Summertime, and the livin' is...medieval. A girl can't get enough of robes in pink and blue, with a funny hat:
In July I received an honorary doctorate from the University of East Anglia, where I got my MA in creative writing 19 years ago. Despite being a modern university (50 years old in September), they have you wear these old-looking robes. Here I am with Christopher Bigsby of the English Department, and on the left, my old tutor Rose Tremain, who has just become Chancellor of the University. We are discussing the reintroduction of Stocks as punishment...
I spoke to an auditorium full of history graduates, and here is a little bit of what I said to them about the importance of history:
...as history graduates you have a huge advantage over most of the other graduates. You are already three-dimensional people. Let me explain. When a baby is born, it is a dot. It lives entirely in the moment. It’s hungry, it cries, it eats, it sleeps. Little by little as it grows, the baby’s idea of time extends a little bit backwards – it remembers having eaten, what its mother smelled and sounded like. And it extends a little bit forwards too: it thinks ahead to more food, more cuddles, more good sounds and smells. As the baby grows into a child and eventually an adult, its past and its future expand a little more. But for a long time a person remains a dot, focussed on the moment, which is one dimension. As a teenager he or she looks ahead more, anticipating the future, and that dot becomes a line – two dimensions. He or she is not looking back so much, though. Usually it’s later in life that a person starts seriously looking backwards. I think of that looking backwards as adding a line at an angle to the future line, the perspective that adds depth and makes them three-dimensional. I didn’t engage with the past until my early 30s, when I got interested in my family history. Some people never think about the past, and always remain two dimensional.
But YOU: you’ve chosen to study history, and that already gives you a depth that many people your age won’t achieve for years. Take advantage of that perspective. It makes it easier to ride the tough times, and to appreciate the good times. I have faith in you to use your three-dimensionality well, to look beyond yourself when finding your place in the world. Congratulations, and welcome to the next phase of your life. Thank you.
If I were more commercially savvy, I'd be talking up the publication of my recent novel The Last Runaway. But you can dig around on this site and find out more about it.
Instead I want to show you the grave of the heroine of my last novel, Remarkable Creatures. I was in Lyme Regis the other day, where I went fossil hunting (and found very little). Passing by Mary Anning's grave, I took a photo of all the fossils people leave there in homage. (I left a little belemnite tip.)
The Last Runaway is now out in the UK. Hurrah! I am scurrying around the country, giving talks and readings (see EVENTS), being interviewed on radio and telly, signing books. It is always a little nerve-wracking. To celebrate, I post a photo my son took of my various research notebooks over the years. Without prompting, he laid them out to look a bit like a quilt. Very fitting. Thanks, Jacob! I've put next to it the start of a quilt I'm making.
My new novel The Last Runaway has been published in the USA and Italy, and I am now gearing up for the UK publication in March. My first reading will be in Keswick, in the Lake District, on March 7th. For other Events in the UK and USA over the coming months, see EVENTS.
The Last Runaway is about a lot of things: slavery, the Underground Railroad, Quakers, principles. And quilts. I took up quilting as part of my research, and last summer at a book festival I talked with Lynne Hatwell, aka the wonderful literary blogger Dove Grey Reader. If you haven't read her BLOG, have a look, it's a must for book lovers. Lynne is also a quilter, and we had fun showing our stuff. Here are a few photos:
It’s always a shock when one of my books is published. I have been tucked away researching and writing for years, with no one to read it but me. Now suddenly the lid is blown off and everyone gets a crack at it. I can no longer make any corrections or influence how readers may respond. The novel is like a child riding away from me, the training wheels removed from its bike. Will it stay upright or fall over? All I can do is stand by and watch.
For a distraction from that anxiety, let’s look at some covers. Because face it, that is how we judge books at first. Here are the US, UK and Italian covers:
Isn’t it surprising how different the tone of each cover can be? Hard to believe the words inside are the same!