Yesterday was one of those perfect days that become legendary in memory. I had travelled to Spalding, having been invited to give a signing session at Bookmark, a very distinguished bookshop which I also visited and wrote about just before Christmas last year.
There was a carnival atmosphere in the town. Christine Hanson, Bookmark’s owner, was feeling particularly happy, because hers and other businesses in Spalding had banded together to offer fun activities to passers-by in one of the yards in the Hole-in-the-Wall passageway. Christine said that it marked a significant step forward in the town’s initiative not only to save the high street but also to ensure that it thrives. She flitted back and forth between the shop and the Hole-in-the-Wall all afternoon and, despite being so busy, still provided my husband and me with her customary wonderful hospitality.
My signing session began with a remarkable and totally unexpected coincidence. Two ladies who had been paying for books at the till came over to speak to me. Noticing their accents, I asked if they were American. One of them said that she’d been born in Spalding, but had lived in America for twenty-five years. She now teaches environmental science at the University of California. Judging her to be about my age, I asked if I knew her. She said that her name was Carol Shennan. I knew the name immediately; she had lived about five doors away from me in Chestnut Avenue when we were both growing up. She said that her mother, who is eighty-nine, still lives in Spalding, and that she was just there for the week to visit her. It was an unbelievable stroke of luck that we should meet in Bookmark. Carol bought In the Family, and I look forward very much to receiving a future contribution to this blog from her when she’s read it.
Several babies came into the shop. I was introduced to Oliver, who arrived with his grandmother and aunt, who each kindly bought both books, and Harry, who came with his grandparents. His grandfather (I’m sorry that I can’t remember his name: his wife’s name is Carole) is a keen local historian and said that he doubted that my novels would cover villages as remote as Sutterton, which is where he was born and still lives. By another strange quirk of coincidence, I was able to tell him that my third novel, which I’ve just started writing, is set in Sutterton. I hope that Harry’s grandparents also will contribute to the blog when they’ve read the copy of In the Family that they bought.
My very dear old friend Mandy came in and bought an armful of books to give other friends as presents, just as she did at Christmas. At the end of the afternoon, she returned to guide us to her house, where we spent an idyllic evening eating supper and drinking wine in her garden with her husband Marc and her friends Anthony and Marcus. We ate new potatoes, broad beans and strawberries from her allotment and talked about books, teaching and cooking (Marcus is a chef). Afterwards, we drove home through the twilight. The fields of South Lincolnshire were looking at their best: the corn was just turning, and in one place acres of linseed coloured the landscape blue-mauve. The skies were as big and beautiful as always.
An idyllic day, as I said. I’d especially like to thank Sam at Bookmark for arranging the signing session, and Christine, Sally and Shelby for looking after me so well and for providing a great welcome: I heartily recommend the café at Bookmark, if you’re ever in the area. Many thanks also to the many people who stopped to speak to me – the conversations were fascinating – and for buying the books. And thank you, Mandy and Marc, for being amazing hosts and for introducing us to Anthony and Marcus, who provided me with their suggestion for DI Yates 4!