Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Centenary Exhibition Launch

The hotel at which I was staying in Manchester was directly opposite Manchester Central Library. So the very first sign of the Centenary Exhibition that I spotted was the huge pink banner flapping in the wind as it hung outside the the main library building. This banner was advertising the "And Then He Kissed Her" exhibition, celebrating 100 years of Mills and Boon. .
Manchester Public Library is a huge public buildings has a domed central area bigger than the British Museum Reading Room. The exhibition is situated outside the Social Science Library on the first floor.

The Babe Magnet and I walked across the road and into the library building at just after 6.30 to attend the launch. In the library we were directed to the first floor where we were greeted and welcomed by Rose Ryan, Fiction & Reader Development Coordinator, Manchester Library and Information Service and one of the librarians responsible for organising the exhibition. Thank you Rose for appearing just at that 'Help - do I know anyone here!' moment and making us feel welcome. Rose directed us to where the glasses of wine and soft drinks were laid out, instructed us to help ourselves and then, after making sure that I had spotted someone I knew, went back to her meeting and greeting duties.

I think the first face I recognised was that of Linda Fildew, Senior Editor and M&B. We had spotted her earlier in the afternoon while we were getting to know a bit more of our way round the city, but she was on the oppposite side of the street. Now we were able to catch up a little more - remembering the time when she had actually been my editor (one of many and a good few years ago.)

After that I met up with other M&B authors and editors, Jenny Hutton and Sally Williamson, India Grey (seen here with the Magnet)and her handsome husband, new Historical author, Melinda Hammond, Medical author Gill (Roger) Sanderson. I also met Laura and Digby members of the team from MIDAS, the PR company organising the publicity for these very special Centenary celebrations.

And I spent a long time chatting with Sarah and Bethany from M&B PR. We talked about a Centenary event I'm booked for - giving a workshop at one of Manchester's other libraries, and discussed another project that I hope will work out - if it does, I'll tell you more about that soon.

The long room was decorated with huge vases of flowers and in one corner the Hallé singers, mostly dressed appropriately in pink, sang a selection of love sings, starting, of course, with And then He Kissed Her.

There were a few short speeches including one from Claire Somerville from M&B who weclomed us all to the exhibition, pointed out just how far the company had come in its 100 years. She then explained that the two gentlemen in dinner jackets and bow ties were our Mills & Boon 'heroes' for the night. They would be showing people round the exhibition and she encouraged us to 'take advantage of them.' The 'heroes' didn't look too concerned at the though of being taken advantage of.

I met up with both of these guys later and was able to find out a little more about them. (These were the details I had to check because I knew you'd want to know about them!) Phil Rowson (on left) was there in his role as Irish smoulderer Jack Riordan (from Jack Riordan's Baby by Anne Mather). And although he is actually from Lancashire, his accent was good enough to charm and convince me - and I'm someone who hates fake 'stage' Irish.

The other hero was playing one of those popular Greek Tycoons. And I was surprised and delighted to find that his role was actually that of a Greek hero I've 'met' in discussion with his author - but the book hasn't yet been published. Andonis Anthony (right)was playing Leo Christakis the hero from the upcoming The Greek's Forced Bride by my special friend Michelle Reid. Both these books are of course by famous and bestselling M&B novelists from the North of England, appropriately for the setting of the event.

Sadly I missed being escorted round the exhibition by either of the 'heroes' - I was so busy talking ! But Rose Ryan and her colleague Libby Tempest, National Year of Reading Co-ordinator for Manchester did have fun posing for photographs full of passion and romance with them for the press!

I did catch up on the real reason why we were all there before I left.

The exhibition is set around part of one of the curving corridors, with glass cases showing covers and a brief note from various periods from 1908 until the present day. There was the first copy of the first book ever published by the company after it was founded in 1908. This was Arrows from The Dark by Sophie Cole and it was signed of the flyleaf by both Gerald Mills and Charles Boon.

There are some fascinating items of memorabilia from the early days of the publishing house, including a little book entitled "How to live without servants", and a letter to the editors written by Jack London, from the deck of his yacht in 1914.

Mills and Boon didn't always specialise in romance, but started as a general publisher, but in the 1920's realised where its real future lay and concentrated on the romance genre. At first, it had writers like Jack London and John Buchan, but that gave way to Mary Burchall, the first superstar of Mills and Boon. A book, set between the cases, gives the company biographies of some of these women. It was a thrill to see one of my own loans to the exhibition - a 1940s hardback by Mary Burchell entitled Nobody Asked Me on display here.

I had loaned several other books from my collection (it's very difficult to find hardbacks with dust jackets) and you can see some of them in this case too. Including the one where the lady in the pink dress in the middle of the case is the heroine of the wonderfully titled 'Mystery at Butlins'! I can only assume that in the 1950s/60s Butlins was considered an exotic holiday destination.

On the way out of the exhibition - or on the way in if you were not busy looking to see if there was anyone you knew as I had been - there is a brilliant piece of original artwork made up of Mills & Boon covers cut up and moulded into the shape of a corset. This is described like this:

The artist who made the corset sculpture is Ros Burgin. The piece is called ' Stays, Holds and Ties' and is made from M&B covers, gold thread, fabric and steel, and marks 100 years of stories about women's choices and the way their relationships affect change in their lives. It's a stunning and creative image.

The reception was officially supposed to last just 2 hours, but the wine was so generously provided, the conversation and the exhibition so interesting that people were still there over half an hour later. (My apologies to the library staff who had to work late - the event was so brilliantly organised that everyone was reluctant to leave). Even the wine was so appropriately named - Love Saves The Day!

Thank you so much to Rose Ryan who organised everything so wonderfully, to everyone at Manchester library for your friendly reception, and to MIDAS PR for your part in a thoroughly enjoyable evening.


Kate Hardy said...

Sounds as if you had a fabulous time. Thanks for sharing. (That corset is stunning.)

annie burrows said...

I was fascinated by the book on living without servants, and reading that snippet written from the deck of Jack London's yacht, too! A writer's life was a tad different in those days...
Do tell - did you get your photo snapped with either Jack Riordan, or Leo Christakis?
I was forced (!) to pose with Leo, and I still haven't quite recovered!
Annie Burrows

juliemt said...

Fascinating post, Kate! Thank you for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing,Kate. Sounds like you had a wonderful time.


Jane said...

Looks like everybody had a great time. I really enjoyed the pic of the old hardbacks. I've never seen them before.

Liz Fielding said...

Thanks so much for sharing the evening with those of us who couldn't be there, Kate. Loved the corset. I don't suppose they had any of the Paul Smith boxer shorts made with the M&B cover material? :)

Jennie Lucas said...

Gorgeous post, Kate! I especially loved the pictures...could almost imagine being there with you guys. Thanksh!

Jennie Lucas said...

Oops--I meant THANKS. I think I got a little too excited at the mention of Greek heroes pushing wine.

Anonymous said...

carolc said...

Sounds like a fabulous event Kate, you described it so well I feel like I went myself.


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