I've been lucky enough to meet P.D. James twice in my life. Since today is her birthday, I thought I'd reflect on those two meetings.
The first took place on a rainy evening somewhere around 1988, (that's us in the blurry picture above), when her book DEVICES AND DESIRES came out, and I joined a loyal throng outside Scotland Yard Books in Winnetka, Illinois, to wait for a chance to meet Ms. James in person. The line went around the block, and everyone in it was wet, but we were all in high spirits. My mom, a fellow P.D. fan, was with me, and we marched slowly forward, finally gaining entrance to the store itself, a lovely place which, alas, I think no longer exists.
Once I approached the great mystery writer, the queen of all living mystery writers, I was terrified. What in the world would I say when I finally approached the table?When I got there and pushed my copy of the big book forward, I settled for, "Ms. James, it is such an honor to meet you."
And in her sweet, delicate, precise voice, she replied, "Well, it's quite an honor to meet you, too." Of course she was being polite, but she did it very well, and I walked away feeling pretty good--until I saw my mother, who marched right up to the table, bent low and said something private to P.D. James and made her laugh, and then the two of them had a right old conversation. To say I was envious would be an understatement. :)
The second time I met her was many years later, when she had turned eighty and had written her autobiography. Centuries and Sleuths, now located in Forest Park, was right across the street from me at the time, and proprietor Augie Aleksy managed to get word to me that he'd persuaded James' publicist to swing by his store after her big signing in Chicago. However, because it was a last minute decision, he was not able to notify many people.
And that was how I came to be sitting in an intimate little gathering of less than 20 people, listening to P.D. James speak softly about her life, her children, her writing. It was wonderful. I remember feeling a sense of unreality as she chatted about the birth of one of her daughters (I believe in a London basement) during World War II, while bombs were falling outside.
So I have two signed books by P.D. James, and a lovely memory of her face, her voice, and her sweet gentility. I'll probably never meet her again, but I do wish her a very happy birthday, and I suppose it's only fitting that I pull out one of her books--I've read them all--and indulge in another fan moment.