Remember me? I hope you do, because you told your publicist we go ‘way back’, that afternoon at the South Bank Mantra’s high tea event, Sunday 9 September, and I blushed well into the evening.
Somehow I ended up with a reserved seat at your table. I felt like an imposter in my volunteer’s T-shirt — an obnoxious shade of blue — and my gargantuan name tag swinging about, but you were warm and welcoming.
Before meeting you, in the Brisbane Writers Festival’s greenroom, I had been told you were ‘a bit of a straight talker’, which of course made my every-day, consistently-high level of nervousness that little bit higher.
Instead, I was pleased to find that you were one of the kindest individuals I’ve met — and I’ve lived in Japan — and that you smiled and nodded considerately when I suggested you buy your daughter a souvenir from the Lego shop nearby. I wish I’d known she was a teenager, but I didn’t, and you were most polite about it.
You seemed grateful that the Mantra staff had themed the menu and decor to your books, pointing out the peach tarts, the blackberry jam, and of course, the chocolat. All of which had somehow made their way to my plate that afternoon.I was delighted to observe that the two of us share a mischief-making sense of humour, of the lowest order.
I inhaled my champagne a little when a woman from the table behind leant over to ask where we thought Joanne Harris might be speaking, so she could prepare herself with a good view.
Without a blink, you chimed in, with your lovely, Northern-English accent and said, ‘I suspect she’ll be where that microphone is. I’ll move my seat so you can see her,’ and proceeded to move out of her way.
‘Thank you,’ beamed the woman, as I waited eagerly for the ‘oh shit’ moment. Of course, when you rose to speak, the words came without delay and the look of absolute embarrassment was worth the pain of craning my neck to witness. I hope you saw it too.
With the same quirk of humour you likened the author’s role in the book-to-movie-making process (in reference to the Johnny Depp-starring adaptation of your ridiculously successful book) to the role of a cow in the cow-to-steak-making process: the choice of being well-done or rare removed.
You spoke beautifully about your life and stories, and courteously accepted declarations of love from the few, albeit elderly, men in the room, to the applause of everyone but their wives. Afterwards, you sat patiently signing books for every attendee, some of whom had been reduced to tears at the mere sight of their literary idol, lunging themselves over your shoulders for an almighty and all-body-embracing hug.
As I left, my cheeks still sufficiently flushed, I saw the crying crowd had dispersed into the streets of South Bank, mascara-soaked faces shining under street lamps, clutching their freshly-signed books close to their chests.