27 October 2009

Calendar Girls and Ladies who lunch

Gorgeous, glistening, Autumn day – I love October! English landscape whizzing past, dressed in dazzling colours of Indian summer. 

I am riding ‘shot gun,’ with our W.I. President, en route to Claverdon for the Myton Hospice Ladies Lunch at Ardencote Manor.

Upon our arrival, my fearless leader makes a bee-line for a tall, blonde woman at the bar. It was Tricia Stewart, the leader of the original Calendar Girls. (Helen Mirren played her in the movie.)

I was thrilled to have an opportunity to meet her, she was stunning! And she was just as ballsy and effervescent standing before me, as she had been portrayed in the film. 

After we were introduced (and I’d taken a ton of photos), over a “welcome drink,” we chatted about W.I., New York City and writing.

She has written a memoir of her Calendar Girl experience, and had a copy of the Japanese edition with her. (“I have no idea what it says,” she beamed brightly, “but the pictures are the same, so I guess that's alright!”)

She shared with me the hilarious story of a friend of hers, a struggling, New York writer (aren’t we all?) who, in act of sheer desperation and utter genius, successfully pretended to be her own agent! 

Tricia’s friend used a false name, a fake voice and 'do-it-yourself' letterhead, and managed not only to get her feet through numerous, previously locked “we-only-deal-with-agents” doors, but actually she got her manuscript onto the right desks, and negotiated a very nice book deal for her top 'client': herself!

What a hoot! Happy, happy, joy, joy, to think of all those silly publishers getting duped by a super savvy writer!! Ha! And, quite frankly, they all deserve it.

Our conversation was interrupted by one the formally dressed Ardencote Servers inviting us to take our seats in the grand dining room. 

The tables were gorgeously decorated with autumn flowers, brightly polished silver, menu cards with Tricia’s picture on the front, and a small collection box for donations to the Hospice charity.

As I took my place, I glanced about the room, and I was struck by the realization that in that instant, I had become my mother... 

Around me was a beautiful sea of fashionably coiffed graying heads; richly clad in designer bouclé and pearls.

I was undoubtedly one of the few women in the room under the age of 60, and yet, I felt at home, and a strong sense of kinship. 

I recalled the times when my mother would allow me to skip school for the afternoon, to attend one of these same sort of lovely, special, charity, social lunches with her, in aid of the League of Women Voters, UNICEF, or the March of Dimes, to name but a few.

It may be an ocean apart from the tiny world outside Little Rock that I grew up in, but clearly  not so different in some ways. 

For, here I am now, bazillion miles and dozens of years away from that time and place, continuing that great feminine tradition of women who care, and hope in some little way to make a difference.

(In this moment, I miss my mother incredibly, and she seems, as she is, an ocean away. I wish that she could have been there beside me.)

Over the elegant servings of lamb shanks and mustard mash, Jo, the delightful octogenarian seated to my right, tells me of the joy she feels giving her time as a regular volunteer at the Myton Hospice.

Jo’s body is slowly giving way to time, yet her spirit as quick, lively and fresh as a teenager’s. 

“There is so much to give, and the smallest thing can make a big difference,” she tells me, her crystal, blue eyes sparkling.

One person can make a difference. 

And this sentiment was at the heart of Tricia Stewart’s dynamic, after-lunch speech.

Tricia electrifies the room with her hilarious tales of how the Calendar Girls came to be the global phenomenon that they are.

Humble and humorous, in true-blue, Yorkshire fashion, Tricia regaled us with the highs and lows of her Calendar Girl experiences:

“Helen Mirren cut her teeth playing me, then went on to play The Queen!”- Tricia Stewart

I left that afternoon feeling energized and inspired.

 At the heart of Tricia’s message was the indefatigable power of love, and the power of one.        

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I’m sorry to say your friend’s story sounds bogus to me, unless she was dealing with only extraordinarily marginal publishing houses. Pretending to be your own agent, sending letters from “agencies” that don’t exist, claiming to be represented by an actual agent who has never heard of you—these are extremely common methods, and they don’t fool anyone. Usually such proposals are weeded out as slush and thrown away, but even if they do get though, the writer will simply earn the derision of the editor whose time they wasted. It’s a sure-fire way to bias someone against your project.

The system of using reputable literary agents is in place for a reason, and it’s not because editors are lazy. There are too many proposals, most of which shouldn’t be published, and editors rely on good agents for their taste and judgment. The publishing community is very small, and the projects we read come from the agents we trust. In that same vein, not all agents are created equal, and you should be careful about who is representing you.