Once the Fiction Uncovered judging is completed the plan is that I will be taking a rest from all things 'Public Literary World' and commitments beyond reading what I want and writing dovegreyreader this year.
Much as I enjoy it all and never say never of course, but for a while no taking part in literary festivals, no speaking appearances, no cross-country blogger meet-ups, no interviews, no panel discussions, no written pieces for anything but here, no publisher parties (where may lurk a rogue prawn tucked up in a canape ...the blood results are back, it wasn't my imagination, I am highly allergic to the critters) no book launches, no doing a week of Thought for the Day for local radio...
It was very kind of them and I was very flattered and honoured to be asked... but what on earth would I have to say that might uplift the Shire as it embarks on its daily toil. My polite refusal was nothing to do with the fact that I needed to submit scripts well in advance, and would have had to be in the studio twenty miles away for 6am every morning for a week through an icy January either ...no honestly, it really wasn't.
But I did do some very exciting things last year, enough lovely memories to keep me going through this one for sure, and one of those was the opportunity to meet and talk with Tracy Chevalier at Port Eliot Festival.
After some apprehension following Vermeer discussions here I had been nervous about reading Tracy's novel Girl With a Pearl Earring. I needn't have worried, it suited my reading mood perfectly, my sort of book and I loved it, so I have really been looking forward to the arrival of Tracy's new novel The Last Runaway.
'There's slave hunters all over Ohio. See, we got a lot of runaways through here. East to west you got settlers moving for more land. South to north you got runaway slaves looking for freedom. Funny how nobody wants to go south or east. It's north or west that hold out some kind of promise.'
When a proof copy arrived during that week of the Buprawnic plague backalong I was cheered and delighted.
This was the book that Tracy had talked about and read extracts from in the dovegreyreader tent at Port Eliot, as well as showing us the quilt that she had made, both as research for the book but also for the inspiration and for the love it. Tracy now has the quilting bug and we talked and looked at quilts for ages.
In fact we started the event with a Show & Tell. Any quilters out there will be very familiar with this process, (as will any school teachers) and I started things off by way of introduction with the Kayaker's baby quilt...
Unfinished as you can see and there was the 8lb 3oz baby, now large as life twenty eight years later, sitting in front of us taking this photograph, cue much laughter. But I love this piece for its history and what I stitched into it back in 1983, which quilting tradition suggests will be what is happening in your life at the time. Isn't it so of the 1980s moment, Tumbling Blocks, a homage to the fabric of Laura Ashley and English pieced-over-papers hand stitchery. I only need to look at it and I am thinking towelling nappies and two babies under two and no sleep, little wonder I never finished it. By way of mitigating circumstances I can confirm that a friend and I did complete an identical one for another baby born in our midst at the time.
However unwittingly I had segued right into a theme in The Last Runaway which features much about both English and American quilting and their differences, as Quaker Honor Bright sails from Bristol to a new life in Ohio in the 1850s.
"Will quilters be able to make the quilts in the book...in the way that Margaret Atwood Alias Grace quilts abound?"
Tracy hesitated for a moment, confessing that this hadn't occurred to her .. "Yes.. I think they will," came the reply, and I confirm that this is indeed the case.
'... a patchwork of brown, yellow and cream diamonds pieced into an eight-point Star of Bethlehem, then quilted with harps and the running feather border she was known for...'
'The community has given her a signature quilt - each square made and signed by a different friend or family member...'
There are Grandmother's Flower Gardens and whole-cloth quilts and I am only half way through the book, I feel sure there will be more, but all adding to the plot as Tracy explores the last days of slavery through the eyes of a woman who must decide how far she can compromise her beliefs and defy the law.
If you enjoy Tracy's writing I feel sure you will love The Last Runaway as much as I am, and if you are a quilter you absolutely will want to read it. If you are not a quilter this book may just make you want to have a go.
The book will be published on March 14th but twelve of you lucky readers won't have to wait that long... scroll down where Magnus, who may or may not be awake, awaits with gifts.