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!
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!
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!!
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…
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!!