I remember seeing some TV footage, it must be a few years ago now, of J.K. Rowling at work, finishing one of her Harry Potter books. She was working in a hotel room – to get away from distractions – and the action went like this: J.K. sitting at computer, tappetty-tap-tap-tap… writes the final sentence… tappetty-tap… shuts file (no checking through, no agonising)… puts disc (or maybe whole laptop) in a briefcase with a fearsome combination lock. That briefcase is suddenly, quite literally, worth more than its weight in gold. It is then taken – no doubt by some expert martial artist in a suit and a whisper-clip – to her agent. I’m assuming it was all staged for the cameras but hey, what do I know? Maybe that’s how it really happened.
I only say all this because writing in hotel rooms always brings that dramatic little scenario to mind. I don’t have a ninja-in-a-suit waiting outside the door for my every page, needless to say. Mostly I spend my time appreciating the undisturbed quiet (apart from the industrial rumble of some outside pipe thing near my room). Sometimes I spend my time getting a little freaked out by the undisturbed quiet. But that’s OK because the quiet is punctuated regularly by trips into the outside world for events.
Today I had two, both in London. First, accompanied by Jessica Dean, who was my very kind & resourceful minder from Templar for the day (thank you, Jessica!), I found my way to Hampstead Garden Suburb to give a talk at Henrietta Barnett School, a girls’ grammar school founded by the eponymous Dame Henrietta, whose portrait hangs in the hall where I gave my speech:
I am looking forward to having the chance to find out more about Dame Henrietta (maybe a good subject for a future History Girls blog?). All I can tell you now is that her portrait was rather wonderful (and her hair was practically luminous, though apparently that’s only since the portrait has been cleaned). Since I’m a graduate of Girton College, England’s first residential college for women, portraits of pioneering females on the walls of a place make me feel at home.
Dame Henrietta seemed to be smiling kindly on us today; the event went well. It had been organised (excellently) by the head of history, Stephen Cowling, who gave Jessica & me a very warm welcome. I spoke to the whole of Year 7 – a fantastic group of girls – and it was great fun. Many thanks are due, too, to Muswell Hill Children’s Bookshop, who organised the supply of copies of VIII. Then Jessica & I had to dash by taxi back into the centre of London – next stop: Queen’s College, Harley Street.
I must admit I had no idea there even was a school in Harley Street. What a location. It’s in a lovely townhouse – or rather several townhouses knocked together, I think – and Wikipedia tells me that it was founded in 1848, and was the first institution in the world to award academic qualifications to women (hooray – and also ugh that this first should’ve occurred in the mid-19th century… shockingly late).
Amongst its charms, Queen’s even has a school dog in the form of the Deputy Head’s very sweet floppy-eared something-or-other (I’m as good at dog-knowledge as gardening-knowledge), whose lead stretched just far enough for him to be able to peer out of ‘his’ office into the school corridor where I was signing books. I wish I’d caught a photo of him…
Anyway, all that came later. The talk was first, to Years 8, 9 & 10, in this hall:
Dr Sally Perry had organised the event and looked after me brilliantly. Adam from Daunt Books was supporting the event from the VIII-selling point of view, and we had a lovely chat beforehand about history-at-school, historical-fiction-reading and the awe-inspiring Hilary Mantel. The talk itself went well, the mixed-age group came up with great questions & there was lots of demand for the book afterwards.
All in all, a good day! Tomorrow I’ll be up early, checking out of my hotel and heading for an event at Hampton Court. Talking about locations, this one’ll be hard to beat…