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According to Amazon.com, the paperback and e-book of The Mango Orchard is now on sale in the USA. Finally.

Until recently, a search for the book on Amazon led to a book called Power Plant Engineering, with a picture of a power station on the front. I’m sure it was a riveting read, but a life-defining road trip through the Americas in search of a hundred year old family secret it most surely was not.

Not The-Mango-Orchard

A number of people have written to me to ask what the difference is between the e-book and paperback. Apart from one being made out of trees, and the other out of digital matter, they are the same. Both have photos and family trees, and both are just about the best pieces of literature ever written!

Nothing to do with Power Plant Engineering

To find out more about the book, read the critical reviews, or order your copy, please click HERE.

In case you prefer Barnes & Noble, it’s on sale there, too.PS: If it’s not in your bookshop please let me know and I’ll get on to the distribution people.

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Fireworks-to-celebrate-the-launch-of-the-French-language-version-of-The-Mango-OrchardThe headlines in the French newspapers are united today, describing with one voice the sense of elation and even relief. The regional daily L’Independent talks about a “Turning point” and La Nouvelle Republique talks of “new hope”. Even Liberation does not hide its excitement. In an editorial by Nicolas Demorand, the paper says that there is “huge joy” in France.

Robin-Bayley-trying-to-eat-Les-Manguiers-de-Bellavista

The reason for this celebration? Why, obviously it’s the launch of Les Manguiers de Bellavistathe French language version of the modern classic of emotive travel writing, The Mango Orchard

.

President-Hollande-on-hearing-about-the-launch-of-Les-Manguiers-de-Bellavista

The fact that the new president was sworn-in yesterday is complete coincidence.

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I’m at Broadcasting House, the new home of the BBC World Service, for an appearance on Outlook. I am, I will admit, a little nervous. This is not just a national broadcast, it’s the Whole World. And it’s live.

With ten minutes before we’re on-air, I am taken through to the studio by a producer called Jane, to meet Jo Fidgen, the presenter. She is charming, has a remarkably soothing voice, and eyes almost as blue as her hair. We talk briefly about how she plans to tackle the complex story of The Mango Orchard in the seven and a half minutes allotted.

I am escorted to the sound booth, where there are four producers, each at their station, like naval officers at the bridge of a ship. There is an air of ordered panic. There are three minutes until we go live “We’ve lost twenty seconds” calls one, “Twenty seconds of dead air. I think it’s in Nigeria.” Phone calls are made.

There are two women in the corner with electronic stop watches and clip boards. “We’ve shaved seven seconds of the first piece,” says one. One of the producers turns to me and says, “That’s good, seven more seconds for us.”

We’re in to the news and then the programme begins. The first item on the programme is a pre-recorded interview with three Irish women. Jane turns to me and says, “This is a bit depressing”. It is an understatement. The women discuss, in the most explicit detail imaginable, how, behind the façade of a respectable Dublin existence, their father groomed, abused and raped them. For years. There is absolute silence in the control booth, broken by one of the producers: “I feel physically sick”. She then turns to me and says, “We’re looking to you for some light relief!”

“I know some great jokes about the Pope?” I offer. As one, the four producers and the two women with stop watches turn round with panic on their faces.

Perhaps not.

The main producer turns round to me when it has two more minutes to run and says with a cheery smile, “You’re on!”

I feel like a Vaudeville act, asked to follow a performer who had got up on stage and read an autopsy report.

I had deliberately not looked up World Service audience figures. It’s obviously a lot, but when you are talking on live radio about a book you have taken five years to write, and don’t want to screw up, you really don’t want to know numbers. As we go to the studio, Jane says casually, “There’ll be about 40 million people listening.”

Yikes.

I am trying to imagine what forty million people looks like. If they all linked arms, could they reach the moon? How impressive would the tsunami be if they all jumped up and down at the same time? If they all called the same pizza take away restaurant, how long would it be until everyone had their meal?

Jo is looking at me. It’s time to answer the question. That I didn’t hear. I guess what it was and talk for a while. She asks me some more questions and I try to answer them as concisely as I can and before I know it, our seven minutes thirty-seven seconds of talking to 40 million people comes to an end.

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Out of the blue I receive an invitation to an awards ceremony. It’s not just any old awards ceremony; it’s the History Today Awards, run by the country’s most respected history magazine. The invite comes on a crisp white embossed card. It looks so smart I give it pride of place on the mantel piece. I even take down my Christmas cards.

I wrote a piece for History Today last year, about my great grandfather’s role in (kind of) starting the Mexican Revolution. It was not an easy article to write. Every claim had to be checked, referenced and backed up.  I struggled to hit the deadline; I sent off final copy from a train with a dodgy internet connection with about an hour to go. Could it be that my hard work was being recognised with an award?

The event is held at the Museum of the Order of St John, a Hogwarts-style oak-beamed hall just inside the old London city wall. It has a 900 year old history, and its distinguished visitors include Samuel Johnson, Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare.

I imagine the event will be full of pear-shaped professors with Dennis Healey eyebrows, peering at each other over half-moon spectacles and full glasses of port. When I get there, I notice my name badge is one of the few which doesn’t

have Dr or Prof or an aristocratic title on it. And yes, many of the guests are pear-shaped and have Dennis Healey eyebrows. There are also a surprising number of young people, glamorous women and TV celebrities.

I walk into the crowded hall. I know no one.  A young woman smiles at me. She has the authoritative air of someone hosting a party and I wonder if she has she seen the list of winners, and recognises my name. Then I notice her tray. ‘Would you like a drink, sir?’ she asks.

I accept a glass of white wine and begin to mingle.

I hover on the fringes of a large group and try to follow the conversation. A man with a red face and barrel chest says, ‘But of course, what do you expect with the Tudors?” Everyone laughs heartily.

I move on.

A man with a voluminous grey beard leans into a group of young admirers. ‘And I ask myself the question: “What would Milton do?”’ The group all nods thoughtfully. I ponder the wisdom of asking which Milton he is referring to. I decide against and move on once more.

‘How are you getting on?’ asks a woman I had met at the entrance.

It’s nice to see a friendly face. She introduces herself as Sarah Wise, a journalist and writer of several books on Victorian social history. She is charming, and regales me with stories of the underbelly of London life in the 1800s. The woman who had given me a glass of wine, offers us both another. And then another. It’s only when the presentations begin that I remember that I am at a prestigious awards ceremony. I have the outline of an acceptance speech in my pocket but I can’t find it.

Sarah holds my drink as I turn out all my pockets. It’s gone.

The roof of my mouth goes dry as the first category nominees are read out. I have no speech, and even if I did, am in no fit state to deliver it.

It is with a mixture of disappointment and relief that my name is not on the list. Nor is it included in any of the following list of nominees.

I don’t know what I would have done if I had won. But if I met Milton on my way to the podium, I’d have asked for his advice.

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It seems a long time ago since I was in Romania, but I have been thinking about it a great deal in the last few days as my book, The Mango Orchard has just been published in Romanian as Livada de Mango by the All Publishing Group. I love their design; it conjures an image of a world where time was marked by church clocks and all news, good and bad, would arrive via a man on horseback. Several people have commented that it looks like a cover of a Gabriel García Márquez novel, and believe me, I’m very happy with that comparison, but to me, there’s also something quite Romanian about it.

In the late 1990s, when I was working for Fox Kids, a children’s TV channel, I was visiting Romania every few weeks. Most of the time I was in Bucharest, in TV studios or press conferences, often accompanied by 7 foot tall purple and turquoise character costumes. It was my job to convince the Romanian public that watching cartoons with Romanian subtitles was somehow educational. I don’t think anyone really believed that the channel was in the least bit educational, but it became popular and I ended up visiting the country so often that I filled my passport with Romanian stamps and had to get a new one, and my colleagues started to call me Robinescu.

One of my brighter ideas was to embark on a children’s party roadshow, from Timisoara in the east to the Black Sea coast in the west. There were justifications for the expedition, having thousands of screaming children playing Blind Man’s Buff with Eek the Cat in town plazas across the land did no harm to our ratings, but I really organised the tour as I wanted to see the country. We crossed into the Carpathian Mountains into Transylvania, passed palaces and medieval towns and castles. I saw brown bears and walked in woods where wolves still roam. I saw achingly beautiful women with black hair and dark blue eyes. There were no motorways and the farming communities sold their wares beside the road – blood red tomatoes and peaches the size of melons. And yes, there were men on horseback.

My Romanian friends tell me that the country has changed beyond all recognition since I was last there in 2004. Bucharest is now a modern city in the vanguard of New Europe. I dreamt that I was back there the other night, and it had changed so  much that the only Bucharest landmark I recognised was the Intercontinental Hotel.

I hope that it hasn’t changed too much, and that somewhere up in the mountains, there are still men on horseback,  evoking memories of another time and another continent

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I am getting up slowly. My aim is to have a leisurely breakfast with the newspaper propped up against the toast rack before catching the 11.30 to Norwich, where I am due to appear at Writers’ Centre Norwich’s Summer Reads.
The phone rings. It’s a producer at BBC Radio Oxford, asking if Jo Thoenes can interview me for a programme about genealogy. I readily agree; I appeared on her show when I was at the Oxford Literature Festival in March and I was very impressed with her. I am booked in for a telephone interview in half an hour. I glance at the microwave clock. I realise that I have no time for a leisurely anything; I need to be showered and ready to leave before Jo calls back.
Jo Thoenes
Shaving, I really should have learned by now, is one thing you should not do in a hurry. As well as remove my stubble, I also manage to slice the end of my nose. I have no idea how I have managed to achieve this wound, but it’s certainly very real; my nose is throbbing and blood is trickling into the sink.
When the phone rings, I am sitting on the sofa, leaning forward to avoid staining my shirt, with a piece of toilet paper stuck to the drying blood on the end of my nose. Jo and I have a quick chat and then launch straight into the interview. I’m in mid-flow and suddenly my nose starts bleeding again. I realise I am beginning to lose the thread of what I am saying. I want to explain that for me, the most important of the family historian’s art, is oral testimony, but I am now trying to dab a drop of blood from the carpet, and the word “testimony” has completely escaped me. “Oral…err,” I grab another tissue. “Oral… um… ” I don’t guess what the second word may be in case my Tourette’s tendencies get the better of me.
Jo somehow manages to divert my attention from my nose and back to answering her questions but I can’t think that mine is the most illuminating interview she will conduct today.
A few hours later, my nose has stopped bleeding and I am being interviewed again, this time by Stephen Bumfrey at BBC Radio Norwich. It suddenly strikes me as I sit in this Norwich radio studio and that I am having a very Alan Partridge-esque day. I’m even staying in a Travelodge. All I need now is to have a fight with a trouser press.
After the interview, Sam Ruddock from Writers’ Centre Norwich escorts me round the bookshops in the centre of Norwich, all of which are pleasingly well-stocked with copies of The Mango Orchard, and some even have it in their window displays.
I am delighted to be part of Summer Reads. It’s a reading campaign Writers’ Centre Norwich organises with Norfolk Libraries. I am very proud to be part of the line-up of excellent books: Joseph O’Conner’s Ghost Light, Simon Armitage’s Seeing Stars, Evie Wyld’s After the Fire, A Still Small Voice, Andrey Kurkov’s The Good Angel Of Death, and Katie Kitamura’s The Longshot.
I have half an hour to return to the Travelodge and get changed for my talk at the fabulous Millennium Library. The attendance is good, the audience are generous listeners and ask wise questions (which thankfully didn’t include “What’s that gash at the end of your nose”) and buy a good number of books. Thanks to Sam, Katy and all at Writers’ Centre Norwich for including me in Summer Reads, and for organising it so well. I hope to have another book for you soon.

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Yesterday, I experienced a minor miracle. It didn’t involve any would-be saints, Andy Murray winning a tennis match, or even David Blaine. It concerned a letter sent from Mexico.
The person who sent it didn’t have my address, so she sent it to someone who might. They didn’t have it either but sent it to somewhere I had lived, and the person now living there, redirected the letter to my present home. Some three weeks after the envelope left Mexico, I managed to snatch it away from the dog before it was chewed to bits (another minor miracle) and opened it.
It was a lovely letter, from a lady called Nina, who, having read The Mango Orchard, journeyed over 800 kilometres from her home in Mexico City to have her photo taken in front of the Bellavista factory, a place which plays an important role in the book.
Nina’s father, like my great grandfather, had set out from England for Mexico to work in the cotton industry, but unlike my ancestor, he stayed.
Nina with Juan Cañas, curator of the museum
I have received many very kind e-mails and letters from people who have read The Mango Orchard, and wanted to share the memories that the book provoked. As far as I know, Nina is the first person to travel so far to have her picture taken. I am very touched, thank you.

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