I am promoting my new novel, The Weeping Women Hotel (Sceptre £12.99), and to get around I am driving a fine car. It's the new small Lexus, the IS 250, a rival to the BMW 3 series.
I'm never certain that me turning up in a town and shouting at some people in a shop helps improve sales, but at least if I've got an impressive motor I hope people might think "Wow, he's got the stylish new IS 250. He must be a good writer! His books probably aren't the insane ramblings people say they are."
However, I'm not sure that these tours aren't just a plot by the publishers to get difficult authors such as myself yo-yoing up and down the country so that they're too tired to ring up every five minutes asking if the sales figures are in.
Years ago a record plugger told me about representing a Jamaican singer named Sugar Minott. This man had a song called "Good Thing Going" riding high in the charts, so he was booked for Top of the Pops. Normally a Pops performance would guarantee a jump of at least 10 chart places but the plugger said that when the audience saw the song was being sung by a gap-toothed old man in his fifties, the song dropped 20 places. I sometimes suspect that I have a similar effect on my book sales, and that if I had the nerve to stay locked in my house I'd have a bestseller on my hands.
Over the years that I've been doing these book promotion things I have used a number of loan cars - Lexus LS 430, Volkswagen Phaeton, Renault Vel Satis - to travel around and to try to impress the succession of well-bred young women who, as publicists, have been forced to accompany me. These girls are so well brought up they will always try to please their elderly author by emitting squeals of delight at the luxury and potency of his car, but I sensed that the latest wasn't entirely sincere in her cries of wonder at the new Lexus.
Not so the man from Waterstone's in Southampton, however, who showed us where to park. He was clearly entranced, leading me to think that perhaps the IS 250 is more of a boy's car. Then again, maybe it was because before getting into the front passenger seat the publisher's PR had only seen the Lexus from the rear, by far its least impressive aspect, whereas the Waterstone's man first saw the car from the front and sides, where the substantial kick-up in the rear window and steep flanks give the machine a real impression of power and aggression.
On long drives to Leeds and Manchester it was a great car to ride in, the seats marvellously comfortable and supportive. I did have some questions about the refinement in top; the engine, wonderfully flexible at lower speeds, seemed a teeny bit strained at high speed.
Because the layout of the gearbox wasn't on the top of the gearknob but on a little silver plaque towards the passenger seat - and perhaps because I might have been a bit preoccupied about my book sales - I hadn't noticed that the IS 250 had a sixth gear until I was back in London and thought to myself, "I wonder whether this car has a sixth gear?"
Then the high-speed ride was fantastic.