I started the last leg of my “2013 About the World Trip” with a Eurostar 2 hour train ride thru the chunnel (tunnel under the English channel), from Paris to London. My seat faced backwards, giving me the sense the entire trip that I was traveling back in time, retracing my steps.
Arriving in London, on time (for when you travel backwards, arriving on time is a given), I ate chicken and mushroom pie from the meat pie stand. Then I crossed the street from the St Pancras international train terminal to Kings Cross national train terminal, and snuck on an earlier train than the one I was scheduled for. No one seemed to care. No one checked my ticket.
And so I was off to a literary festival in York, England, a town with a 600 year old Minster (a type of cathedral, I was told, but extra special as designated by British Royalty), and 800 year old streets in the city center surrounded by old stone walls.
York is the birthplace of Guy Fawkes, a Catholic terrorist (against the ruling British Protestants), who in 1605 intended to blow up the king and all of parliament to bring a Catholic monarch to power in their place. Guy was caught, tortured, and sentenced to be hanged (to the point of death but not killed), drawn and then quartered alive. He escaped this ghastly end by leaping off the gallows and breaking his neck.
Which reminds me of my one-on-ones with a publisher and an agent at the festival. A kind of speed dating between writers (looking for love and acceptance) and book doctors, agents and publishers (who were determined not to give any). We poor writers were allowed 10 minutes with each to defend our submitted work and hear whether our one-on-one partner loved or hated us.
My first one-on-one was with a publisher. She understood my intentions, with Father’s Lies, to break all convention. To cause a literary revolution. I knew I was in trouble, though, when I saw she had placed a large question mark next to Father’s comment below:
“You are going for a walk in this sun?” asked Mother.
“I don’t have any other,” said Father. ? (Here the publisher had placed a large question mark. She didn’t get Father’s wit – and since the whole book is based on Father’s imagination and sense of humor…)
She tortured me, then, the publisher, until I confessed that Father’s Lies was not a commercial work, that no one would ever really understand it or want to buy it! As I contemplated my sentencing, and execution, during my next one-on-one with a book agent, I thought about Guy, how he had jumped off the gallows to avoid his ghastly punishment. And in a way, I did just that. For this is what I said when the buzzer rang and I took my place in front of the striking Italian woman with the wild black hair: “OK, I know Father’s Lies is not sell-able as a first novel, so instead let me pitch you another work of mine.” A slight tilt of her head indicated she was surprised and curious. “Continue,” she said. I dived off into the telling of the story of another more commercial novel I’ve written, and I watched her eyes as I spoke, looking for the slightest spark of interest. Yes – there – just then – in that moment’s telling, I saw a tiny stretch of a smile. I was ecstatic when she began to take notes. I had done it! I had avoided being drawn and quartered. She liked my telling, and asked me to send her a few chapters for later review. Later I walked around the lake and admired a pair of black swans. The sun broke through the clouds, shown for a minute, to match my happiness, then gave way to a persistent, cold drizzle.
Overall my visit to York was entertaining, meeting among other people a nice girl from London who told me she had a thing for clocks and wanted to write magical realism. So many hopeful writers, their stories clinging to their backs like leopards, around their necks like furs. Imaginary characters speaking in their ears. Speaking in my ears. We were all there prone to the throne of the deposed king of entertainment, Literature. The last night in York I took a taxi into town and walked the old city known as the Shambles. I ate at a Pub and drank a glass of red wine. And another. Had a long conversation with my muse. I told her she didn’t have to stay with me, that she could move on, now, if she wished. That I certainly enjoyed her company, but this festival had been a kind of last stand for my hopes of being published. She told me she enjoyed my company too, and that was all that really mattered.
Took the train back to London from York, for my flight home the next day. Circled the block from King’s Cross station, hauling my luggage, in a light rain and gusty wind, and found my hotel – a bit of a firetrap but OK for one night. I headed back outside as darkness fell, to get info on the (Piccadilly line) train ride I was to take to London Heathrow airport the next morning. I felt good about life, satisfied that I had planned and pulled off an almost spotless trip, when a taxi roared by close to the curb and set a 3 foot wave of dirty water across the back of my legs. “That’s OK”, I thought, examining the dark stain from my hips down, feeling the chill as the water soaked through to my skin. “That’s just Life reminding me I am still at her mercy.”