I could hardly believe so much had become possible – not just the publication of my first book, but so much help and enthusiasm for the second. In the joint venture with Pan, Carmen Callil wanted me to publicise the paperback of Louisa Elliott in Australia, and while there complete my research for the sequel. The timing had been planned to coincide with Carmen’s presence at the Adelaide book festival, and a visit to her family In Melbourne. She wanted to show me the area, especially the Dandenongs, where Liam had worked in 1913, and where she’d spent many summers as a child.
The Pan sales reps had done a wonderful job to ensure I left England feeling like a celebrity. Posters and paperbacks of Louisa Elliott were all over the airport bookshops – and in our hotel bookstore when my husband Peter and I arrived in Hong Kong.
Then, the day after our arrival in Sydney, news came through that Louisa Elliott had reached no 3 in the UK bestseller lists. Time to celebrate!
In the past when we’d been abroad together, Peter had often been working, snatching a few hours from the ship to go ashore and have a meal, with a rare day’s sightseeing if he was lucky. So it was great for us to have time off together, for him to be able to show me places that he remembered from his youth. In pre-container days, ships spent days and weeks in every port, loading and unloading cargo. Then, Australia had been a country in search of an identity, not sure if it wanted British or American culture; but by 1990 the country had found its own way, its own style, and Peter was mightily impressed.
Met at the airport on Friday afternoon by John Cody, Chatto’s Sales Manager, we were ferried to the Sydney Boulevard Hotel, where our suite had views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I kept saying, ‘Pinch me, I’m dreaming,’ but Peter was in the same dream, so we just laughed and went with it.
That evening, strolling through the Rocks area not far from our hotel, we were passing a bar when the swing doors shot open, and Crocodile Dundee’s double dashed out with a live sheep under his arm. Stopped in our tracks, we stood and gaped. He pushed the sheep into the back of a van, tipped his hat, bade us, ‘G’night,’ and drove away.
‘Could only happen in Australia!’ Peter declared, and laughing, we carried on.
We celebrated my novel’s success with the Pan sales force at a restaurant on the harbour, and for the next two days it was all aboard the publicity machine with radio interviews, local and out-of-town newspapers, and a TV chat-show appearance. Exhausting, but with Peter providing moral support, we were guided and looked after by one of the publishers’ publicity girls. With Louisa Elliott clamped to her breast – front cover outwards, showing name and title – Kendra had done the introductions and given me the low-down at every interview.
She was such a sweetie, by the second evening when all was done, we asked her to have dinner with us at our hotel. The top-floor restaurant also had a view of the famous bridge, and we were seated by the window. At last Kendra set my book down on the table, we ordered drinks, studied the menu and began to relax.
While ordering our meal, I noticed our waiter was paying me rather a lot of attention. He was quite a hunk, so I wasn’t objecting. But after his third visit to our table, fussing with cutlery and wine glasses, asking me – me, not Peter – if everything was all right, I began to wonder. Had he seen a newspaper or the TV interview? Maybe he’d recognised me. That would be a first, I thought, secretly tickled by the idea.
But then our handsome waiter returned. Smiling into my eyes, he bent low and whispered to me. ‘I’ve just realized something…’
‘Really?’ I smiled. ‘And what’s that?’
‘You’re not Penelope Keith, are you?’