TL:DR; If you're thinking of inviting me to an event, please be aware that I'm usually booked up a year in advance, and I don't usually accept invitations to events outside Edinburgh or Glasgow at less than three months' notice—because such invitations almost invariably mean international travel, which is disruptive at short notice.
If you still want to invite me to your event, read on.
I live in Edinburgh, Scotland. In door-to-door travel time, this adds about ten hours to any round trip I make to a city other than Glasgow. For example, if you want me to give an evening talk in London, it will chew three days out of my schedule — one day to prepare the talk, then a day to fly down to London (flying is the easiest/fastest/cheapest way to get there) and deliver the talk, then a night in a hotel and a flight home (followed by dealing with whatever correspondence has been piling up while I took time out). I can't do London by return day trip: I live too far away.
The picture for speaking anywhere in North America is even worse. For example, to give a 30 minute presentation in Palo Alto takes me about 5 days, even if I'm just repeating a talk I've already prepared — it takes me an entire day for travel (e.g.: up at 6am, fly from Edinburgh to Newark, fly from Newark to SFO, find my way to a hotel, and crash out so I'm on Pacific time the next morning), a day to deliver the talk, and then I have to catch a red-eye flight from SFO to a major European hub. Arriving on day #3, I transfer to a local shuttle and arrive home in a zombie like haze, and then take 48 hours to recover sufficiently to be productive again — I don't handle west-to-east jet-lag well.
(In fact, because Edinburgh airport has only one direct North American connection, there's only one city in the United States that I can visit and return from in 48 hours — New York. Nor are there any other suitable local airports. Between my home and Glasgow airport there lie two congested city centres, so getting to and from Glasgow Airport takes at least two hours. Newcastle Airport is, again, a two hour drive away. Finally, due to my inability to sleep on red-eye flights it would be very inadvisable for me to make arrangements that require me to drive home after a homeward-bound flight. So I use Edinburgh Airport, and Paris Charles de Gaulle or Schiphol as my main hubs for long-haul travel.[*])
That 30 minute talk bites nearly as much time out of my schedule as attending a weekend science fiction convention, because of the travel overheads. In fact, every time I accept a speaking or convention invitation outside of Edinburgh, it approximates to five working days out of my writing schedule. I'm not productive while I'm traveling; I work best in my own office/spare bedroom at home.
Experience has taught me that doing back-to-back events in consecutive weeks was a Bad Idea — I lose at least another week to exhaustion. Experience also tells me that making two trans-Atlantic flights in the same month is a Bad Idea (unless somebody is paying to fly me business class, which reduces the pain associated with travel considerably). Too much travel is in any event very bad for my productivity, and has knock-on effects even after I get home; jet lag, exhaustion, general lassitude, and so on.
I now get so many invitations that I have to perform triage ruthlessly. I am a novelist. When evaluating an invitation to go speak somewhere, the first thing I ask myself is: "can I justify this trip as a promotional exercise?" If the answer is "no", the second thing I ask myself is: "can I justify this trip for research purposes?" If the answer to that question is also "no", the third question I ask myself is: "do I want to go there and take a vacation afterwards?" Finally, if the answer to all of the above is "no", I have to ask, "who's going to pay for that working week?"
SF conventions tend to take priority: they pass at the first question (above), their organizers usually book guests a year or more in advance, and they're fun. Between now (July 23rd) and the end of 2009, I have four overseas SF conventions to go to. During 2010, I have six events already booked that involve international travel. I'm even booked for two events in early 2011. And this ignores domestic travel, including visiting my parents (who live, in terms of travel time, as far away as London, and who I like to see from time to time).
Anyway: despite all of the above moaning, you should by all means invite me to your event! To contact me, click here. However, please bear in mind the following ...
- I like as much notice as possible (and please be specific about your dates). Unless you're in Edinburgh, three months is the absolute minimum, imposed by my need to organize long-distance travel; twelve months is much better.
- If giving less than 18 months notice, don't be surprised if I'm already booked or otherwise unavailable. (In fact, 2009 and 2010 are already full.)
- Bear in mind that unless you're in Edinburgh or Glasgow, the hour or day you're asking for equates to a whole working week once I add in the travel overheads.
- I am a middle-aged man abd not in the best of health. I may turn you down if I think your event and the associated travel will be too exhausting.
- I reserve the right to cancel due to illness. Mine, obviously, but also critical illness affecting close family members. (In the past five years I've had to cancel appearances about three times for such reasons, out of 8-10 appearances per year.)
- Once I say "yes" to your invitation, I won't dump you if a shinier or more attractive invitation comes along later.
All of the above points are general guidelines, not hard-and-fast rules. For example, I'll go out of my way to do stuff for friends, family, and causes I approve of. And if someone makes me a really short-notice invitation for something really interesting, and handles all the travel and accommodation arrangements satisfactorily, I may make an exception. But I've learned the hard way that these guidelines are necessary.
To put it in perspective, in 2008 I turned down invites that would add up to three months on the road to my schedule. As it is, what I've said "yes" to in 2009 already amounts to three months away from home in each of 2009 and 2010. In short, when I say "I'd love to come, but ..." I am not bullshitting you — I really am overloaded!
[*] Once you're airborn on a shuttle from Edinburgh to a major hub, Paris and Amsterdam are barely further than Heathrow or Gatwick. (You fly for 500 miles instead of 400 miles — at 500mph.) Moreover, I dislike the London airports and find the prices and service level offered by Air France/KLM to be considerably better than British Airways.