It was World Book Day and, as the local library was having an event, I was invited, along with other local writers, to sell paperbacks on the author’s tables.
I was game for a laugh. I like book signings. However, as we’d been invited to come as our “favourite literary character” I took a long look in the mirror and faced reality. I was waaaaaaaaaaaay too old to come as Austen’s Emma. So I came as Emma’s dead mother. (What a blow for the old ego!!!)
However, “Are you J.K. Rowling?” was the first question I got, from a bespectacled kid of eight.
“Um, sorry, no,” I had to admit. I couldn’t quite imagine J.K., dressed as Emma’s dead mother, outside a new library sandwiched between a serious biographer, a handful of local poets and a couple of cosy mystery authors, but there you go.
Another kid was still more forthright. After inspecting my award-winning Susan: A Jane Austen Prequel – I’d hurriedly pushed my not-for-under-18s speculative thriller out of sight – she said, “Hmm. No dragons.”
I had to concede that my works are dragon-free. (Not as popular as being gluten-free, which is – face it – everywhere.)
After flogging a few to the over-forties and to the local poets, I was approached by a six-year-old boy. He frowned critically at the sight of one of my Orion-published covers (I, too, always hated that cover, but Orion’s deeply considered view was that they were right and their authors can lump it).
Then he said, “It’s not a proper picture.”
Orion’s impressionistic cover was that of a pretty cellist on a damp Waterloo Bridge, wearing a raincoat – that series was marketed as “the secret life of an orchestra”.
The impressionism was okay. What I always hated was the raincoat. The cellist in question – impulsive to a fault – might have been out in the rain but would never have even thought of owning a raincoat… But I couldn’t help wondering what he objected to.
“What’s improper about the painting?”
“It’s not clear,” he explained, with an exasperated sigh, “It’s woolly-looking.” Now, if it was woolly-looking, this was a fault that my cover shared with Monet and van Gogh, for starters, but, due to my loathing of the raincoat, I left it to his mother to explain that some artists liked to paint that way on purpose. The kid frowned, declared this “stupid” and moved out of my life, with any luck for good.
After what passed for the “rush” had passed, I wandered around, surveying my fellow scribblers’ offerings. It was mostly poetry, but then, there always is. The day some bright spark figures out how to temper carbon emissions with poetry will change the world… There were also the cosy mysteries, and one hugely impressive biography (hardback, with a foreword by Archbishop of Canterbury). There were also several thrillers where someone related by ties of blood to an author had clearly convinced him that he was an artistic genius (he wasn’t). There were no dragons at all.
Then I felt a pull on my regency skirt.
“Are you 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 her grandmother. “It is Bo-Peep, it is!” she cried, in ecstasy.
So I guess I made one person’s day.
By Alice McVeigh/Emma’s dead mother/Bo-Peep
PS The Orion contemporary novel in question, While the Music Lasts, now in a re-written second edition, is currently only available from Alice’s website.
PPS Alice’s profits from the library day totalled a princely £65, or roughly the cost of the bonnet – which was made by Miss Benfold’s Emporium, on Etsy.