Thanks to my sweet mother-in-law, I had a ticket to see Louise Penny speak at Fearrington Village last night. What a turn-out they had! 500 people with tickets, and a standing crowd in the back. Chatting with the people around us before the event began, we learned that people had come from Virginia, Tennessee, South Carolina, and even Alabama to see Penny.
The format for the event was really enjoyable. Rather than doing a reading or giving a prepared talk, Louise and her publisher (Andy Martin, from St. Martin’s imprint Minotaur), sat in big armchairs on a stage and engaged in a funny, informal Q&A about Penny’s work. It was clear from their interaction that they are good friends as well as colleagues, and so the whole event had a conversational, relaxed tone.
It was great to hear Penny talk about how she got into writing. Martin asked her when she first knew she wanted to be an author, and Penny recalled her experience reading Charlotte’s Web. Penny said that her worldview when she was a child was fairly bleak – the world was a scary place, people were inherently bad, and the safest place she could be was in her room reading books. She said she was scared of so many things, but one of her greatest fears was spiders. Penny recalled vividly being about halfway through Charlotte’s Web when she had two major revelations:
- Charlotte was a spider.
- Penny loved her anyway.
She said that, from that moment on, she understood that stories must be very powerful if they could so completely wipe away one of her fears. She knew then that she wanted to be a writer.
Having said all that, Penny freely admits that when she was writing Still Life, she never thought her books would be published. When Martin asked her to explain how she formed the character of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, she said that her original intent was for Gamache to be a very dark, deeply flawed man who struggled from some sort of addiction or mental illness. But then she realized that she would be living in this man’s head for the foreseeable future, and so instead she created a man whose company she imagined she would love to spend time in. Penny said she was so pleased with herself for writing such a cultured, intuitive, fine character, and then she looked across the breakfast table one morning and realized she hadn’t created him at all – she’d simply written her husband, Michael.
If you like Louise Penny, and you’ve read all her books and are looking for something to try, she did mention that three of her favorite authors are Deborah Crombie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Rhys Bowen. Listening to Penny speak and watching her interact with her readers has definitely convinced me that I’ve got to get back into her series. I’ve got eight books to catch up on before I can start The Long Way Home.