Three years ago, I attended RT Booklovers Convention in New Orleans for the first time, which I loved. I loved the city, but I also loved the convention itself, the buzz that readers and writers always generate around the books they love. Along with my good friend JT Bock, I presented a workshop for writers based on the work of my favourite auteur, Joss Whedon. It was so successful we were invited to present it again as a full day workshop in Maryland the next year. The year after, I presented it to the RNA conference in Lancaster.
In November, we pitched the workshop to the Romance Writers of America annual conference in Orlando. I hadn't visited the States in a couple of years and I was looking forward to it...
...and then the election happened, and the unthinkable became reality. By the time of the inauguration I, like a lot of people, had almost convinced myself that all the abhorrent campaign promises I'd heard were just silly sound bites to get attention, and wouldn't actually come to pass. The ban on travellers from Muslim countries. The Mexican wall. The proposal to seize electronics and download contacts and history from anyone entering the country. Just attention-seeking behaviour, right? Couldn't actually happen.
And then they began happening.
And our Joss Whedon workshop was accepted by RWA, and I found myself on the horns of a dilemma.
Do I want to travel to America (at great expense: we're looking at a ballpark of around £2,000) only to have my phone and iPad seized, confiscated, scrutinised, cloned? I write action/adventure and spy novels, so I'll let you imagine what my browser history is like. My social media is a giant middle finger flipped at the current US administration. (And while we're on the subject I ain't exactly happy about Brexit, but that's a rat for another day).
Should I leave my electronics at home? Spend even more on new devices just so I can contact colleagues in America and family back home? What about the presentation and notes I'll need for the conference? Why should I have to make such ridiculous allowances?
How can I get travel insurance against it? (The answer is I can't. If I'm detained or sent home, I get zip. You can't insure against something that might, maybe, but probably, happen.)
Of course I could be making a fuss over nothing. I could arrive at US immigration with my white face and blonde hair and British passport and good old fashioned Christian name and be waved through with a smile. I won't be detained for wearing a hijab, or not speaking English, or having a weird green passport, or Looking A Bit Foreign.
But you know what? I'm not sure I want to go somewhere I'm only welcome because my Irish grandfather bequeathed me his complexion and my parents had me baptised in the Church of England.
Until we are all welcome, we are none of us welcome.