Minnie Darke says, ‘Hello and I Love You’ to the United Kingdom
So, today is a big day for me. It’s publication day for Star-crossed in the United Kingdom—a place where I have permanently left a portion of my heart.
In Richard Curtis’s much loved and these days oft-criticised film Love Actually, the British Prime Minister (played by Hugh Grant) rousingly opines: “We may be a small country, but we’re a great one too. The country of Shakespeare, Churchill, The Beatles, Sean Connery, Harry Potter, David Beckham’s right foot. David Beckham’s left foot, come to that.”
Of course, that’s a bit of a blokey list. I would add that it’s also the country of the Bronte sisters, Virginia Woolf, Beatrix Potter, A.S. Byatt, Bookaboo, The Spice Girls, and Celia Tyler of Harlow in Essex—also known as my ‘other mother’ (said in a northern accent).
There are ways in which I’m a deeply Australian girl. However, I was raised, like Dorothy Gisborne in Star-crossed, on ‘the dewy cowslips, green hedgerows and pert hedgehogs of Beatrix Potter illustrations’. There was also a fair bit of Little Grey Rabbit in my upbringing, a good whack of Enid Blyton and a general sense that Christmas—which we often spend at the beach—ought properly to be icing-sugared with snow.
The first time I went to the UK, I was nine years old. I was captivated by the soft light, by thatched roofs, by the squirrels in Kensington Gardens, the ravens at the Tower of London and the pigeons in Trafalgar Square. One of the souvenirs I brought home, and that I still have, is a pair of thimbles celebrating the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Di. These provided the germ of inspiration for Dorothy Gisborne’s extensive collection of royal wedding china.
The next time I went, aged seventeen, I was on the loose for the first time in my life. Innocent almost beyond belief, I got mugged near the British Museum by some chaps with a very cute dog in a tartan coat, and missed the last bus from Stratford-Upon-Avon to Birmingham because I didn’t want to leave the theatre before the end of All’s Well That Ends Well and hitch-hiked the distance instead. I’m so glad that was the Shakespeare play I chose to risk my life over, and not one of the tragedies.
Somehow, I survived my own stupidity, and managed to fall in love with some more things: the London Underground map, Portobello Road, Camden Markets, second hand bookshops on Charing Cross Road, Stonehenge, the price of standing room tickets at the Barbican Centre, the theatre history museum in Covent Garden, the Cocteau Twins, and a boy with dark gold hair and a mother with a Yorkshire accent.
I have been back to the UK many, many times. I love it there, and to be published in the country that the very young me believed most books actually came from feels pretty special. So, hello United Kingdom. I hope you love Star-crossed even a fraction as much as I love you.