As a new library was opening, I was invited, along with other writers, to sell paperbacks on the author’s table. Having been invited to come as my “favourite literary character” I faced reality. I was way too old to come as Austen’s Emma. Instead, I came as Emma’s dead mother. (Another blow for the old ego!!!)
“Are you J.K. Rowling?” was the first question I got, from a kid of about eight.
“Um, no, sorry,” I had to admit. I couldn’t QUITE imagine J.K. (dressed as Emma’s dead mother), equipped with paperbacks, outside a new library with a handful of local poets and mystery authors, but there you go.
Another kid was still more forthright. After inspecting Susan (I’d hurriedly pushed my not-for-under-18s thriller out of sight) and one of my Orion-published books, she said, “No dragons.”
I had to concede that, so far at least, my works were dragon-free. Which apparently is not as good as gluten-free, which is everywhere. And I couldn’t help recalling the excellent Maria Grace, who combines Jane Austen WITH dragons and who – presumably – would be this little girls’ Absolute Favourite Thing… After selling a few to over-forties, I was approached by a boy. He frowned at the sight of the Orion cover (I always hated that cover, but Orion’s considered view was that the author could lump it) and said, “It’s not a proper picture.”
The picture was of a cellist – that series was about “the secret life of an orchestra” – done in impressionistic style. What I hated was the raincoat. The cellist in question – impulsive to a fault – would have been running in the rain, true, but would never have even OWNED a raincoat… I couldn’t help asking, “What’s improper about it?”
“It’s not clear,” he explained, with a sigh, as if to some dumbo. “It’s woolly-looking.” Now, if it was woolly-looking, it was a fault it shared with Monet and Manet, for starters, but, due to my loathing of the raincoat, I didn’t feel equal to disputing the point. I left it to his mum to explain that some artists liked to paint that way ON PURPOSE. The kid frowned and declared this, “stupid” and moved out of my life, with luck for good.
After flogging a few more books, I wandered around my fellow writers’ offerings. There was a lot of poetry, but then, there always is. The day some bright spark figures out how unpublished poetry can temper carbon emissions will change the world. There was a hugely impressive biography. There were loads of the kind of thrillers where the author has a close friend who thinks he’s an artist, an opinion shared by his mother.
There were no dragons at all.
“Are you Little Bo-Peep?” a three-year-old wanted to know.
I considered telling her about Emma’s dead mother, but only for about half a second.
“Yes,” I told her, and offered to give her my special B-Peep autograph. Instead, she ran back to (probably) her grandmother. “It is Bo-Peep, it is!” she cried.
Alice McVeigh/Emma’s dead mother/Bo-Peep