My new book, LATE CHECKOUT (out this coming Thursday, 9 June, by the way) was inspired in part by all the nights I’ve spent in hotels during my working life. I spent much of my day-job career in roles that involved extensive business travel. Business travel sounds exciting—and occasionally it can be—but mostly it involves traipsing, in some combination, from airport to railway station to to office to anonymous hotel and back again. Over the years, I became more adept at finding hotels with a little more character and charm, generally cheaper and more friendly than their chain equivalents. But often you’ve little practical choice about how you travel or where you stay, and you just have to make the best of what the fates land you with.
Sometimes the outcome can be positive. I’ve discovered a few excellent places over the years through accidents of geography. But often the results are—well, mixed. I recall staying in a small hotel in Paris where the built-in wardrobe smelt so disgusting that I was convinced there must be a body, human or otherwise, bricked up behind it. There was a hotel in the south-west where the menu offered a ‘melody of fish’—all frozen and breaded, even though the hotel was minutes from the sea, and with no trace of any tune. And then there was the hotel on the edge of a safari park (no, me neither) where I was woken in the night first by the sounds first of some big cat roaring immediately outside my window and second of an, um, over-excited couple in the next room. I don’t think there was any link between the two disturbances.
Of course, as a writer, you mostly spend your time in hotels watching and speculating about the other guests. I spent several weeks staying in a bleak budget hotel in an industrial suburb of Paris where, for a number of days, my dinner was enlivened by two earnest Gauloise-smoking young men sitting nearby. They looked like characters from a Godard film and I began to envisage them as professional hit-men, whisperingly preparing their next job in that anonymous place. When they ceased appearing in the restaurant, I imagined that they had completed their work and moved on into the trans-European twilight. They no doubt worked in IT. But their fictional equivalents have made more than one appearance in my subsequent books.
Mostly, though, I’ve just been fascinated by the whole hotel experience. If you’re in the right (or wrong) frame of mind, there’s sometime uniquely eerie about hotels—particularly soulless business hotels. They have the same feel across the world. A pretence of luxury that’s often barely functional. The knowledge that, in many cases, the illusion is being maintained by staff who are poorly paid and often badly treated. Above all, the mystery of quite who might be living, only a few feet away from you, in the identical room next door.
It was that last question that provided the genesis of LATE CHECKOUT. The hotels in the book are a varied bunch. They are all, I should stress, entirely fictional, though inspired by countless places I’ve stayed in over the years. In all of them, though, someone is waiting just along the corridor…