J K Rowling recently paid a surprise visit to the Orkney Library, where I just happened to be attending the very book club that she had decided to pop in and visit. Not your everyday event, but an indication of how highly regarded Stewart Bain (Orkney’s chief Librarian and all round good guy) is. Stewart has been tweeting Orkney Library for some time and there has been an ongoing rivalry with Shetland Library and back and forth with a variety of writers. We knew J K Rowling followed Orkney Library, but to the extent of turning up for the day on a rainy Saturday? Nah…never going to happen.
The book up for discussion was The Cuckoo’s Calling that Saturday, and although I’d read the book when it first came out I wasn’t sure if I’d remember enough to go along, so hesitated. Did I really want to head out on such a dreich day? I’d had a bit of excitement in the post and wasn’t sure if I would be able to concentrate. I couldn’t find my copy of the book, but I knew I had it on Kindle and I figured I could refresh my memory with a quick look through before we started. I also had with me my notebook and my exciting post (which will be relevant later).
Stewart, who is normally in the room from the off was nowhere to be seen, but the regulars were there. We made tea for ourselves and examined the cakes – a huge chocolate gateau and two lemon drizzle cakes – I was feeling pretty glad I’d come! As I was discussing the merits of chocolate vs lemon to one of my fellow readers – we do have a high-level of literary chat here – a librarian put her head round the door to say Stewart would be with us soon, but he was tied up with visitors.
‘Probably folk from the council’ someone said, grimacing. We agreed. Someone else half-heartedly added, ‘could be JK?’ We smiled and carried on chatting cake and murder.
Then the chatter stopped. The door had opened and Stewart Bain, looking like a man struck by lightning, was ushering in a petite blonde woman (with rather fab suede boots, I noticed), a bearded man and two children. First thought (after the boots) was ‘why has Stewart brought children to Saturday Slaughters? Odd.
It took me almost a full minute to realise J.K Rowling was introducing herself and being offered tea, a seat, and cake. Tea – builders, cake – lemon drizzle (although Strike prefers something solid like fruit cake apparently).
She sat and chatted about the book, her writing and answered our questions. Initially, it was all a bit stilted – we had all become a suddenly and uncharacteristically shy, audience – but she was warm and witty and obviously used to dealing with the momentarily tongue-tied.
After about an hour and a half it was time to wrap things up. I was desperate to talk to her but of course, didn’t have a copy of the novel to get an autograph in. So, I improvised and handed over my Moleskine. She smiled and looked at the notebook. ‘I just signed my first book deal this morning.’ I blurted out, my face going a deep shade of beetroot. What was I doing? Oh god, she’s going to think I’m an idiot, I cannot believe I am telling JK Rowling I’m a writer! ‘It’s a tiny, tiny contract.’ I found myself saying. But Jo (see how I did that?) wasn’t having it. She gave me a huge hug and looked round the room, ‘Do they know, you’re a writer? You must tell them?’ I hushed her and went even redder. This is Orkney we don’t shout out things like that in public.
She signed the notebook and wished me lots of luck. I didn’t read what she’d written till I left the library. Good job too. I nearly cried when I did. She didn’t need to be so generous or encouraging to someone she had only just met. I’d have been happy with just a signature, but, it was obvious this was someone who, whatever her success, will never forget what it’s like to be just starting out.