What question have you always wanted to ask an author?

As a bookseller and a librarian I’ve met lots of authors over the years.  Some I’ve never heard of, others I know of but haven’t read any of their books.  When I know they’re coming I try to read at least one of their books so that I can understand what they’re talking about and at least look like I’m a huge fan. 

These authors are always particularly grateful that you know who they are because they inevitably don’t get many fans lining up to get their books signed.  One author such as this (I won’t name names) who I met a couple of years ago at The Children’s Bookshop had so few visitors that he actually fell asleep in his comfortable chair in the shop window and I had to nudge him to wake him up when a young fan wanted her book signed. 

Then there are some of my favourite authors who I can’t wait to meet and almost count down the days until their visit.   I gobble up as much as I can of what they’ve written and find out what I can about them from interviews so that if I found myself having a conversation with them I’d know what to talk about.

When I go to the Somerset Writer’s Festival from 17-19 March I will be able to meet some of my favourite children’s and young adults writers including Patrick Ness, Markus Zusak and Derek Landy.  I’m trying to think of some profound and interesting questions to ask them when I get to meet them, as this may be my only chance.  My only problem is that when I’ve made my way through the line to get my book signed and am standing in front of them I get a bit star struck and have no idea what to say.

I’d like to know what question or questions you would ask your favourite authors if you had the chance to talk with them face-to-face?

Bumper March for Christchurch

March is shaping up to be a bumper month for author visits to Christchurch.

This evening (Wednesday 3rd March) Xinran, of  The Good Women of China fame, will be speaking at Christchurch Girls’ High School about her new book Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love which deals with the poignant experiences of Chinese women who were forced to give up their daughters through adoption or abandonment.

Next Monday, 8 March, is the turn of Elizabeth Kostova, author of The Historian, a novel which, according to Wikipedia, has the distinction of having been the first debut novel to enter the prestigious New York Times bestseller list at number one.  She will be promoting her latest offering, The Swan Thieves, a novel set in the world of Impressionist art, in an interesting departure from her previous work which took as its inspiration the life of Vlad the Impaler (the medieval prince who became famous as the fictional Count Dracula).

The Greatest Show on EarthThen on Thursday 11 March, The Press presents a Literary Liaison evening with Richard Dawkins, the prominent evolutionary biologist and author of the bestseller The God Delusion.  His new book outlining the evidence in favour of evolution is titled The Greatest Show on Earth and promises to be similarly successful, if the 29 outstanding holds by Christchurch City Libraries customers are any indication.

The Long SongLast, but certainly not least, Andrea Levy, winner of the 2004 Orange Prize for Fiction for her novel Small Island, will speak at Our City O-Tautahi on Tuesday 25 March. Her latest book, entitled The Long Song, deals with 19th century Jamaica, in the years before and after the end of slavery.

If you are interested in attending talks by visiting authors, keep an eye on the following:

And if you want to read more about the authors and books  mentioned above, don’t forget the vast selection of resources in our  Books, Literature and Reading section.

Dead Dames – Jean Rhys 1890-1979

Forget old Dod Byron being mad, bad and dangerous to know, Jean Rhys would wipe the floor with him. Rhys is best known for her novel Wide Sargasso Sea, published in 1966, a “prequel” to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre but with the emphasis on the sinister Mrs Rochester’s journey to madness. Set in the West Indies during the abolition of slavery the success of this novel gave Rhys, for the first time, financial security (she invested it in frocks, booze and make-up!) and a measure of fame.

Born in Dominica to a middle-class family, Rhys moved to England to finish her education and attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. Her impenetrable Caribbean accent scuppered her acting ambitions, so she became a chorus girl and later a kept mistress to Lancelot Grey Hugh Smith, a wealthy stockbroker. This period of her life became the background for her second novel Voyage in the dark.

In 1919 she married Willem Lenglet, a Dutch journalist and spy, and together they led a ramshackle life on the outskirts of artistic society. Rhys had an affair with the writer Ford Madox Ford and he promoted her writing, introducing her collection of short stories The left bank. Her affair with Maddox and the collapse of her marriage became the subject matter for Quartet her first full novel.

The 1930s and 1940s saw Rhys publish two more novels, re-marry twice, drink steadily, fight spectacularly with her neighbours and enjoy a brief stay at her Majesty’s pleasure in Holloway Prison. What a girl!

Jean Rhys played the victim and outsider in her own life and used this victimhood as a central motif in her novels, but her novels are also shrewd examinations of  power and society, and the harsh realities that await us all.

Rhys died in 1979 leaving an unfinished autobiograhy Smile please.