Monday 9 November

After my long day yesterday, with its ridiculously early start, I might have hoped that I would sleep in this morning, but sadly I have no such good fortune. The bedside clock is still showing a 4 as I stir.

Still, this is a good time to write up my blog and get it posted early. So many people here at Pigeon Forge are reading it, that I know I will be discussing whatever words I choose to commit later on today, so try to chose them carefully.

I work whilst sat up in bed sipping coffee, until I am happy that I have recorded the events of yesterday successfully, and send the completed article to the WordPress site. I have another coffee and then get up to shower and dress ready for breakfast.

My room has a small balcony and has a remarkable view towards the distant mountains, but this morning everything is shrouded in heavy grey cloud, and the rain is falling in a constant curtain. There is a brightly lit ferris wheel further up the strip, but even that looks sad.  The whole scene is reminiscent of a small British seaside town, out of season.

When the clock is showing a reasonable hour, I go down to breakfast. The lower lobby and breakfast room are very busy and lots of the hotel’s guests had come to see one of my events yesterday, so there is lots of chat.  It is rather like being on a cruise ship, where you are living with your audience for the whole duration of the trip.

The breakfast here is laid out as a buffet all around the room: there is an omelette station, country ham, potatoes, grits, biscuits (American-style), gravy, waffles, cereal, fruit, pastries, juices, ice tea, and coffees of various strengths and flavours.

For a breakfast lover like me it is heaven, but there is sad news: shortly before I came away my Doctors advised me to be careful about my cholesterol and to watch my diet a little, so the days of mouth watering descriptions of platefuls swimming in butter and syrups are behind me.

I have a plate of fruit and a bowl of porridge. (I have a feeling that my blog posts are going to be somewhat shorter than in years past!).

After breakfast I return to my room and change into costume for a signing appearance which will be held at The Incredible Christmas Place, the major Christmas store across the street. I borrow an umbrella from the concierge and splash through the puddles, to arrive in the store bang on the dot of 10.30 (pausing for a moment to admire my name in lights!)

A desk has been set up close to the main entrance, where I am surrounded by amazing Christmas displays and in no time a queue is forming. For the next hour and a half I am kept very buys signing and chatting.

Kristy is running the show and is fantastic at encouraging people to purchase extra books ‘you’ll regret it if you don’t take two, you know!’, and soon the large display of A Christmas Carol dwindles down until there are just a few left.

Of course people are in this store because they want to prepare for Christmas, so a signed copy of A Christmas Carol is high on many gift lists, meaning that I am not only scrawling Gerald Charles Dickens 2015, but also adding personalised inscriptions too. The variety of names, especially double names (Marry Ellen, Billy Jo and the like) is fascinating, and I have to listen very carefully to the spellings.

At midday my session is over. Kristy fetches me a salad for lunch and I splosh back to the hotel, where I can eat and rest a little before preparing for my afternoon’s show.

Mr Dickens Is Coming! is a biographical show about Charles Dickens and his fascination with the theatre. It was the first show I wrote, after Id first performed A Christmas Carol, and it remained a staple in my repertoire for many years.  Since writing Great Expectations, and developing Doctor Marigold and The Signlaman, I haven’t performed it for quite a while and I am rather looking forward to giving it an airing again today.

As I put on my shoes one of the laces frays and I realise that I have no spares with me, and I hope that it survives the show, otherwise I could be in trouble. I do the best I can and head down to the ‘theatre’ room.

Many of the people in the audience have bought a package that includes a performance of A Christmas Carol and the meet and greet session of last night, as well as this performance, so there are many familiar and friendly faces in the crowd.

As I am getting ready to start, a gentleman called Art and his wife Barbara come up to say hello. Art has been following my blog avidly for over a year and here, in Pigeon Forge Tennessee they give me a card to congratulate Liz and me on our Wedding.  It is such a thoughtful gesture, and one that moves me very much.

At 3 o’clock I start the show and it is like slipping into an old suit. Fortunately the suit in question still fits likes a glove (how far can I take these clothing metaphors?), and I am completely at home with the script.  I work through the Micawbers and Uriah Heep; I tell the story about Dickens refusing to meet Queen Victoria and move into my James Bond pastiche, complete with white cat.

The audience are laughing and following on, and it is a lovely show. Mr Dickens is Coming doesn’t have the big, tour-de-force effect of the Carol but the show is very well received by the audience, and it has been fun to do.  Even my shoe lace has hung on to the bitter end.

I meet and greet, as usual, in the lobby and then go to my room to rest before the evening show.

I hang my costume up to air, and have a coffee and a brief nap, before deciding to head to the Italian restaurant next to the hotel for a bite of early supper. Next to the restaurant is a CVS Pharmacy, and I am able to get some new shoe laces there, which is a relief.

I have a simple pasta and meatball dish, which is perfect and then go back to the hotel.  The rain has swept back in while I’ve been eating, and I become a very bedraggled Dickens in a very short time.  A trio of carol signers are performing a cappella in the main hotel lobby, and it is a beautiful sound.

I have an hour or so before I need to be back downstairs, and I lay on the bed, and drop off to sleep briefly, meaning that the final preparations are a bit more of a rush than I’d planned.

As soon as I am downstairs I realise that I have forgotten my scarf, so head back up the five flights of stairs back to my room (the lift is very busy with people arriving for the show), fetch the scarf and descend again.

In the room there is a brief panic as we can’t find the CD with my musical sound-effect anywhere. Kristy is agitated, Dwight is agitated, radio calls are being put in all over the place, and there is a very tense atmosphere building.  Meanwhile the audience are getting restless outside, waiting for the doors to be opened.

At last the CD is tracked down, everybody breathes a deep breath, puts their show-time faces on and the doors are opened.

It is another large audience, but they seem somehow a little quieter and more reserved than yesterday’s crowd. Kritsy, Dwight and the rest of the team meet and greet and chat and little by little the atmosphere in the room begins to change, so that by the time I make my way to the stage there is a positive energy in the air.  Now it is up to me.

I was afraid as I was waiting to start: afraid that my energy levels may not be there, that after the success of yesterday the performance may drop off a little, that I will fail. I need never have worried; if anything the audience is even more receptive and responsive than yesterday.  I am slightly wrong-footed by a mobile phone going off in the front row, and Bob Cratchit’s grief is accompanied by the giant glockenspiel playing ‘Frosty The Snowman’, which is a bit strange but all in all it is a superb performance.

The signing session lasts for a long time tonight, which is always a good indication. When everyone has left I say my ‘official’ goodbyes to the team and make my weary way to my room, where I hang my  costume in the bathroom, and slump into bed.  I put the TV on, but turn it off again within five minutes as I am ready to sleep soundly.

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