There's a giveaway on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog of one of my novels this week, and it got me thinking about the bond between reader and author. Most of us vividly recall a book that changed our lives, whether as young adults or at a crucial moment later in life. That moment makes us feel a special kinship with the author. It's a meeting of minds - even of souls. A potent bond, indeed.
Ask any author and they'll tell you it's always a happy day when a reader gets in touch to say how much that author's book has meant to them. Sometimes the message is moving, like the Yarmouth museum curator who told me The Queen's Lady helped him as he mourned the death of his father. Sometimes the message brings a laugh, like the lady who cheerfully told me she got The Queen's Captive out of the library because she remembered having loved a similar book, and then realized, as she was enjoying The Queen's Captive, that this was the very book she'd read and loved!
Here are three readers whose messages to me were special.
Some years ago I was in England researching The Queen’s Lady and spent a day exploring Hever Castle in Kent. This was the home of the Boleyn family, and Henry VIII came here to court Anne. That tempestuous affair changed the course of England’s history.
As I strolled the grounds in a happy haze of imagination, I picked up an acorn. What a lovely feeling to hold in my hand something living from the so-called "dead" past. I squirreled the acorn away in my pocket and brought it home to Canada, and it sat on my desk beside my computer, a sweet reminder of its place of birth as I wrote The Queen’s Lady. The acorn was still on my desk when I wrote The King’s Daughter. It had become a touchstone that spirited me back to the Tudor world. I was very fond of it.
Then my husband and I moved, and in the shuffle the little acorn got lost.
A few months later I got a cheery email from a reader telling me he was on his way to England for an Anne Boleyn Tour during which he’d be staying at Hever Castle. There would be dinners in the Great Hall where Henry and Anne ate, plus lectures, plays, and demonstrations – “A once in a lifetime experience,” he said. I replied to wish him a happy trip and told him about my acorn. He is a retired air force colonel and lives in Tennessee.
Four weeks later a small package arrived in my mailbox. It was from the Colonel. Inside was a note: “I looked for an acorn to replace the one you lost but couldn’t find one. I did get you this.” Nestled under the note was a pine cone. He had scoured the Hever grounds for it. “It’s from the area where Henry courted Anne, according to the castle staff,” wrote the Colonel.
I was so touched. The pine cone now sits on my desk beside my computer as I write the next “Thornleigh” book. Thank you, Colonel, for what you gave me. A once in a lifetime experience.
A music educator in Ontario recently emailed me with praise about my books and told me she was part of a sewing club of about three dozen ladies who get together at the delightfully-named shop The Enchanted Needle. She said they were working on Tudor period sewing techniques, and she attached images of historic Tudor-era embroidery. Now, I know little about sewing, but I know beauty when I see it, and these works were stunning. (You can see them on the blog post here.)
As she waxed lyrical about bygone sewing techniques like "stumpwork" and "Assisi," "blackwork" and "bargello," "cross-stitching" and "the morphing power of color," I could only, in ignorance, try to keep up, but when she said my books inspired her in this Tudor-era needlework I was moved again by how glorious and various are the connections between author and reader.
That's what I'll call him, the gangly pale-faced kid who showed up at a public reading I did from The Queen's Gamble and listened so intensely. He looked about fourteen, the only person there who was so young. After the reading I saw him at the edge of the knot of people I was chatting with. The others all asked lively questions, but he said nothing. He looked like he wanted to, but he never took a step nearer. When I finished talking to the eager questioners, I noticed the boy was gone.
Some days later I found in my mailbox a package: a slender book and a note. The writer of the note said he'd been at the reading, and was a high school student who loved history, and he hoped to one day be a history teacher. My novels were his favorites, he said. The book he'd enclosed was Bloody Tower by Valerie Wilding, a young adult novel in the form of a Tudor girl's diary. It had meant a lot to him when he was younger, he said, so he wanted to share it with me.
There, now I've shared it with you. That's what the writer-reader bond is. We share what touches us. And that connection is what makes the writer's work a joy.
Barbara Kyle is the author of the acclaimed Tudor-era "Thornleigh" novels, all published internationally. Visit http://www.barbarakyle.com