Dear well-traveled reader,
In my last letter, I left us on a British Airways flight north, with hot tea and milk and little biscuits. Glasgow, Scotland, was our destination.
It was a short trip from London, but night had fallen by the time we landed at 7 p.m. Samantha the publicist, as always, had us precisely on schedule — we jumped in a car to the hotel, dropped our luggage in the rooms, and headed to dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant. The menu was diverse and delicious, with creamy and spicy sauces, warm naan, lamb, seafood. But once again I was distracted from the meal by the wonderful conversation.
We joined Jack and Gillian, the Scotland regional managers for my UK publisher Headline, and Chris and Sue, owner and book buyer of the independent bookstore Atkinson-Pryce. As we passed the dishes of curry around the table, we talked about everything from digital books to bear sightings, Alaska’s long winters to Scotland’s upcoming referendum for secession. Within no time, we were sharing a meal with friends. We ended the evening with mango and pistachio ice cream.
The next morning, Gillian picked us up at the hotel in her car. We headed to local bookstores so I could sign copies of The Snow Child. At one Waterstones, I was welcomed by an enthusiastic staff who had created a display for the book. One of the booksellers even brought in an illustrated book from her own childhood that included the snow maiden fairy tale.
Quickly, though, it was time to move on. Sam, Samantha, Gillian and I all piled in the car and headed southeast out of Glasgow. As we wended our way through sheep-dotted fields, wind mills, rocky hillsides, and the sudden snow flurry, Gillian told us about the area in her beautiful Scottish accent.
With a population of about 2,000, Biggar is even smaller than my hometown of Palmer, Alaska, but it is clearly a hub of arts, music, and literature. There are museums, art galleries, the Biggar Ukulele Ensemble, and, of course, Atkinson-Pryce bookshop.
But before visiting the bookstore, we attended a literary luncheon at a nearby hotel. The event was organized by Chris and Sue, and many of their favorite customers had purchased tickets to attend.
One of the most delightful surprises of the entire trip came as we entered the banquet room. Biggar landscape painter Amy Marshall was displaying a charcoal piece she had done specifically in honor of The Snow Child — a little girl and a fox peeking through the woods at a little cabin. And throughout the room, Amy’s other winter paintings lent a perfect atmosphere.
My belief that this is an artistic town was confirmed when I met Fiona Gibson, the delightful author of books including The Great Escape, and Suzanne Rigg, another talented local author who had recently published a fascinating nonfiction history book called Men of Spirit and Enterprise.
We visited and ate our meals of roasted vegetable tarts, salmon, beef, fresh peas, and tender potatoes. (Despite warnings from American friends, I found the food in England and Scotland to be dangerously good. I think I may have to go on a diet now that I’m back home.)
After the meal, Fiona and I took our place in the center of the room and we began a conversation about The Snow Child. I could have talked with her for hours about writing and fiction. Then came the questions from the audience, and they were both touching and insightful. As we all visited, a snowstorm swept through the streets of Biggar.
After lunch, the sun came out and we walked through the brisk air down the street to the bookshop itself. The window display took my breath away — snowflakes and branches and magic. Inside, beside a glowing fireplace, I signed copies of The Snow Child. Then I went shopping. I purchased both Fiona and Suzanne’s books,as well as a retelling of the snow maiden fairy tale I hadn’t seen before. Sam found a 1904 edition of The New Testament in Braid Scots, and Chris and Sue gave him a copy of the comical Wee Animal ABC Scots alphabet children’s book, and me books by Kathleen Jamie and Linda Cracknell. Our suitcase would be a lot heavier on the way home.
But Samantha had her eye on the clock, and it was time to head to the next event. This one was in the nearby town of Moffat at the “posh” and beautiful Moffat House Hotel. Built in the 1750s, the hotel has sandstone pillars and an elegant ambiance. Moffat Book Events had organized an intimate but full house of readers and writers. I joined Liz Roberts at the front of the room where we had a conversation about my novel, my life in Alaska, even earthquakes. Later in the evening, I had a chance to visit with everyone and sign books.
All too soon, Samantha was making quiet motions that it was time to go. We had a long drive back to the hotel in Glasgow, and an early morning interview the next day.
In my next letter, I’ll tell you about our final two days in the UK.