Merlin, Time Travel and Comfy Chairs

Portsmouth University librarian Lizzie Wildgoose had a surreal surprise when she dropped in to her local branch of Blackwells the other day. 

A funny thing happened on the way to the forum, or should that read Blackwells, last week. I didn’t want to venture very far. My lunch buddy had cancelled, the drizzle had started and I needed to buy a sandwich from the Co-op so I wasn’t going to stay very long. “Book signing today” read the notice on the window.  “Local author Richard Hardie will be signing his books. Come in and meet him.”  I naively thought that if I slipped in quietly no-one would notice me.  But of course Jo, the manager, saw me immediately.  ‘Ah we have a visitor for the book signing; Lizzie meet Richard. Lizzie is a librarian at the University Library.’

Within nanoseconds I found myself being led by Richard Hardie to the official Blackwell’s “comfy chair” which is used on these occasions and he began to regale me with the plotline of his first novel Leap of Faith. It is primarily a book for older teenagers and involves his principal characters jumping through portals to get to different timelines and meeting lots of famous historical figures. Sir Galahad is in there somewhere,  as well as Merlin who is – contrary to public opinion – a woman and marries King Arthur. I was finding it hard to keep up! I think Guinevere has run off with Sir Lancelot at this stage.

His book is based on a play (wot) he wrote when he was a scoutmaster, intended for the annual gang shows (some of you may remember if you’re of that vintage). The only person he auditioned who was right for the role of Merlin was a 21-year-old female; so “history” was rewritten. Richard also told me the late Terry Pratchett took a small role which involved being kidnapped by four small brownies at one of his own book-signing sessions. Pratchett thoroughly enjoyed himself by all accounts, although the frenzied attack by a rubber chicken can’t have done him much good.

It’s amazing what situations you can find yourself in when you least expect it. I was beginning to feel like Alice, after she had fallen into her other world, and that I would wake up from this surreal dream browsing the shelves in the Co-op looking for a tasty sandwich for lunch.

However, back in reality (whichever reality that is) I learned that Richard is part of a local writers’ group who cleverly managed to buy back his own books when his publishers were doing nothing to market his work. It has to be done within 90 days of acceptance otherwise the publisher retains all the rights.  He then set up his own book publishing initiative called authorsreach. Fascinating stuff!

However at this point lunch really was calling – although I thought I had better buy his book before I left the shop. I didn’t want to be considered mean-spirited and I am quite fond of plots that include portals and time travel. However it wasn’t to be. Standing at the counter with book in hand, the official Blackwell’s camera suddenly appeared from nowhere when a young family came in for the book signing. I suddenly found myself in the frame wearing a wizard’s cloak and smiling madly at the camera lens.

So this is promotion for a local writer who hails from Chandlers Ford… well nearly local anyway.  He does have links to the University of Portsmouth and knows Tom Sykes, a Lecturer in Media and Creative Writing. He has spoken to students on the Creative Writing course so there may be an opportunity for him to appear at one of our public lecture events. He asked me if I wanted to buy his books for the library.

Here’s a flavour of Leap of Faith: One Sunday morning Tertia finds herself replacing Nelson’s statue in Trafalgar Square, and involved in the thefts of the Koh-i-noor diamond and the Mona Lisa. The Agency [Temporal Detective Agency] follows the trail to South Wales in 1734 where they come up against a gang of vicious smugglers and deadly ship wreckers led by a deadly and most unexpected enemy.

Then, of course, there is also his little story around 21st century toilets that are far better than you would find in the 5th century. Phew, in more senses than one! If Richard Hardie does present a public lecture I must remember to eat something substantial before I attend – otherwise I will have difficulty keeping up with all his storylines.

I shall go and browse the music section another day but I will look carefully at the posters in the window before I venture inside.

A version of this post was originally published on the University of Portsmouth’s Liblog.


Image by Sarah Cheverton.