…because 4's a crowd…
So Tuesday evening, I had a chance to meet the gracious Kate Morton. Here she is:
Morton is in Canada promoting her latest book The Secret Keeper. Now, if you’re familiar with me, I’ve definitely thrown one of her books at you. And if you listened to me, you would know that a lot of her writing revolves around secrets: secrets that can come back and haunt for telling … or not for telling. Secrets that can alter the lives of many generations that come after. So it was just a matter of time before Morton stopped beating about the bush and dedicated an entire title to her fascination.
As always, I walked in late to a pretty decent crowd gathered around an impromptu stage set up in her honor. I deftly made my way to a spot where I could see her, earning glares from crowd-members whose mother had not called them five minutes before the event to shame them into a fifteen minute conversation beginning with the dreaded “You never call”.
As Morton spoke, her clipped Australian accent was reminiscent of her crisp words on paper, so carefully chosen to carry you into the English countryside. After reading some selections from her book, Morton opened the floor to questions and that was when the real fun began. The biggest news of the night was that her book The Forgotten Garden is currently being optioned by some big old studios beneath the 49th. This doesn’t mean you will definitely see it on screen anytime soon, but as the name suggests, it is an option that is being considered.
We also learned that Morton is a mass consumer of notebooks. When conceiving a story, she carries around a notebook filling it in with interesting observations, snippets of stolen conversations, and any other random ideas/facts that come her way. By the time this ‘cauldron’ is bubbling away, Morton has a story tucked into her head. Then all she needs is ten more notebooks for the extensive research that goes into her books and she’s on her way to the printer.
All that research goes to very good use in the books, primarily because Morton is specifically interested in the “hidden histories” we have largely ignored since they concern women. Her books show us different aspects of familiar stories simply by looking at them through the eyes of the women (specifically those in the working class) of that time. In The Distant Hours, we watch Percy Blythe struggle to maintain the old-world rules of class and hierarchy when the modern world order was forming in the beginning of the twentieth century. In The House at Riverton, we learn what it felt like to be the first wave of women burdened to carry the family legacy (and what they had to give up for it) through the eyes of Hannah Riverton.
The night ended with a big round of ‘SIGNING’.I waited with the zeal of a first timer, happily telling the delighted assistant the name I wanted the book personalized to.
Then a thought occurred to me. I didn’t want the personalization made out to me. That didn’t make the encounter any more personal at all. Morton will encounter many other eager fans and they will all take away the same inscription made out to them, and nothing more, from this encounter. I especially didn’t trust Morton because she had forgotten the name of her dog at the beginning of her talk.
I wanted more from Morton. More than the signatures she was distributing up and down Canada. But what could I ask for? A photograph? Equally forgettable. A piece of lint from her sleeve? Too weird. A lock of her hair, specifically from her luscious bangs? Too creepy. I just might be escorted out for that one.
The line was steadily inching towards Morton when I finally knew what I wanted: a quotation. Something she found solace or inspiration. Some words, whether her own or somebody else’s, that she treasured.
I caught the eye of the still delighted assistant and told her I wanted to change my personalization. She told me she wasn’t sure if Morton would do that (“Can you name your favourite quote off the top of your head?”), but I can certainly ask. Damn right I would.
Morton was a delight when I met her. The only words to describe her would be gracious, all overwhelming 6 feet of her. When I asked her about including a quotation for me she stumbled a bit.
“Oh that’s very good. But what can I write?”
“Anything at all. One of your personal favourites. Something from one of your books, a turn of phrase you’re especially fond of. Anything at all.”
“Oh that’s a good idea. I could include something from this book. I should have picked some out…”
She started flipping through the book. I was starting to worry I had put her on the spot—and she was too gracious to show it. When she snapped the book shut, I opened my mouth to tell her it was all right . Just a “For Wajiha” would do.
“I know what I’m going to write. When I was growing up in Australia, I joined the local theatre company and from there came my love of theatre. I had big dreams of dedicating my life to it, and I owe a huge chunk of that to the couple that ran it, Rita and Herbert. And right before we used to go onstage before a performance, there was that this one thing Herbert always said to us. He said: ‘Be Brilliant’. And I always thought that was such a wonderful thing to say to somebody, to go out there and be brilliant. So that’s what I’m going to write.”
Bingo. That’s exactly what I wanted. So here it is folks: