Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ambushed by MTV in Sao Paulo

Flying over the countryside north of Curitiba - the Serra do Mar's forested mountains look stunning, as do the series of rivers pouring their sediment-laden waters like opening fans into the ocean. In at least in one case after a very long isthmus parallel to the coast. At 7000 feet you can still make out white horses and the long sandy beaches. Sao Paolo is visible as a circular sprawl inland from a coastal conurbation; from above it is like a white inkblot. Coming nearer, the clusters of hundreds of skyscrapers seem puny in their pretence to be high, thin teeth bristling their serated edges at the clouds. We bank westwards of the city swooping down over a forested but well-occupied area to make a perfect landing.

The plane is late. At Sao Paulo airport there is chaos as people are leaving for a public holiday. By the time I get to the DCL office via bus ad taxi it is 1.30pm.

This is a company of about 40 employees and its own canteen. Otacilia greets me. Its very hot and humid. We have a late lunch after which she gets down to business. She asks me to list all my projects, which I do - about five of them. I give her the manuscript to We Can Improve and synopsis for The Moebius Trip. She is not interested in The Drowning because it is too local. A Hybrids comic might work.

She shows me a huge cupboard of samples from the Bologna Bookfair she has to read, and manuscripts sent in. Then a box full of titles bought for the 2010 schedule. One of them is Exodus, an excellent novel for teens aout climate change from 2002 which I have recently read as preparation for writing The Drowning.

I'm introduced to the team including the deputy director, Mr Maia Jr. His office is also drab, with bare walls. We are in a light industrial part of town. Otacilia works long hours as well as having a freelance job and doing voluntary work teaching English literacy to adults.

She explains how the publishing process works in this state. Print runs are low - about 3000 - unless there is a government intervention, where the state decides to bankroll a 50,000 print run for direct donation to schools. Next year it's focussing on teens so I'm in with a chance there. But whereas HarperCollins will decide in months if a title is to make it, and provide marketing support for just one month when the title comes out, here a title is given two years to build. They still don't have sals figures for Hibridos. Sales channels are mostly direct sales, to schools and door to door. 30% of a print run, a staggering number, is given away to teachers, who read them and discuss them befor deciding wether or not to place an order. So it will be a while before they know how to proceed with Hybrids two. I complain that by that time the ideas in the book may have passed their zeitgeisty sell-by date or the readership of the first book may have out-grown it and not be interested in the sequel.

That's how we leave it until the following week when I get back from wherever Im going for my out-of -the-city break. Still haven't decided where. Was going to be Rio but no-one's responded to requests for meeting and anyway it's a yet another city. Otacilia suggests Paraty, where every year there's another bookfair, FLIP, a coastal unspoilt old town. A small place with beaches watersports, old buildings and nearby contryside. Sounds perfect.

At the hotel which the university has booked and paid for by Avenida Paulista they tell me that the booking was for two days including the previous night (I never asked for this but it's nice of thwm to think of it). As I didn't show up the previous night the whole booking is cancelled and I will have to re-book for tonight. I tell them there is no way I will accept this as a room has aleady ben paid for and it is immoral for them to accept payment twice for the same room. The receptionist says he will talk to the manager but takes my credit card number anyway.

By this tme there is only twenty minutes for me to briefy check emails and shower before heading off. There's an email from Gil at the uni about MTV wanting to interview me, but I don't pay it much mind, it sounds a bit crazy. Why would they be interested in me? Diego had said he might meet me at the hotel a 6.15 to go to the uni together but he doesn't show by 6,30 so I take a taxi on my own.

The uni is lively and buzzing. Thiago greets me and takes me up to the lecture hall. There's the professor Gil a fit, sotcky indian looking guy, with muscles and very relaxed in jeans and t-shirt. He's very happy to see me. Diego it seems missed me at the hotel held up by the dreadful traffic. He arrives half an hour later.

To my surprise there is the MTV crew. Caza, the presenter / director in a black t-shirt and heaavily-tattooed arms, and a three-person crew. He wants to do it now before my talk. While they're setting up he runs through the questions from his Blackberry. What about Hybrids, politics, how is Brazil going, what should young people be thiking, am I optimistic about the future, what do I think of cyberpunk. Suddenly everyone is talking about cyberpunk. It seems this is the take on Hybrids and it's a cool subject here. To me, that wave is well over. Gibson's Neuromancer came out in '79, thirty years back, another era. Still if that's how they latch onto it.... for them this is the zeitgeist. It's their developmental stage. We joke about what they'd merge with, the cameraman with his huge cam on his shoulder would have probems getting comfortable in bed. He tells me he interviwed the Super Furry Animals from Swansea once and how he liked their Welsh in which they'd discuss how they'd answer the questions before saying them in their lovely (his word) version of English.

I find that the way I answer the questions on camera is instinctively very different to how I talked on camera at Aymara. This is curious. For MTV I am speaking very fast in bursts of animation and a much younger style. For Aymara I was more serious and formal. In both cases my sentences are long and structured, but the style for MTV is more throwawy. I do this without thinking.

And now, as I begin my talk for the students, with the crew gone a few minutes later, I have another style. There are about 50 of them, all but four are women. It occurs to me dimly that as this course is about creativity, start-ups and digital technology this might be the main reason why I've been invited, but I don't care. I speak in English of course. There's no translator but Gil assures me they all know English. Some if not all are 'mature' students but I am by far the oldest person in the room. One beautiful woman in particular is eyeing me and smiling and seemngly nodding in agreement at everything I'm saying. I give them the schpiel about the size of the threat and how busiesses will be sustainable or fail. I sumamrise all the usual stuff - resource efficiency and closed loops, CSR and industrial symbiosis and run briefly through the opportunities for low carbon goods and services. Isn't this why I'm here? There's a lot of interest but not too much feedback. I'm told later they probably got about 50% of it. Then Gil says he wants me to talk about Hybrids. I so I do but not a lot. It gradually sinks in that this may be why I'm invited but I don't care, I'm a green evangelist, this stuff is more important than the products of own imagination. And everyone is pleased. One girl, Lilandra, has brought a copy of Hibridos for me to sign.

Afterwards, a small meal and a few beers, but all the women have melted way, it's just Diego, Gil and a keen young blogger with an iPhone, who pelts me wih questions and gives me a lift back to the hotel afterwords. I still don't exactly know what I'm doing tomorrow.

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