How I met the author: Anne McCaffrey

An infrequent and random series of posts musing about my introduction to some of my favourite writers.

A funny thing happened at the shop one day…

I really don’t know why I had a book in my hand when I went into my local corner store that day bay in the mid-90s, but I did – back then, I pretty much ALWAYS carried a big fat book around with me (now they mostly live on my phone, which is way more convenient!), so it wasn’t that unusual, I suppose. I was writing a thesis on representations of reality in fantasy novels, based mostly on the works of my favourite fantasy authors at the time, Raymond Feist and David (and Leigh) Eddings. I’m not sure if it was Belgarath the Sorcerer or Magician I had with me, but whatever it was, as I was chatting to the owner of the shop who was serving me, we got to talking about the book. And it turns out, he was a fan as well. From memory, we discussed our favourites for a bit, then he told me that if I loved Feist and Eddings, then I really had to try McCaffrey. And then, even though I don’t think I’d been in the store more than a couple of times previously (I had only recently moved in up the road), he popped out the back to his attached house and grabbed his personal copy of The White Dragon to loan me.

Well, I loved it. I haunted local bookstores, new and secondhand for months, finding in dribs and drabs the rest of McCaffrey’s ouvre. I don’t recall the order in which I read the rest of Pern, nor the other series, though I would always be delighted to come across one I didn’t have in the secondhand book shelves. I read and reread all those books many times over the next 20 years (I recently reread Pern again last year, and was bemused to realise I had never actually read Anne’s last solo Pern novel, Skies of Pern – somehow flew entirely under my radar (to be fair, it came out in the year I was pregnant with my first child and studying my Masters degree!), though I did read a couple of the collaborations with Todd thereafter. Skimming through Goodreads now, I see there are a few collaborative works I missed in other series, too, and while for many years my McCaffrey collection was as complete as I could make it (pre-online shopping!), even including the Atlas of Pern and The People of Pern, two hard-to-get gorgeous hardcover tie-ins, at some point I stopped reading the books I bought, and at some later point, I stopped buying altogether.

I still have them all. Multiple packing boxes filled with McCaffrey sit in my shipping container, waiting for a time when I can once again put them out on the bookshelf (no room in the current house, unfortunately). Many other books have not made it past the great book culls I’ve had over the years, but I don’t think I’ll ever part with Pern, nor McCaffrey’s other works. I don’t know if it was mentioned in one of her books but in late 2000, I discovered Anne’s Kitchen Table Bulletin Board, and became part of my first real interactive fandom, chatting in real time and on message boards with fans all over the world (one, a girl from New Zealand, I’m now Facebook friends with!). One of my fondest fannish memories is the time I was online at 3am in the morning (probably doing a university assignment) and actually got to chat to Anne herself. More than a decade and a half later, with all the wonderful writers I’ve met and worked with in the last 15 years, that is still my biggest thrill.

I wish I’d taken the chance to go visit Anne in Ireland when I was there in the late 90s – I didn’t have the nerve, I guess, though she always said she was happy to have fans visit her at Dragonhold-Underhill (with a little notice!). Maybe if I’d been a bit older, or had any other fan experiences under my belt (I didn’t come into the Australian fan scene until 2001, as a part of Andromeda Spaceways, and didn’t attend my first convention and meet my first authors until 2002!), I would have done it, but I didn’t. Maybe it is for the best – they say don’t meet your heroes – but I still regret that lost opportunity.

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