Recently I got an email from Sophie Smith, a writer in London, who recounted a description of the time she bumped into one of her favorite authors out on the street. It got me thinking about the likelihood that many of you have encountered authors over the years and that it would be interesting to hear your stories. So what say you? Do you have an author encounter you’d like to share? With any luck I would like to make “Authors in the natural habitats” a regular feature at Hogglestock. Shoot me an email and tell me your story, lets do a little guerrilla author bio project. (hogglestock [at] outlook [dot] com)
In the meantime, here is Sophie’s lovely story.
I have been spotting Anita Brookner on and off for years in the King’s Road where she lives and as I am a writer myself I have always felt a little thrill when one of these sightings has occurred. She is invariably in a skirt and jacket, very often in navy blue with court shoes to match, always chic but never showy – and that’s just for a quick dash to the shop to get some milk. One imagines her clothes may come from Jaeger in King’s Road or similar. Once, I bumped into her in Mark’s and Spencer’s which, if you are familiar with King’s Road, has a small clothes section at the front and a food section at the back, with a preponderance of upmarket ready meals-for-one perfectly suited for the many ageing Chelsea widows (and a sprinkling of spinsters) who live in the network of pretty terraced houses and flats of SW3. And there she was, rather frail on her pins, carrying a frugal-looking carrier bag of groceries and heading directly for me. Instead of observing protocol and discreetly pretending not to recognise this literary giant, thin and delicate as a sparrow with her seventy plus years at the time, I decided to risk a formidable rejection and very politely said.
“Excuse me? Professor Brookner?”
“I hope you don’t mind me stopping you but I’ve just finished your new novel Leaving Home and I just wanted to say how very much I enjoyed it. I think you’re the most brilliant writer.”
Her face lit up and she looked completely surprised.
“No, not at all. Oh, well that is nice. Thank you so much. I’m so pleased you liked it. That is nice. Not at all.”
And we parted.
Sorry to have to reply here, but I’m not on twitter … although I am near Toronto and spent a day there last winter visiting all the used bookstores I could find. The two best for browsing for the kinds of things I (and I think you) like were BMV on Bloor, which has more ‘newish’ stuff – the books are in good shape and the store is spacious and bright) and Eliot’s Bookshop at Yonge and Wellesley which is old and dark and packed with all sorts of random things. I found good stuff – Margaret Kennedy Viragos, Margery Sharp, etc. at both. Have fun in Toronto and happy browsing! (Feel free to delete this after you’ve read it…)
What a great story – and a great “regular feature” idea.
I went to a talk in Soho (London) with Howard Jacobson and from there I found out that he lives nearby, minutes from the venue he said. I work in Soho so I often roam around the area. I bumped into him another time at Soho food festival. He’s easily recognisable because of his white suit and hat (the same ones he wore at the talk). Not too interesting a story I guess, but it’s kinda related to your post :)
I like that story! I don’t think I’ve ever bumped into authors in their native habitats. I mostly just see them at author events and book festivals. I have a couple of friends/acquaintances who write books, but that’s different.
I thoroughly enjoy reading this story about Anita Brookner. Isn’t she absolutely gracious and courtly in a humble way she replied? If Anita Brookner was a Parisian citizen (although she did live in Paris for a number of years), she would be treated like a celebrity. Unfortunately or fortunately, in Britain, the writers are not treated in the same manner as the famous footballers and TV celebrities. Perhaps, you could say that we are a little bit philistine in this country. But that means that the famous writers can go about their own business and observe the society without being noticed or followed by the paparazzi (apart from one or two avid admirers who might approach them for their autographs).
Like Sophie in this story, the famous writer, Hilary Mantel who is also another admirer of Anita Brookner was star-struck when she, unexpectedly, met Anita Brookner during her shopping (this time she was shopping at TESCO supermarket). Here is the article:
The novelist Hilary Mantel admires the grace and reticence of a fellow Booker Prize winner…”http://moreintelligentlife.co.uk/content/ideas/inspiring-women-anita-brookner”
Best wishes, ASD
PS. Thank you once again for your most charming comment on my blog.