St. Patrick's Day found Denis and me making sure we were wearing green before venturing out to our favorite bookstore, The Poisoned Pen. I knew it was going to be a capacity crowd, so when we arrived, I made a dash to reserve our seats before doing a bit of browsing and making my purchase.
|My latest book haul...an eclectic mix!|
Soon it became too noisy for me to concentrate, so I went over to take my seat and wound up having a lovely book chat with the woman sitting next to me.
|L to R: Barbara Peters, Jacqueline Winspear|
Since Winspear was still busy signing books in the mail room, host and bookstore owner Barbara Peters took a few minutes to tell us of upcoming events. One author has given Sherlock Holmes a new sidekick: Henry James. I mulled that over for a few seconds, remembering past reading experiences and thinking that I've never cared for Henry James. That's when I heard Barbara say, "I've always loathed Henry James." That makes two of us, I thought. Then Barbara said, "Robert Englund of the Arizona Republic did an interview with the author. We were talking about it afterwards when Robert said, 'I've always hated Henry James.' I replied, 'Funny you should say that!'" I wondered if poor Henry was spinning in his grave with all this outpouring of dislike.
Peters then told us that she and Jacqueline Winspear had spent the day on the Verde Canyon Railroad, which I can attest to being a lot of fun. Once the Tucson Festival of Books was concluded, the two women had also been partying with C.J. Box and Rhys Bowen. Winspear owns horses and made the mistake of telling Box that she once dated a cowboy. It will be a long time before Box lets her forget what the girls who date cowboys on the rodeo circuit are called. By now, Jacqueline had made her appearance and was shaking her head in dismay over being referred to as a buckle bunny.
Jacqueline Winspear's first-ever book signing was right here at The Poisoned Pen. She and Barbara Peters have been friends since she was writing the very first Maisie Dobbs book. "We're a part of each other's institutional memory," Barbara said, looking over at Winspear and smiling.
"That makes us sound like we were in a women's prison together," Jacqueline replied to laughter throughout the bookstore.
"I don't think I could make it any more obvious!"
Winspear began by mentioning the fact that after Leaving Everything Most Loved came out, fans were feverishly asking her if that was the last time they would see Maisie.
"The last five words of the book are 'Yes, she will be back,'" Winspear said. "I don't think I could make it any more obvious that there would be more books!"
Both Peters and Winspear told us that very little could be said of the plot of A Dangerous Place due to the risk of ruining the book for everyone who hadn't read it. Instead the author decided to talk a bit about the book's setting: Gibraltar.
The Spanish Civil War
"How many of you know where Gibraltar is?" she asked. Most of us raised our hands. (Denis and I have a niece who lives there.) "I have to ask because I learned that many people don't know.
"For the last four years, Maisie Dobbs has been a wanderer, and she has experienced profound tragedy. Due to prompting by her family, Maisie is coming home, and it's really not surprising that her journey takes her to Gibraltar. Gibraltar is on the route to so many other places-- like India. It attracts so many British because the weather is so good and it feels so very British. Maisie stops at Gibraltar, gets off the ship, and winds up solving a murder."
"The UK helped Franco get back to Spain," Winspear told us. "There were so many Unionists [working men in unions] going to Spain to fight for the common man. Many Germans who were seeing the rise of Fascism and Hitler went to Spain to train the civilians how to fight against Franco." She then read an excerpt from A Dangerous Place-- the actual first eyewitness account of the bombardment of Guernica as published in the London Times. It was chilling.
"How difficult this must have been for Maisie to see," Barbara observed."To see the Spanish Civil War after having experienced World War I. Now having the feeling that it's going to happen all over again... and possibly even worse."
"The instant messaging of the day."
Ever fearful of saying too much and spoiling A Dangerous Place for those in the audience, talk moved on to Winspear's previous book, The Care and Management of Lies, a novel written to commemorate the centenary of the beginning of World War I.
"I'm not through with Kezia," Winspear said. "There will be a sequel to The Care and Management of Lies. One of the things that struck me in doing research for this book was just how much emotional nostalgia there is wrapped up in food, particularly for soldiers during wartime. During World War I, the German Army came very close to mutiny over food... the lack of it and the poor quality of what little food they were getting. Food can be a real flashpoint."
When Peters mentioned the importance of mail during wartime, Jacqueline said that that was one of the things that the British government got right, building large mail centers in France to ensure that the fighting men received letters and packages from home.
"Before World War I, the UK had excellent mail service," Winspear said. "The mail was delivered to people's homes eight to ten times per day. It's not unusual to find postcards that were written and sent during this time that said 'See you at 3.' This was the instant messaging of the day."
I think it took us a second or two to try to imagine what it would be like to have our mail carriers come to our doors eight times a day!
Someone in the audience mentioned that she'd just learned that it's possible to FedEx a horse. Winspear, who has had horses for years, nodded, telling us that her horse has its own passport-- a requirement for being FedEx-ed and shipped out of the country.
"They do the same thing for dogs," Barbara said. "The dogs also have to have their own passports."
Winding down the evening, talk returned to Maisie, and what Barbara Peters called the "brisk efficiency" of the first pages of A Dangerous Place. Winspear nodded. "It was the best and only way to do it," she said. For a moment her eyes met mine, and she looked sad-- as though she knew the beginning of her latest book would probably anger many fans.
When asked what the future holds for Maisie, Jacqueline said, "You're going to start seeing some of the minor characters-- like Billy Beale-- come back. I've known for a long, long time where Maisie is going. I planned her journey years ago."
After a loud round of applause, the last of the cupcakes were consumed, and the long signing line formed. It's going to be very interesting to see where Maisie's journey takes her next.