Yesterday night I went to my first meeting of the Jewellery Quarter Bookwormers, which is run by a lovely chap, Simon Stokes, who’s gathered an impressive roster of writers local and not-so-local to visit the Drop Forge Pub in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter to talk about their work, take questions and sell some books.
This month it was the turn of Lynn Shepherd, who has written three books which take a known work of literature (or, in the case of her latest book, a literary group) and twist it to introduce an element of mystery. Now, I’m not one for the crime or horror, but I was persuaded to go along, told which of the books I might like, and duly met up with friends and wandered across town to the Jewellery Quarter (it’s not that far, actually; I think it’s the barrier of the ring road, which isn’t much of a barrier as you just step across a crossing … but it’s a bit like Coventry: you know it’s there but you don’t venture there from Birmingham very often).
I’m very glad I went. Getting there early, we had the opportunity to have a nice chat with Lynn beforehand. During this chat and her presentation, it became clear that she takes her research very seriously. She loves and knows the books she works with, and she obviously takes great pains to get things right, amassing, for example, a huge body of knowledge about the Shelley family along the way. While raising the spectre of Georgette Heyer isn’t always greeted with gladness and glee, I think the same applies to Shepherd as does to Heyer – their attention to detail and concern with getting it right lifts them above similar novels in the genre, be that reworkings of classic novels or Regency romances.
Lynn is an inveterate story-teller, engaging us with her tales of her work, research and the Shelley family. Time passed quickly, and all too soon it was time for her to go back to Oxford. I was impressed enough to buy a copy of the book (to be read in August, I’ve decided, after re-reading Mansfield Park in July. You don’t have to have read the original to enjoy the new books, but it will add another layer, I’m sure, so it’s worth doing). As Lynn combines her writing career with a copywriting career (I drew some parallels between writing to order in that side of her job and writing about people she might not actively like in her creative work), I’m hoping to feature her in my Small Business Chat series on the Libro blog at some stage.
The Drop Forge is a good venue for such events. It’s quiet on a Thursday evening and as well as the usual pub layout has one long table with seats around it, and The Snug, where we were, which has a long table and comfy chairs and would suit other such get togethers. There is music, but it’s not too loud and doesn’t disrupt the author’s talk. They do tea and coffee as well as the usual pub drinks, and food which looks good, if not really suitable for people trying to eat low fat, etc. (I’m not sure of the gluten-free offering but it’s worth checking).
All in all, a good evening in convivial company, which ended up with a show-and-tell of cat pictures on our phones and a pleasant walk with friends back across town. And you can’t really help buying a book when the author’s there to sign it (and has warned you off her more gory volume, having heard about your aversion to ickiness!)