Meeting P.D. James

I met P.D. James twice in my life. The first was when she was promoting DEVICES AND DESIRES, and she came to a now-defunct mystery bookstore in Chicago. I persuaded my mother and sister to come with me to the North Shore shop and wait in a VERY long line (in the rain) to meet the writer that I admired so much. They were quite willing to do it, and they had their own books to be signed. Mrs. James was very gracious, speaking in her soft, elegant voice to everyone who approached her table. It was a long evening, and while I could barely recover from my hero worship enough to speak with her, my mother and she had a fairly long conversation. I recall that I said it was an honor to meet her, and she said, "Oh, it's an honor to meet you, too!"

Years later she came to my very town to promote her autobiography. Augie Aleksy at Centuries and Sleuths Bookstore had used his skill to persuade James's agent to make a trip out from Chicago to his bookstore. James was willing to do it, but this time there was such short notice that there were only about twenty people in the room, so this turned into an intimate discussion with a fascinating woman, who spoke to us of her life, her writing, her children. She reminisced about delivering one of her daughters in the midst of WWII, laboring in the basement of a building while bombs dropped on the city and blackout curtains lined every window. At this second meeting, James was eighty years old. Today she is 94 and still writing.

I feel lucky to have met her not once, but twice, and to have experienced her intelligence and charm in person, rather than just in the pages of her books.

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