Friday, June 02, 2006

Like A Rolling Stone ....

From Jacqueline

This is going to be one of my round-about stories, but what the heck, it’s Friday, and I’m late, as usual.

The last house I owned in the UK before I emigrated to America, was a beamed cottage built in 1450. The town was something of a draw for tourists, who would walk up and down our street looking at the houses, many of which were “protected” (try to get your guttering replaced, and you virtually had to apply to Parliament!) or had a smugglers’ tunnel tucked away behind an inglenook fireplace. The house was a town house in the traditional sense, in that the front door opened onto the sidewalk, so people who walked by could see into the house if they looked hard enough, though it was difficult, because those houses were built to be dark inside – warm in winter, cool in summer. On one occasion I was watching the rugby world cup when I heard a voice outside yelling, “Look here, they’ve got television in this house!” I rolled my eyes. The truth of the way we lived did not reflect the perceived notion of how we should live – the onlookers were expecting the lady of the house to be wearing a long dress and turning a roast suckling pig over the fire, while the husband knocked back a tankard of mead and smoked a clay pipe. This sort of expectation is the sort of thing that happens to authors all the time, only I think it’s more likely to be experienced by those of us in the crime/mystery genre. Let me give an example:

I was a guest speaker at a very big, prestigious literary festival in June of last year, one of those events where there’s a formal lunch followed by speakers and break-out groups. There were many, many fans of my books there, which made it a delight, and which also meant I would be pretty busy. At an opportune moment, I whipped into the ladies’ room, and joined the line to use the facilities. This was one of those posh ladies’ rooms where you walk into a mini lounge area with chairs and a table, mirrors and all the fixings to repair one’s appearance. Someone had left a newspaper on the table and as I read the open page I all but shrieked, “Oh my God, the Stones in concert.” I whipped up the paper to read the instructions for procuring tickets, then – aware that there was now silence - looked up. Everyone in the line was staring at me, and it took one person to give voice to the collective thought: “I would never have taken the creator of Maisie Dobbs for a Rolling Stones fan.” Ah, there it was, the preconceived idea of the author as akin to the character they’ve created. I think that’s one of the reasons why I’ve grown out my hair since then. It was in a neat bob - not to appear similar to my character, but because it was easier to look after while on the 2-flights-a-day intense book tour that I was about to embark upon. That neat bob, and my “at a convention” clothes marked me as a woman not unlike my character.

Of course, I have not been immune from jumping to conclusions myself. Last year I was a guest at the Glasgow Literary Festival in Scotland. I love Glasgow, and was just thrilled to be invited. Denise Mina was to interview me and Meg Gardiner. I hadn’t read Denise’s books before, so set about familiarizing myself with her work. Now Denise writes dark, gritty novels set in Scotland, novels that seem to pierce the underbelly of city life. They’re choc full of discomfort, and you know as soon as you open the first page that you will be drawn deep into the psyche of personal despair. I imagined that I would be meeting Annie Lennox in black. I had the surprise of my life when this wee lassie with big eyes and a broad smile tapped me on the shoulder and introduced herself. It was this delightful, petite woman, more Enya than Annie, who had taken me on a journey so uncomfortable that I could only read a few pages at a time.

The fact is that when you meet fellow authors in the genre, people who research, for example, the inner workings of a Magnum for a living (I mean the gun, not a measure of champagne – although they might also do that), or search out forensic scientists to find out about what happens to a body when the knife goes in this way or that, or delve deep into the wounded psyche, you find out that they are – for the most part – just ordinary folk. Strange, but ordinary ....

By the way, interesting factoid: Mick Jagger’s dad was one of my profs in college.

And a question: Just what the heck was Keith Richards doing up a palm tree in New Zealand?

PS: I am now trying to channel my inner Chrissie Hynde more than Coco Chanel.

1 comment:

  1. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear! I got a laugh out of this one, Jacquline. My husband is a well known and well travelled fantasy and SF book cover (plus other things) artist, and when we go to conventions and appearances we often face pre-concieved ideas that people confront us with. We try to be gentle with them, but sometimes it is aggravating. I'd tell you some incidents, but it would take hours over tea. :-) We tend to meet celebrities now and then, and some we have come to call friends. I generally have a well cultivated professional manner that took thirty years of my life to build and fears of public speaking to conquer, but when faced with meeting someone famous, the shy young girl surfaces while I struggle to at least remain articulate.

    Nice about the hair. A change is as good as a holiday!