoners didn't have to eat slop, they don't know how lucky they were!!!

So another fantastic leg of my US tour, and a wonderful, exciting city that I would recommend to anyone. Oh, and I was so pleased to be able to visit City Lights Books, one of my absolute favourite book shops. I studied the Beats when I was at uni, and have had a love affair with the place since then – and a poster of it in my kitchen for the last ten years. It was awesome to be able to see the shop for real (even though I didn’t actually have time to go in, just five seconds to leap out of the car for a photo)! I want to say another huge thanks to Martha for going above and beyond the call of duty and taking the time to show me so much of the city, you were awesome!!

Next stop, Philly!!





US Tour Part 3: Cavalcade of Awesomeness!!!!!!! :-)

The Cavalcade of Authors, in the Tri-Cities, is the reason I’m over here in the States. It’s an amazing event, created and run by a wonderful woman called Michelle Lane. The idea is to bring together twelve authors and a load of schools for a day of talks, creative writing workshops and author panels. Genius! Michelle got in touch with me last year and asked if I’d like to come over for it, as the Furnace books were popular in the schools. And of course I said yes!!

Read For Life!! That's an order! :-)

So I flew out of Seattle on Tuesday night after my school events, and got picked up from Pasco airport by Lisa, one of the volunteers. She was incredibly enthusiastic, and a perfect introduction to the remarkable energy and excitement of the week. The Cavalcade itself wasn’t until Friday, but I had four school events scheduled before then. The first was at the Southside United Protestant Sanctuary, and it was inside a chapel! It was cool, although I felt a little weird talking about monsters and gore and shooting cow pats in there. The audience, which came from a few different schools, was great, and didn’t seem to mind the setting at all (although I got a few funny looks from the staff when I was talking about my first novel, the one about the man-eating angels)!

After that I headed over the state line into Oregon to talk to the students at the Clara Brownell Middle School in Umatilla. These guys were so awesome!! The event started in the coffee shop across the street from the school, where I met with forty of their keenest readers. We had a great chat about books and writing over coffee, and one student even bought me my first ever Hershey’s bar – thanks again for that!! It was great to be amongst such bright and enthusiastic kids!


Afterwards we all headed back to Clara Brownell and I gave my talk to the whole school. And the best thing was that they presented me with this ENORMOUS thank you card before I left, which was so awesomely cool!! Thanks so much to everyone at the school! Thanks also to Paula and Carol for doing all the driving!

It's almost as big as I am!!!!

There’s a newspaper article about it here, but you have to be signed up to read it. I’ll post a copy!

The day wasn’t over yet. I travelled north again into Washington State to do an evening event at Richland Library, which is a fantastic place. There was a great crowd, full of enthusiastic writers and readers, and it was loads of fun. Thanks to Gavin for inviting me, and to everyone for coming!! To top off a perfect day, I even got to ride in Terry’s bright red Ford Mustang to and from the library. I have always wanted to take a trip in one of these! I was so excited I forgot to take a photo. Thanks Terry!

On Thursday I went to speak at Enterprise Middle School, which was brilliant! To begin with I was interviewed by a student called Andrew, and we had a long chat about writing and books. There was a reporter there too, and his article about the morning can be found here! There are also some photos here!

The Enterprise reaction to my exploding cow poo story, courtesy of the Tri-City Herald!

Afterwards, Michelle and Leslie, the two organisers of Cavalcade, took me out to lunch. I had the choice of pretty much any restaurant, but I think I horrified them by asking to go to Taco Bell. What?! We don’t have them in England!!! It was delicious! Following that, we drove over to Kamiakin High School for my last talk of the week. I spoke to hundreds of students in the main auditorium, and they were an awesome bunch! Afterwards Steve, a librarian and teacher there, presented me with some thank you prizes, including a very rare Kamiakin Chiefs pin, so I was very honoured! He also gave me his hat, emblazoned with the logo of the biker gang he belongs to (the Bad Teachers). He wanted to take me back to the hotel on his motorbike, which would have been great, but he was told not to! I was so disappointed!! But we have now made plans to travel to Sturgis next time I’m in the country, and hang out with bikers all weekend. It will be great! And I did get to try on his cut later in the day! Thanks Steve!

Biker Gordy!!

On Thursday evening the Cavalcade officially began, and I got to meet the other eleven authors. They were (deep breath)… Robin Wasserman (who I met earlier in the week in Seattle), Frank BeddorBlake NelsonRoyce BuckinghamRidley PearsonJanet Lee CareyAlex FlinnVivian Vande VeldePete HautmanColleen Houck and Jim Whiting. I have nothing but amazing things to say about all of them, but if I did then this blog would never end. Suffice to say they were a brilliant bunch, and fascinating to talk to. Read their books!! The authors and event organisers all went to Olive Garden for a meal, and a chance to get to know each other. Then we all went over to Barnes and Noble for a mass signing. Twelve authors all in a row signing books… I think we were all nervously comparing the size of everybody’s lines. But I’m happy to say that there were loads of people there with copies of the Furnace books! It was a truly smashing evening.

So finally Friday rolled around, with a 5.30am wake-up call!! I got picked up an hour later by Lisa, my host for the day, and headed out to Columbia Basin College. Events started at 8, and consisted of four forty-minute long workshops. In order to attend Cavalcade, each student had to have read at least four books from the authors, so everyone there was a dedicated reader! The workshops all went brilliantly, with over a hundred kids in each one! We talked about horror, and how to come up with scary ideas based on our own worst fears, and some of the story ideas you guys came up with were truly chilling! There were some excellent writers in the audience, and I know we’ll be hearing about them in the future. Just remember what I said: never give up on your dreams!!! After the workshops was an author panel, where we answered questions from the huge audience. There were over 600 kids there, which is (I think) the largest group I have ever spoken to!

I was going to get everyone to shout something cool about Furnace, but I didn't get the chance!!

To finish things off there was a signing, which went on for well over an hour – there were still people queueing for books as the school buses were pulling away (I hope no-one got left behind)! I was enjoying it so much that my special red-inked Furnace stamp exploded (I was stamping a little too enthusiastically), making it look like there was blood all over my table (very fitting). Oh, and I spotted a little mistake on my signing sign:

I don't mind, but Darren might!!! :-)

Prizes for guessing which of my favourite authors that is!

The event wrapped up shortly after two, which was a shame as I was up for doing it all over again! It really was such a brilliant day, and just amazing to see so much enthusiasm for books and for reading. I don’t think I have ever seen so many people share such a passion for stories under one roof! I want to say a GINORMOUS THANKS to everyone who attended Cavalcade, especially the students. You guys were all so great!! Good luck with your writing, and remember if you write some scary stories send them to me, I’d love to read them! Oh and extra special congratulations to the short story prize winners!!!!!

I got to hand out the prizes for creative writing, a HUGE congratulations to the winners, I'm looking forward to buying your books in the future!

Also extra special thanks to Lisa, who was my bodyguard during the day (you should have seen her fighting a path through the hordes so I could grab some lunch), to Leslie and Carol and Paula and Steve and the other Cavalcade staff (too many to mention here, sorry, but you were all amazing), and of course Michelle, without who none of this would have happened. Best. Day. Ever!!!!

Oh, and I know loads of pictures were being taken at the Cavalcade itself, but I have no idea where to find them. I’ll add them as soon as I can!

Later that evening a few of us went to dinner, which was fun. On Saturday I had a day off (yay!) and met up with lovely Leslie and her brilliant daughters Madisson and Hailey for a tour of the local shops (including the best chocolate shop ever!!!), then we went for a wine tasting with Lisa, Elaine and John (delicious, although I couldn’t tell the difference between any of the wines), and finally we went back to Leslie’s for my first ever traditional US barbecue, which was awesome. I had a wonderful evening, and made some great new friends!

New Friends!

I was truly sorry to fly out on Sunday, because it really was a super week – like I said, one of those weeks that makes me realise how insanely lucky I am to do what I do. Michelle, invite me back to Cavalcade soon!!!!

There was no time to rest, though, as I was heading straight over to San Francisco for Part 4 of the tour!!