If I’d had one of those buttonhole cameras I’d have taken a photo of Sara Paretsky as she gave me that searching look after signing my copy of Brush Back at Blackwell’s in Edinburgh last night. But I didn’t, which is a shame because she looked particularly pretty and happy at that point. I, in turn, got all tongue-tied and eloquently uttered ‘what?’ like the teenager I’d turned into.
Oh well, I don’t think I had spinach between my teeth, and I hope there will be a next time when I might have grown up a little. It’s a blessing that Sara has friends near Edinburgh and that she was willing to break her holiday to meet her fans for an extra early book launch, and that Blackwell’s Ellie had had the good sense to snap her up. (There would have been Harrogate, but it’s another of those things I’ve cancelled, so this was a most welcome break for me.)
And for many others. There were lots of chairs set out, and then there was floor space to stand on or stairs to sit on, because Sara has masses of fans, most of them women who don’t look like they go round murdering people. Or not much.
As Sara was being introduced, she squeezed past where I was sitting on one of the comfy sofas and rested briefly on the armrest (something that slim people can get away with), before standing in front of us saying she hoped we’d have a good time, herself included.
Normally she starts a book because she has a crime she wants to write about, but this time Sara was wanting to set a story at Wrigley Field, where the Cubs* ‘pretend to play baseball.’ Having had Harrison Ford beat her to a chase scene somewhere else in Chicago, she wanted to get in and write about Wrigley Field before Harrison got there. Built in 1923 from poured concrete it is virtually indestructible (although I imagine V I Warshawski could have something to say about that), to the extent that rumour has it there is a toilet which has not been flushed since 1927. After reading the first chapter, she invited us to ask questions, warning us that as an author of fiction her answers could be fiction too.
The first questions was what she thought of the film. Not much, is the short answer, but Sara told us much more. In effect she has signed away the rights to her character, and Disney – who own V I – once phoned her regarding ‘a product of theirs that Sara had once been involved’ with…
But it got V I attention, Sara had the opportunity to tread the sacred grass at Wrigley Field; even running the bases. And falling on the home plate. Kathleen Turner also bought Sara and her husband Courtenay dinner, handing Courtenay her private phone number.
The next question was about Totall Recall, which was a very personal book for Sara, featuring Lotty in 1930s London. She’d have loved to write more on London in the thirties and forties, but reckoned it’d be hard to get right. The book came out in America on September 4th 2001, with a reader contacting her to ask who the Taliban were.
Asked how V I came to her, Sara said she’d been fantasising about turning the tables on old style hardboiled crime, and her first character, Minerva Daniels, was much harder than V I. Sara realised after a while that she didn’t want Philip Marlowe in drag, but a woman like herself and her friends who say what they mean.
The final question was one Sara mentioned she’d just answered on Facebook (which I’d seen), about how long it takes her to write a novel. Between nine and 24 months, with research, meaning it’s anything between a human pregnancy and that of an elephant. Sara has been working four months on her next book, and has 16 usable pages. She has an uneasy feeling this one is an elephant baby.
With Sara you always get nice, long answers to your questions, even though she apologised for the length. (It’s good to go in-depth and find out more!) But very sensibly the talk had to end giving Sara enough time to sign a lot of books. You can’t have too much queue left when the shop closes. As I already had my copy, I jumped in early. And then I did that juvenile thing… Sigh.
*Apparently they are ‘over 500,’ which is the same as winning the World Cup, which Sara knows is as incomprehensible to us as cricket is to her. And to me.