Welcome to our Indie Spotlight series, in which TNBBC gives small press authors the floor to shed some light on their writing process, publishing experiences, or whatever else they'd like to share with you, the readers!
My darkly comedic novel, Pocketful of Poseys,
follows the forty-something children of a Dartmouth professor and his
Woodstock-generation wife as they sprinkle their parents’ ashes at a half dozen
locations around the globe—most of them associated with their father’s
professional travels. The book would never have been written if it weren’t for
two actual family sabbatical odysseys—less dark but often enough comedic—forty-eight
years apart. The first was in the fall 0f 1953, when my father, an art history
professor at Brown University, bundled my mother, sister, and me onto the
French Line’s Ile de France on our way to a year-long road tour of
Europe. Armed with a Leica camera and
driving what my mother dubbed a “puke-green” Ford Consul (she’d wanted a
tasteful navy), he took us everywhere from John o’ Groats to Rome, visiting
every museum, castle, and cathedral along the way as he snapped photographs to
expand his art department slide collection.
we picked up in London was tiny enough, but my 10-year-old sister and
6-year-old self had to share the back seat with a pair of suitcases too fat to
fit into the amusingly named “boot.” I was happy enough to gaze out the window
as we puttered through eleven countries and three seasons, but Penelope took
the time as her opportunity to read the complete works of Shakespeare (at 10,
remember!), so she more or less traversed Europe with her head buried in a
book. I took that as a clear indication she dwelt on an entirely higher
intellectual plane than I—and I suspect that Brian’s (the brother’s) sense in Pocketful
that sister Grace is equivalently ethereal owes a lot to Penelope’s staunch program
travelling only eight years after the end of World War II, and signs of the global
conflict remained everywhere—from boarded-up blocks of rubble in London to tank
traps and concrete pill boxes in France to the ruins of Monte Cassino in Italy.
We had a “U.S.” sticker on the back of our car, and it’s striking how welcoming
almost everyone was to Americans at the time. Many of our troops were still
stationed abroad. When we arrived in Austria for Christmas and a four-foot dump
of snow completely cut off our mountain hotel, Dad was able to call the U.S.
base in the valley and, within an hour, the Army arrived with its heavy
equipment to dig us out. Even at six, I could appreciate the comfort of being a
persona very grata.
to the Fall of 2001, when I packed up my own family and headed to Christchurch,
New Zealand for a sabbatical year. I was working on a critical study of Robert
Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that took a
second form in my first novel—after I discovered that the psychological
thriller had been blamed for inspiring Jack the Ripper. Since I could work
almost anywhere that boasted a good library, my wife Dottie and I decided to head
to the Southern Hemisphere so that our school-age children could enjoy the
leisure and travel opportunities of an antipodean summer.
arrived in Christchurch on September 7th, and thirteen-year-old Abigail’s
first day of school began with the shocking news that the World Trade Center
had fallen. She’d awakened with no more worries than whether her very novel uniform
kilt was the right length, but she was soon tasked with explaining to her new
classmates what had been happening in New York—and why. Fortunately,
nine-year-old Dan had a week or so before he met his new chums and interrogators.
the unmitigated horror of 9/11—so tragically reminiscent of the Blitz or
Dresden over a half century earlier—I once again experienced that curious feeling
of being a Welcome rather than an Ugly American. There were, naturally, the
expressions of concern and support from folks on either side of our rental
house. More striking, though, was the way the whole city of Christchurch
responded. On September 10th they had dedicated a huge sculpture in
the town’s central square, commemorating the city’s founding 150 years earlier.
Dubbed “The Chalice,” the 18-meter-high structure looked like a huge, lacy,
metallic sugar cone waiting for a giant scoop of New Zealand’s iconic “Hokie
Pokie” ice cream. Scorned by many as tacky, it somehow became an epicenter of
support for America, surrounded by deep banks of flowers, posters, hand-written
notes, and stuffed animals. With global air travel shut down indefinitely, we
were for many months among the very few Americans in town. Despite our
wrenching concern for our loved ones back home and the inevitable guilt that
comes when you’re personally spared what others are suffering, we were bathed
in the warmth of a wry, plucky, and caring nation. Some of our dearest friends
in life still live there and, tiny gesture of gratitude that it is, we’ll be
pulling hard for the All Blacks in the upcoming Rugby World Cup. Their
countryfolk had pulled so hard and supportively for us when our country came
Louis Stevenson once wrote to J. M. Barrie, “People mayn’t be like their
books. They are their books.” With its academic families on the go,
traversing the globe in the face of grave loss but sustained by innate resilience
and the kindness of kin and stranger alike, Pocketful of Poseys is in
more ways than I’ve managed to convey the story of three generations of my own
family and our collective travels.
Thomas Reed taught literature, film, and writing at Dickinson College for thirty years. His first novel, Seeking Hyde, grew out of courses he taught on Robert Louis Stevenson’s celebrated novel and was named Finalist in the 2018 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award for Historical Fiction. Pocketful of Poseys draws more broadly on his experience growing up in an academic family; his education at Yale, the University of Virginia, and Oxford; years spent living in Rome and Christchurch, N.Z.; circum-global travels with his wife and children, and courageous decisions made by his motherin-law as she faced her death. He and his wife Dottie now split their year between Sarasota, Florida, and Camp Pemigewassett, a summer camp for boys in New Hampshire that they co-own. Learn more at thomasreedauthor.com.
(photo credit: Dorothy Reed)