In the '60s, Audrey Thomas has lived in Ghana on the Gold Coast of Africa, and that's where her new novel is based: Local Customs.
For the past two weeks we spoke about the Festival of the Written Arts that took place in Sechelt, BC, on 14-17 August 2014. I have been participating to five of the twenty-one events of the weekend, it has been such a rewarding and inspiring experience that I decided I would like to share it with you. First I posted about the reading by Aislinn Hunter. Last week I introduced to you the second guest: Bill Gaston. Today we are speaking of a peculiar and extremely interesting woman: Audrey Thomas.
A peculiar encounter
Audrey Thomas is not your classic author reading extracts from her book behind a black polished podium. She is sitting at a coffee table, introducing her story in a slow and silky voice, as if she had just come over for tea at an old friend's house. The first half of her allotted hour is dedicated to random stories about her private life and some newspaper cutting containing unusual advertisements, that she reads out loud all excited. She tells the captivated audience how she got run over by a trolley last week and her left foot toes looked like eggplants. She shares the memory of a Labrador puppy she trained for a while years ago and how she felt the need to do some volunteering back then. In passing, we come to know she has lived in Ghana for a short period in the sixties and that she has the habit of marking the new pens with a tip of nail polish.
My natural reaction is to look around at the audience, every one is listening silently and nodding politely to this unexpected book presentation. I wonder how Audrey would react in front of an Italian audience, usually loud and full of sarcasm if the speaker doesn't keep up with the expectations.
18 books since 1965
Audrey Thomas has started publishing in 1965 and since then she has written 18 books. This information is hardly believable if you consider the woman has spent half an hour to get started on what we have gathered here today for (I drove 40 minutes just for this one hour event, and up to this moment I only heard of pens and puppies). Her 18th book, Local Customs, is set in Ghana, it's about a woman who dies for unknown reasons, and it's been written by hand, just like every other book or poem Audrey Thomas has published in the last 50 years. The audience gasps. When asked why, Audrey explains that she has sheets of paper lying everywhere in her house and she enjoys browsing them at random, finding old poems and groceries list among her novels. She also likes to write in bed when she wakes up, and writing by hand allows some peace before her kids figure out she's awake.
In this historical novel based on real events, Letitia Landon and George Maclean marry in June 1838 and sail off to West Africa. Eight weeks later she is dead from what appears to be an overdose of prussic acid. Her doctor and a chemist swear they never prescribed or made up such a solution.
The mystery is never resolved. The ship that brought Letitia's cheerful letters to London was the same one that announced her death. All sorts of rumours fly around. Complicating matters is the presence of Thomas Birch Freeman, a Wesleyan missionary. A letter he writes after Letitia's demise causes trouble for George Maclean. Brodie Cruickshank, in charge of the fort at Anamaboe, a few miles away, also seems to have fallen in love with Letitia.
But what really happened to Letitia in this exotic and dangerous place so far away from her home? (source: Goodreads)
Audrey Thomas was born in America and came to Canada in 1959, she lives on Galiano Island, BC. Her work draws extensively on her experience and observations of the places she has lived. themes include loss of children, loss of love, art and the artist, reality and illusion and the minutiae of women's lives.
I didn't feel the need to know more about this author, or to get an autographed copy of her book, and meeting her has not sparked my enthusiasm. Luckily, the next week event will be... fireworks!
Have a good novel!