I spent last weekend in another land. Not a magical land, though I’m rather fond of all the magical stories to come out of it (finished reading Neil Gaiman’s latest one on the train, in fact). I went to England, for the second time in my life, and this time managed to get out of London.

Friday: The London Author Fair

It went fantastically, but it’ll make a dull tale and I took ZERO photos because I was so busy at workshops and seminars and chatting to a bunch of writers. But also a literary agent. I was a-buzz all through February, preparing my two manuscripts and pitch material for this weekend.

I did my pitch just after lunch. Hopefully I didn’t huff chicken curry all over the poor lady, but she was eating her own and it wasn’t exactly steamy. In fact, she wasn’t sure if it was the chicken or the vegetable… nope, not a good sign. Anyway, we got on well and the pitch was fine – not exactly as I rehearsed, but perhaps that’s inevitable when talking to a real person. She wanted to read my manuscripts, the contemporary one first, so I emailed it off between seminars in the afternoon. And that’s really all one can hope for from a pitch. Decisions come later, after reading whole manuscripts… as they should.

Highlights: Adele Parks took a workshop in the afternoon, and she’s lovely. And now I’ve read one of her novels, so I can confirm she’s also brilliant. The panels were fun: watching everyone try not to offend anyone on the other side of the whole traditional/indie publishing battle-in-denial thang. Hi-larious. But lots of people had interesting things to say. A guy from goodreads was there, and a bunch of literary agents, and a bunch of others on the indie side of things.

I wore out my voice at the evening drinks thing. Put a whole lot of writers on a time-limit in a small room together with booze… it was loud. So I escaped to the foyer at the end, and then Hannah showed up – my school friend who put me up for the weekend.

Next day, we headed off to the country… to Jane Austen’s home! Hannah is great at fangirling, so I didn’t feel like a total dweeb.

fangirling persuasion

 Me, fangirling. That is all you need to know.

Austen's Chawton home

That’s the house.

Austen's bedroom

The lady herself’s bedroom! (Bed is just a replica.)

ink and lavender

Making lavender pouches and practicing our penmanship, in the kitchen.

Cassandra tea rooms

We had Lunch at Cassandra’s Tea Rooms (named for Jane’s sister)

british foodCheck out the British vegetables.

We had a few hiccups, what with the train stopping a few stations too early, in another town, and something was wrong with the tracks, so we had to find an alternative… a pricey wee taxi. But we made it to Chawton, and on the way back the train was running. Whew.

We found some dinner in London’s something-like-china-town…

chinatown, londonand then rushed off to the Spice World sing-along at the Prince Charles cinema. If you live in London, or even just visit, this is definitely worth looking up. They put on loads of old titles and do marathons, quote-alongs, sing-alongs, even dance-alongs! I didn’t have any voice for singing or quoting, though I did try once or twice.

“The little gucci dress, the little gucci dress, or… the little gucci dress!”

A couple of Hannah’s friends joined us for the movie and then we went for pudding and cocktails. And then Hannah and I flaked out (yeah, it was mainly me) and took the train, home to bed.

taking the overgroundBig Ben in the eye.

Sunday morning, we took the train again…

perks of public transport

Perks of public transport: views!

off to the portrait gallery

We popped up in the middle of London – the actual middle, I’m told, and then made our way to the National Portrait Gallery. We visited a temporary exhibition of war portraits, watching particularly for some pastels a friend recommended – documenting some of the early cosmetic surgeries done on soldiers who’d suffered horrific shrapnel injuries. Visit the link for Fran’s photo. I didn’t dare snap one.

Hannah and I looked around a few rooms of the rest of the National Portrait Gallery. We found William Wilberforce (trade slave abolitionist) and loads of Tudors and Stuarts, the Brontes, a tiny Jane Austen and a giant Michael Kane. A recent Dame Maggie Smith and a very young Sir Ian McKellen.

And then Hannah whisked me over to the National Gallery. She’d seen it before and I was pretty tired, so I picked out a few favourites and, hunting them down, walked through nearly the entire thing.

After lunch we gave up on sight-seeing and went to a movie. I’ll get to the Tower of London next time.

off to the movies

This might sound like a waste of precious London time, but I so rarely see movies. There’s the babysitting to organize, sure, but it’s mostly because all the mainstream films are dubbed in French and the Version Originale screenings are few and far between. The non-mainstream films just don’t often get on my radar till it’s too late for a cinema viewing.

So Hannah and I agreed on ‘The Book Thief’ over the Slave film because we wanted something a little lighter… oops. But for all the sad bits, it was great. Weird thing with the narration (by death) – a bit jarring, but otherwise, loved it.

Last stop before departure, St Pancras station. Well, duh, but I didn’t just check-in early. I met up with a friend from school – from when I went to school in Hong Kong for seven months when I was twelve. Sixteen years ago! We reconnected on Facebook and she lives in London, so we caught up. It was seriously uncanny.

tea and scones at fortnum and masonShoko introduced me to Fortnum and Mason.
We had tea and scones with clotted cream.

The perfect wrap-up to a very British, and also rather internationally book-ended, weekend. My first trip away on my own, since Louis’ birth over three years ago – a roaring success!

Except it left me voice-less and exhausted. This week has been a wash. And not in the laundry sense. I’m just starting to catch up today. Still, totally worth it.