Three years ago, I gave a talk to a local women's group. Meetings were held monthly and speakers would be engaged to talk on varied subjects from baking to mountain climbing. I was there to talk about my books and my writing career to date.
About 40 women were present and the talk was going well. Only one woman was unsmiling. I checked that everyone could hear me. She could so that wasn't the problem. Undaunted, I talked about how I'd learned to read at the age of 3 and how I'd rarely been seen without a book in my hands since, I showed off copies of my books, and got a good discussion going on the hard-boiled detective fiction I write, on cozy mysteries, our favourite fictional detectives, etc. It was all good - except for the unsmiling woman.
An hour passed, and I asked if anyone had questions. People did and we had lots of fun with that. The unsmiling woman was looking positively hostile by now. In fact, she couldn’t have looked worse if I’d been urging people toward a life of debauchery that included sacrificing babies.
I ended my talk and it was time for tea and biscuits. I was working my way through a mouthful of chocolate biscuit when the unsmiling woman made her way - tanklike - toward me. She sucked in a breath and said, "I'm 79 years old, I've never read a book in my life and I shouldn't want to."
I was so taken aback that I only managed to mutter something incoherent through my biscuit.
"In my day," she went on, undaunted, "we were taught to do something productive with our time. Like mend socks." She glowered at me, determined to point out that she was superior. "I bet you don't mend socks, do you?"
Well, no. Guilty as charged. To steal her words, I've never mended socks and I shouldn't want to.
Having said her piece, she strutted off. She'd long gone by the time my brain thought up all the witty retorts. I should have demanded to know why she’d just spent over an hour listening to me when she could - should - have been doing something productive. I should have asked how mending socks can be considered more productive than learning about other places, times and people.
Three years later, the memory of that woman still haunts me.
But guess what - yup, she's going in the next book. Lonely, cantankerous, sock-mending old spinster gets clubbed to death by irate crime writer.