Budleigh Salterton has just had its fifth literary festival and I was thrilled to get a ticket to see a favourite author last week.
Jackie Kay is a Scottish but like me, she is also half Nigerian, Igbo to be precise. She is professor of Creative Writing and has received her MBE. Jackie has written a growing collection of novels, poetry and short fiction for both adults and children. In her talk at Budlitfest she focussed mainly on her memoir Red Dust Road , as well as several poems.
The talk she gave was hilarious and early on she spotted me in the front row getting one of her jokes way before the rest of the audience, and said that she was happy to share the same sense of humour.
I’ve read Trumpet, one of her novels and some poetry, as well as hearing her on the radio, but had avoided the memoir, somehow I knew it would affect me. A couple days before the festival I realised that Red Dust Road would be featured, so I downloaded it with the plan to buy a real copy on the day. I won’t give any spoilers but we have a fair few things in common, and it is very emotive for me.
On the day I was determined to try to talk to her, but I suprised myself. Believe it or not I’m actually a shy person, except with very small number so people – any more than six and I clamp my lips! But questions were invited and I had one. I waited until the final call, suddenly my hand was in the air and I knew I was going to speak. Me speak, in a hall full of people. I actually did it and was so proud of myself.
Afterwards several people took me aside and asked me questions, that was fine, I’m not shy at all with a couple at a time. I felt like a mini celebrity for once.
Over in the marquee, the bookshop and signing queue was horrendous so I got myself a cuppa and waited for the rush to end. I joined the queue and chatted to the lady in front and together we realised that the books we wanted, Fiere for her and Red Dust Road for me, were sold out. Mortified we each grabbed one of the very few copies of Reality, Reality instead.
Soon the nice lady was chatting with Jackie, expressing her disappointment that she couldn’t have the one she wanted and Jackie pulled a copy out of her handbag. ‘You can have mine,’ she said ‘no, I wouldn’t dream of charging you.’ I think she saw my jaw drop and my eyes turn into Bambi’s because she smiled and went back to the other lady.
Then it was my turn. I handed her the book I had bought and she said ‘Which was it you were hoping for?’ I thought I’d gone heaven when she pulled her own copy, complete with her notes, from that handbag, signed it and handed it to me.
I think she would have talked and talked, asking me all about myself and the similar experiences we’d had. She encouraged me to keep writing and made me promise to send her my book in return as soon as possible.
This was a very special afternoon for me, it was great to meet a writer who was genuinely interested in her readers, a warm and generous lady. Meet Jackie,
and here are my two special books.