Friday, June 12, 2009

An Evening with Annie Barrows

Last year, I had the good fortune to stumble upon a book called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. There is a quote in the book that reads, "Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers." This is pretty much how I feel about this book. I was in my audiobooks for work phase at the time and found a copy of Guernsey for $15 unabridged on CD. I absolutely LOVED the story and the ensemble cast doing the reading and read the book several times on audio before ultimately choosing it as my book club read this year (we will be discussing it in July).

Recently while surfing the book's website, I came up on a list of book signings that Annie Barrows was doing and discovered that Mary Ann Shaffer had passed away. I was determined to go to one of the book signings in DC, and selected the one at Politics and Prose. Last night was the big night! I was so excited. However, it was also the first time I didn't get there REALLY early, and so we paid the price by not having anywhere to park and not getting to sit in the front. However, we had GREAT seats on the side and I only had to park about a quarter mile away in a mud pit, so I guess it could have been worse?

The signing started pretty promptly and out came Annie Barrows, so cute and petite. The store manager introduced her and she stepped up to the microphone to speak and I held my breath, ready for whatever British magic might issue forth. I could not have been more surprised when she started speaking and it turned out she was American! Seriously! I would not have thought this book could have been so beautifully written and so Britishly written by someone who was not British. But it turns out Shaffer was from West Virginia and Barrows herself from Northern California. SHOCKED! Though I suppose if I had bothered to read the back of the book, it said she lives in Northern California, so I might have had a clue.

Anyway, she spoke at length about the writing process. It turned out that Mary Ann had always wanted to be a writer and was always writing but had a glorious vision of what a writer was and didn't fancy herself that animal. Finally, Mary Ann's sister (Annie's mom) decided enough was enough and fooled Mary Ann into writing a book by forming a writing club with a couple of other friends. They would take turns each week reading what they were working on and soon Mary Ann's book took shape and the other ladies demanded that she continue to work on it even after she herself started to feel as though it wasn't any good.

The idea came from when Mary Ann went to England to study up on Lady Kathleen Scott, wife to famed explorer Captain Robert Scott with whom Mary Ann was very much taken. However, since there were many biographies of Robert Scott in existence and none of his wife, Mary Ann decided that despite her jealousies of the woman, she'd write her biography. She went to Cambridge to examine Lady Scott's writings only to discover a grocery list and a laundry list perfectly preserved, so she gave up and took a flight to Guernsey instead. Unfortunately, the minute she set foot on the island, the weather turned against her and she spent 36 hours huddled in the Guernsey airport, haunting the airport bookshop which primarily stocked books about the German occupation of the island. When the fog lifted, Mary Ann got on the next plane out of Guernsey, never actually seeing the island itself!

So after the writing club kicked off and the book was in hand, Mary Ann went out and found herself an agent who offered the book to 12 different publishing houses, all of whom wanted the book. They sold the book very quickly and Mary Ann's dream of becoming a writer came true! She soon fell ill afterwards, and then when the publisher came back with revisions, she was unable to make them. Consequently it fell to Annie Barrows to pick up where her aunt left off. They were able to discuss a few items here and there before Mary Ann was too ill to continue and Annie finished on her own. She said she thought it would be a chore, but in fact she sat down the first morning and two hours passed without her knowing it. She greatly enjoyed learning how the British spoke in the 1940's and learning the history of the occupation herself. And she felt particularly close to her aunt as she worked on the project.

Then Annie read a couple of letters from the book and then it was Q&A time, although that actually went a lot quicker than many other signings I've been to. There were maybe 6 or 7 questions total. Then they announced that the book signing was to start and could we all please fold up our chairs and put them against the wall? I went to get at the back of the line, but Judy sagely just stood up where we'd been sitting and got in line there, so consequently we got separated. This worked out great for pictures however!

Both girls were so well behaved during the entire signing--not a peep out of them. All the ladies around us were making googly eyes and loving them and they just took it all in stride. The same was for Annie Barrows, who quickly fell in love with both babies.

Dottie went first and sat happily by while Annie signed a book to her. Then it was Leah's big moment. I was so nervous, despite Annie being a quite down to earth sort, and so I managed to blurt out something about this being Leah's first book signing and could we please take a picture to commemorate the event? Annie said, "Turn her around and let me see that baby!" and when I did, history was made:

Yup, that's my baby getting kissed by world famous author Annie Barrows. She wasn't too sure about the whole kissing thing, but she soldiered on. (Janet Evanovich has A LOT to live up to.)

I managed to get out how much I enjoyed the ensemble cast of the CD production, to which Annie said, "Yes, didn't they do a wonderful job!?" and then my turn was over. My book is inscribed, "For Susan and Leah, Enjoy your pie! Annie Barrows". And then it was time to go.

And the instant we got both girls strapped into the car, they both started screaming. But at least they waited. At least they waited. :-)

2 pearl(s) of wisdom:

Lesley said...

Wow! I'm torn between jealousy and excitement for you!

Love the pics - Dottie looks so cute sitting there and of course, Leah is adorable too - the first of many author appearances, I'm sure!

I think it's funny you thought she was British, haha - would have liked to see your face when she started talking!

Ellyn said...

How cool is that????
Your daughter is in for the best life possible!