I have been a fan of Sharon Kay Penman’s novels since before there was Facebook, and before every author had a blog. If you’d have told me then that thanks to social media I would one day not only meet the author that inspired me to choose history as a college major, but that she would hand me a cupcake for coming to her book reading, I would not have believed you. But it happened!
When I left for college I had picked up and started the first book in Ms. Penman’s series about England’s Plantagenet Dynasty. (The most famous of which were King Richard the Lionheart and King John. You probably recognize them from the story of Robin Hood?) I was so enthralled by the story that I continued through the rest of the series. The character, or more accurately, historical figure, that intrigued me the most, however, is Richard and John’s mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. This woman was queen of both France and then England. As Penman describes her, this woman that lived during a time when men held all the power often influenced the decisions of state made by the men in her life. For example, each of her husbands in turn fought battles to regain the lands of Aquitaine, which she felt belonged to her by right. And during her 16 year house arrest instituted by her second husband, Henry II, while he found a mistress, and stubbornly refused to share power by granting lands to his sons, is it any wonder she was able to greatly influence the actions of her sons? Eleanor inspired her sons to revolt against their father. Again, her influence scarred the country side. I was absorbed by the idea that bedroom talk between a man and a woman could lay waste to a countryside. As I waded through options to major in, I found myself drawn to the discipline of History so that I could further explore the idea of the passions of men and women having further reaching implications.
I thought one day I might send a babbling fan letter to Ms. Penman explaining how much she has influenced my path in life, how she sparked my interest in history, and how fascinating I find her characters. But I never sent it. I was too shy.
Majoring in history meant reading more books per night than is humanly possible, and between the reading and paper writing I hardly had any free time. Then graduation meant I didn’t have to pick up another book if I didn’t want to! So it took me years to work through Ms. Penman’s series. It was in that time that Facebook showed up, became popular, then blogs… By the time I was on the search for more of Ms. Penman’s books, she had a website, and a blog, and a Facebook Fan Club Page. I visited her website to find out which book came next and happened upon her blog. She was running a giveaway for a signed book and all I had to do was leave a comment. So I did! I thanked her for her writing and told her how much it influenced me! And then the MOST AMAZING THING happened. SHE RESPONDED! I couldn’t believe it. I told everyone I knew, after picking myself up off the floor.
When I found Ms. Penman’s blog post describing the trip she had led to Europe, through Academic Travel Abroad, exploring sites related to Eleanor, I decided I would one day take that tour and meet my favorite author. I talked of nothing else while I read her newest books. My poor, suffering, boyfriend endured it like a champ. Though wasn’t quite ready to throw in the money to join me.
And then, much to my amazement, I discovered that Ms. Penman would be doing a book tour for her latest book and would be stopping in Seattle! I could fly to Seattle for a weekend! It’s only a two hour flight. I was ACTUALLY going to meet Sharon Kay Penman. My indulgent boyfriend agreed to accompany me, since Seattle is quite a bit closer than Europe. Having joined the Sharon Kay Penman Fan Club Page on Facebook, I posted that I was coming from Alaska to hear the book talk and I couldn’t be more excited!
I made sure we showed up early at the bookstore. I did NOT want to be late for this. We were the first ones there. My boyfriend asked if I’d like to sit in the front row. Nope. I didn’t want to be THAT fan. I subtly sat in row 3 hoping not to look embarrassingly eager. Eventually the seats filled, Ms. Penman arrived, and I grinned goofily from ear to ear. I was so happy to be there. Ms. Penman announced that before she started her reading she had one order of business. There were two people she had noticed posts from on the Facebook Fan Club page that were coming from so far away to hear her talk that she felt obliged to humbly thank them in some way. One from Victoria, Canada and one from Alaska. She couldn’t mean me! And then I heard my name! She asked us to come up and accept her thanks by way of a cupcake! I froze in my seat, my face flushed red. Was this happening? Pinch me! My boyfriend had to push me forward. Not only did I get to meet my favorite author, get my book signed, but she gave me a cupcake! She really is the best author ever. I hope someday I’m able to make somebody’s day like she made mine that day!
I still hope to take her tour of Eleanor sites next time it’s offered. Until then I shall be re-reading her books from the beginning. Again.
If you read this, which I’m almost certain you will, please accept this as the letter I never sent. I’m so glad I got to meet you! And I hope to travel with you someday!
if you’d like a book suggestion, I recommend starting with When Christ and His Saints Slept. It also happens to be my favorite. I’ve read it over and over. I hope you love it as much as I do.
P.S. The cupcake was almost too pretty to eat, but I later split it with my boyfriend back at the hotel. It will forever be the best cupcake ever.