I just returned from a wonderful trip to the United Kingdom. While there, I was able to do several book events and readings. I also visited the new library in Birmingham, England, which is being touted as the largest in all of the UK -- and I believe the claims! The library has been open now for just a couple of months, but the staff members there have everything in tip-top shape, including a special "Shakespeare Room" on the top floor. Entering that room is something akin to a religious experience if one is even remotely a lover of history and literature. Paintings, illustrations, and volumes ranging from hundreds of years old to the present adorn the walls and shelves there. A popular "tourist moment" inside the room is to have one's picture taken with a brilliant bust of the Bard himself. Yes, yours truly just had to do this as well........ (see below). While in the library, I was also able to do a quick reading and leave a signed copy of Shell Games for their permanent collection; that was quite an honor, one that I will always remember.
As wonderful as that experience was, the highlight of my trip was being able to share information about Shell Games (and the history of early button manufacturing in the US) with the British Button Society, which was having its annual meeting there in Birmingham. The major theme of the meeting this year was the examination of pearl buttons and their significance in history. I was, in part, invited to speak to the group because the setting for Shell Games is Muscatine, Iowa, which was the "Pearl Button Capital of the World" for nearly forty years (from 1890 to about 1930). About a hundred years before that, Birmingham was, itself, the "Pearl Button Capital of the World"! The two areas, Muscatine and Birmingham, share so much in common in terms of their parallel history, and not just in their relationship to the early button industry. Both were/are industrial hubs, and both are now making new names for themselves in all manner of commerce. One piece of history I picked up that absolutely fascinated me was that many of the local buildings in Birmingham were actually built on foundations of crushed clam shells discarded during the waning stages of the button manufacturing era there. The same can be said for scores of the buildings now standing half a world away in Muscatine!
My presentation to the British Button Society, therefore, focused upon two areas: 1). The "story behind the story" of how Shell Games came about (complete with powerpoint images and actual shells and buttons I brought with me to share with the group), and 2). Information about the history of and the early manufacture of pearl buttons in America.
I *loved* being with this group! I made so many new friends and was able to meet up with some long-standing friends as well -- and even bought a few buttons at the "button sale" I can use while giving future presentations. The UK is a very special place for this author, and I won't soon forget this latest journey there.
I was also able to meet up one afternoon with Piotr Kasias, one of the national poets of Poland (he is on far right in photo below). We met at Waterstones, the great bookstore chain in the UK. Piotr was also in England to do a few readings from his latest work. I always enjoy meeting up with fellow writers to compare experiences while "on the road."
In the end, though, I'm happy to be back home now. Travel is wonderful, but coming home to one's own surroundings and loved ones is still always best of all. Plus, there is always more writing to be done, so it's back to the writing studio.........
I'll post again very soon and give an update related to my next book. I just completed the main story and now have such areas as the Epilogue, Photo Section, and Acknowledgments to complete. I'm getting close! More on that soon. In the meantime, be well -- and happy reading!JSC