Monday, March 7, 2011

Author Bumping - PD James

Author Bumping - PD James
 (Newbies:  Please check my blog archives for Author Bumps with the likes of Robert B. Parker, Stephen King and James Michener. Enter Author Bumping in the search bar.)
My gift for bumping into authors frequently proves what a small planet this is or to put a finer point on it, what a small country England is. I’ve done a considerable amount of Author Bumping in the UK.
Murder Mystery Weekends were just becoming the rage. I booked myself into a three day event at the Prince of Wales Hotel in Southport located on the northwest coast of England. A plane flight from Miami and a long, pleasant train ride took me back in time to one of the oldest wooden structures on the shores of Britain. The hotel was a lovely reminder of a proud Victorian heritage
Before I left home I had memorized my instructions. Once participants entered the lobby of the hotel we were all players on a stage. No one would know who was for real and who was a part of the game. Professional actors would be mingling with our group.
On Friday afternoon, I checked into the hotel, received my room key and a participant’s package. Once in my comfy suite, I opened the envelope. Inside were a few preliminary clues, a dining schedule, and a note of caution. “The Prince of Wales Hotel is a historic wooden structure. Please respect the somewhat fragile nature of your surroundings. And do not disrupt the non-playing guests.”
We were to meet in the drawing room on Sunday, the final day of our adventure to offer our individual solutions to any and all murders. Till then we had the run of the hotel, but were asked to conduct ourselves discreetly. We would not know until that “Hercule Poirot” gathering, who our fellow players were.
I was so excited as I threw my suitcase on the luggage rack and dashed from the room. Lurking about, I tried to look guest-like and low key. Curious thing when a woman travels alone she is immediately suspect of many things including being an actress playing a part. Jill and Joe from Idaho scribbled notes on their cards as they watched me enter the pub. May and her sister June from London whispered each time I walked past.  I was a suspicious creature – a lone female.
We sat ten to a table at the six tables in the dining room. A pleasant young man in a sport coat and tie sat on my right.  The couple from Idaho was on my left. Dinner was uneventful unless you include the body that fell in my lap as I finished my dessert. The fellow on my right “died” after one spoonful of pudding. I knew it was pretend, but he sure looked dead. It’s was unnerving.
The police arrived and carried off his body. The other eight diners whipped out their notebooks and scribbled, keeping their eyes fixed on me. I was the closest person to the victim. Did I poison him? I thought about it, but didn’t remember doing so. A lady constable arrived and questioned each one of us before we were allowed to leave the room. I was held the longest. Maybe I did do it.
A note with a clue had been slipped under my door in my absence. I tore it open. Acting on the information, I found myself prowling the corridors of the Prince of Wales till long after midnight, one clue leading to another. I bumped into May and June who eyed me like two cranes checking out a tasty lizard. Walking down an empty hallway I heard a female cry out. I raced to the sound arriving in time to see two shadowy figures carrying off a woman’s body. They stepped into an ancient cage-type lift and descended to the basement.
I clambered down the staircase and located the cellar access. Hesitating, I listened to that small voice inside my head that said…”Are you nuts?” It would have been the perfect setup for a real murder. No one would hear me scream in an ancient hotel basement. I shook off the worry and slipped into the underground. By three in the morning I’d found nothing and had no clear solution to the double murders. Exhausted, I crawled back to my room to sleep.
Saturday afternoon I settled in the lounge for a little tipple. Elderly ladies in hats were sipping port. A woman sat in an arm chair reading a book. There was a small table between us. She looked like Lady Bird Johnson. That didn’t make any sense. Maybe she was an actress who impersonated Lady Bird. My curiosity kicked in. “Lady Bird?” I whispered. I was testing for a response. “Lady Bird?”  The woman didn’t budge but I could sense she was aware of me.
I leaned over to get a better view of her face. No, she was prettier than Lady Bird Johnson. And then it hit me. She looked just like PD James. I’d seen her photo on book covers. I was a big fan. That made more sense. It might be her. I leaned over the table and whispered, “PD?” Nothing. I tried it again. “PD?”
The lady looked up and gave me that distancing look people give crazies on the subway. I tried two more “PD’s?”  Once again she threw me a peculiar look. Thinking I might have spinach on my teeth, I ran my tongue over my choppers. She went back to reading her book ignoring me completely. I didn’t see her for the rest of the Murder Mystery Weekend.
There were a suitable number of incidents over the next 24 hours including a false alarm called into the local fire department. But that’s another story. By Sunday, I thought I had a handle on the murderers and their motives. My solution was off-base and way too complicated. The killer turned out to be a male reporter who was covering the weekend’s festivities. If one paid attention, one would have noticed he was at the scene of both murders. Once the lady constable did her drawing room disclosure, it was all very obvious.
Fast forward six months and I’m at the London Polytechnic Writers’ Workshop. PD James is one of our instructors. She is a lovely lady, very kind and generous with her thoughts. A group of us were gathered in a small lecture hall.  I was sitting smack up front, enthralled. She was instructing us on how important setting is to a story. “Imagine an empty wheelchair high on a cliff overlooking the sea. You have the start of your mystery,” she smiled. We applauded.
After the class, I snuck up to her and asked about the Prince of Wales Hotel and the Murder Mystery Weekend. She fixed me with a funny look. Cringing, I could have sworn she said, “You still have spinach on your teeth.”
For those who’ve been on another planet for the last 50 years, P.D. James is the author of twenty books, most of which have been filmed and broadcast on television in the United States and other countries. The recipient of many prizes and honors, she was created Baroness James of Holland Park in 1991.

Awards: International Crime Writing Hall of Fame 2008; Grand Master Award from Mystery Writers of America, 1999; Diamond Dagger from British Crime Writers' Association, 1987

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  1. Barbara, you are so funny. I never knew PD James looked like Lady Bird Johnson. And now I'm wondering about that false alarm to the fire department.

  2. Funny story and the weekend sounds like a blast! :-) You made me ache to participate in one myself - but only in England!

  3. Linda and Karen, Thank you.

    I was not responsible for the false alarm. One of the players decided it would be a brilliant way to find more intimate clues. We were roused in the middle of the night.

    England is the perfect setting for a true cozy - Murder Mystery Weekend.

  4. Sounds like you had a great deal of fun... so who was the murderer then? Did you find out about the female and the shadowy figures? WHAT HAPPENED!

    Don't leave me hanging like this!

  5. Mandy,
    The murderer was a slender young man who was supposed to be a reporter covering our game. After I thought back I realized he was near our table as we entered the dining room. And he was with the second murder victim right before we were supposed to go bed. He was the least likely as he was always just "outside the action."

  6. The problem with a post like this is that you encourage us to go and load other authors' books on our e-readers.

    I'd literally just bought yours this morning and now I'm off to grab a selection of PDs!

    Don't blame me if I end up reading those first!