Honestly, as the only American writer and a Southerner to boot, I could have read the back of a cereal box and the folks at Bold Strokes Books’ U.K. event would have been entertained.
I could rattle on and on about the BSB U.K. Book Festival expertly organized by Vic Oldham and the week I spent with Jane Fletcher and her partner, Joanie Bassler. They were wonderful hosts and Jane is an extraordinary tour guide. But here’s a few highlights and revelations from my week abroad:
– First and foremost, Bold Strokes readers and authors are fantastic in any country.
– It’s not true that English food is bland and boring. (An American myth) I thoroughly enjoyed steak and kidney pie, steak and ale pudding, a traditional Cornish pasty, Spotted Dick dessert (although I still think they should reconsider the name), fish and chips (very yummy), Minty Lamb pie (which was more like a pudding) and roasted vegetable gravy (wonderful), clotted cream that was part of a traditional Cream Tea, and a tasty sampling of England’s love affair with Indian food.
– They drink pints of ale like Southerners drink sweet tea … with almost every meal. While we usually declare “it must be 5 o’clock somewhere” before we pour our first alcohol of the day, I think the Brits consider 11 a.m. to be the opening drinking hour.
– Driving (in my case, sitting in the front seat to experience Jane Fletcher’s expert driving) in the U.K. is the ultimate thrill-seeking carnival ride. They could teach NASCAR a few things about dodging and weaving among cars and racing down incredibly narrow streets.
– If you listen close enough, you can hear the wind sing among the stones at Stonehenge. My Celtic roots were stirred as we toured historic sites the entire week. After standing on stone floors that are centuries old and imagining the Romans, Celts and citizens of the Middle Ages who stood on the same surfaces, our American history seems so young and fledgling. I was completely awed.
– Joanie, giving me a tour of the Malmesbury Abbey, points out a stained glass window depicting a monk who is holding a flying contraption reminiscent of Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings — only a century before da Vinci. Joanie: He jumped off the top of the Abbey, trying to fly. Me: Did he die? Joanie: No, he just broke his legs. But after that he was always known as Elmer the Flying Monk. Me: (looking skeptical) Yeah, right. Joanie: No, really. Jane told me about it. Me: Oh. Okay. If Jane said so, it must be true. 🙂
– I finally — after five years of being Internet friends — meet the incredibly witty Gill McKnight (for the U.S. folks, that’s pronounced Jill) in person. I credit Gill and Cate Culpepper with giving me the final push to submit my first manuscript to Bold Strokes Books. What a fun ride it has been. Besides being brilliant, Gill is a lovely person with a soft, melodic Irish accent that makes you want to lean in and listen closely.
– I nearly wet my pants laughing while sharing drinks in Nottingham with Jane, Joanie, Gill and Ruth Williams (a reader and friend who treated us to an awesome Indian dinner our first night in the city). After a few pints, Jane shared with us her idea for an anthology of bad lesbian sex. Example One (abridged): Her hand trailed down my abdomen and burrowed between my legs. Her breath was hot in my ear. “Are you always this dry?” she asked. Example Two: Her hand trailed down my abdomen and burrowed between my legs. Her breath was hot in my ear. “Good God. You could float a battleship. Are you always this wet?” (That’s when I had to excuse myself to the loo.)
– The British version of a Black Russian drink is much tastier than our recipe. They have no idea how to mix a White Russian.
– Justine Saracen exclaiming, “I’ll do anything to anyone.” She was actually explaining that she sometimes take small liberties with history for the sake of a good story. I immediately threatened to facebook that (ducking out here briefly to keep that promise).
– Having the chance to visit with Lyndia MacKay, a reader from York who I first met in P-town two years ago. She has beautiful green eyes.
– My first language faux pas was at breakfast Sunday morning when we discovered that Andrea Bramhall was staying at the same hotel. Gill, Jane, Joanie and I were trying to convince Andrea that we had room for her to ride with us in Gill’s van to Sam and Vic’s house. I said, “There’s plenty of room to toss her in the back seat.” Everyone stopped eating an stared at their plates while Andrea blushed and giggled. Apparently “toss” is British slang for, uh, something else and I had just proposed a threesome in the back seat between Andrea, Joanie and me. Freudian slip? Andrea is very pretty. 🙂
– The impish jokester Joanie instantly goes into nanny mode (one of her previous occupations) when you do something childlike such as climbing up a castle wall to see what’s behind the barred door or sticking your hand in the water at the Roman Baths. Me: It’s warm! Joanie: That water’s not treated! I have some wipes. Me: No, it’s fine. I’ll wash my hands before we leave. Joanie: I have wipes right here in my backpack. Me: It’s not like I’m going to lick my fingers. Joanie: People constantly touch their faces without realizing it. Use this wipe. Me: Yes, mom.
– Leaving was bittersweet. I had such a fantastic time and made many new friends. The countryside and villages of Southwest England are like living in storybook. The biggest surprise was that I felt so completely at home there.
To take a pictorial tour with me, go to: