The Crossing seems fated to attract stormy weather! Recently, I described travelling through squalls and heavy rain to reach the pre-launch event at Harlow Carr. Yesterday, the day of the launch proper, a dual event organised by Bookmark in Spalding (Christine and Sam were wonderful as always!) dawned bright and clear, but by the time I’d arrived in Spalding it was starting to rain. The showers rapidly exploded into a torrential downpour which deterred all but the most stalwart shoppers, even though it was market day. By the evening, the rain had slackened but been replaced by gale force winds.
The day-time signing session had been as successful as possible under the circumstances. I enjoyed talking to some interesting people and was fascinated by what they had to say, but I was very nervous about the evening event. Though I knew the shop had sold a lot of tickets, I doubted that many members of my audience would want to venture out. Some, I knew, would have to travel quite a distance to get there.
Inexcusably, considering my antecedents, I had reckoned without the influence of true Lincolnshire grit! Everyone who had bought a ticket showed up, and there were a few on-spec visitors as well. No-one even bothered to mention the weather. The audience was among the best I have ever had: lively, engaged, perceptive and eloquent. Several of them had already bought The Crossing, even though it was first displayed in the shop only on Monday, and many more bought it at the event (and some of my other books, as well). I was impressed by the stamina shown by Peter, a member of Bookmark’s flourishing book club, who had sat down to read The Crossing solidly all day, finally finishing it a couple of hours before the event, so that he could talk about it.
I was both delighted and grateful to learn that the book club has chosen The Crossing as its next title, apparently the second time it has opted for a DI Yates novel.
I told them a bit about how I’d come to write the book, especially the real-life event on which the opening chapter is based.
I think I’ve already mentioned it on this blog, but, for new visitors, here are a few details: When my great aunt was the crossing-keeper at a remote hamlet called Sutterton Dowdyke, there was a terrible railway accident. The Peterborough to Skegness train, in heavy fog, ploughed into a lorry standing on the crossing, derailing some of the carriages, which crashed into my great aunt’s tied lodge-house and turned it round on its foundations. She was physically unhurt, but her mind was affected for the rest of her life. In the novel, the accident is the catalyst for the whole chain of events that follows. A strong theme throughout is imprisonment and how a person’s character is affected when completely subjugated to someone else’s will: what integrity compromises must such a prisoner be obliged to make in order to survive?
The Bookmark audience and I talked about this. We also discussed memory, place, old Spalding, what sort of research I carry out when writing the books, books in prisons, other books we like to read and the relationship between fact, memory and fiction. We concluded by discussing significant events in their lives that perhaps they’d like to write about.
One very enjoyable moment stands out: a question from the floor to put the speaker on the spot! “What do you like to read?” Now I simply can’t resist buying books when I find myself in a bookshop and, since I had my purchases from Bookmark tucked under the table, I enjoyed sharing my tastes with a group of very like-minded people – interaction doesn’t get much better than that.
I’d like to say how grateful I am to everyone who came yesterday evening, both for braving the elements and for all your wonderful contributions to the conversation. And heartfelt thanks, of course, to Christine and Sam.
I shall be popping in to Bookmark briefly again to sign a few more books on 17th December, if any of my readers is interested. If so, I look forward to meeting you then.
In this extraordinary Sausage Hall launch week, which I am enjoying so much and for which I am very grateful, I’d like to pay tribute to two amazing bookshops.
The first is Bookmark, Spalding’s very distinguished bookshop (the CEO of the Booksellers Association, Tim Godfray, has even been known to serve behind the till there on occasion). Bookmark very generously offered to host the Sausage Hall publication day party, which took place in the evening of November 17th, after the day that I spent at Spalding High School. The event was masterminded by Christine Hanson, the owner of the shop (who is both practical and imaginative – she fixed both a toilet roll holder and a broken table joint within minutes of my arrival, while the shop itself, resplendent with its Christmas stock and decorations, achieved a standard that I’d have dearly liked to replicate in my bookselling days), and Sam Buckley, also a former pupil of Spalding High School, who organises author sessions at the shop. Equally generously, the launch party was sponsored by Adams and Harlow, the local pork butchers, who supplied sausage rolls for the occasion.
This event was attended by members of Bookmark’s lively reading group and some old friends of my own. I was astounded to see Finola, a day-job friend – she had driven for more than an hour from Cambridge in order to support me. I was also staunchly supported by Madelaine, one of my oldest friends, and her husband, Marc, who have both offered me hospitality every time I’ve returned to Spalding as Christina James and also bought many copies of my books as presents for everyone they know who might enjoy them.
Madelaine’s contribution to my writing is acknowledged in Sausage Hall. I was also delighted to see Sarah Oliver, whom I first met at the Priory Academy last spring and who came with her husband. The book club members, who lived up to their reputation for being engaged and vivacious, were shrewd and perceptive: as well as listening attentively to two readings from Sausage Hall, they launched into an animated discussion about all three DI Yates novels. Everyone present bought at least one of the books, some more than one. (Sam Buckley later this week let me know that one member of the audience, who had not read any of the novels and took away with her In the Family, returned within forty-eight hours, having read it, to acquire Almost Love and Sausage Hall as well!) And, of course, I couldn’t myself resist making a few purchases in this fairy-tale bookshop.
Having spent the night with my son and daughter-in-law at their house in Cambridgeshire, I arrived in good time on Tuesday November 18th for a signing session at Walkers Bookshop in Stamford. Although I first met Tim Walker, its owner, last year (he’s currently President of the Booksellers Association), I had not visited one of his bookshops before, The one in Stamford is in a listed building in the town centre; he also owns another in Oakham. I was particularly impressed by the huge range of stock in this shop, both the cards and gifts downstairs and the extensive range of books upstairs. Tim and the manager, Jenny Pugh, were respectively at the other shop and taking holiday, but everything had been set up for me and Mandy, the assistant manager on the book floor, couldn’t have made me more welcome.
Bookmark and Walkers are two fine examples of thriving independent bookshops, packed with atmosphere and individual charm and led by brilliantly creative people who understand how to serve their communities very well indeed. It was a privilege and a pleasure for me to have been able to enjoy what they had to offer and I’d very much like to thank Christine and Tim for hosting Sausage Hall events this week.
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!