Author of the Inspector Gloria crime series, Joe Glackin, describes the experience of seeing a stranger with one of his books for the first time.
Monrovia (Liberia) Oslo train station
The Sunday afternoon metro heading to Oslo city centre is not the place I expected to see a copy of my book. But there she was - a middle-aged woman, wrapped up against the cold with a copy of A Lone Star Weeps in her hand, as if she had been reading it. I was stunned, delighted and not quite sure what to do.
Before I could make up my mind to approach her and reveal myself as the author, the train stopped at Carl Berners Plass and she got off, disappearing into the crowds. Why was I so shocked? I realised it was the first time I had seen my book in the hands of anyone other than friends and family, in a context other than the few places I had done a book launch. It was real. Inspector Gloria was out there, on her own, unsupervised and unchaperoned. And suddenly I felt quite protective of her... not of the words themselves, my sometimes overly-long sentences and unfinished character descriptions, but of Gloria. I really want people to know her and, if not like her, at least understand her and get a feeling for Liberia, because the two are inseparable.
I started writing the Inspector Gloria books in 2011 on a train from Birmingham to London. Originally it was just something to do to pass the time but it became a major preoccupation because as I wrote I discovered - I discovered more and more about Gloria, who she is, how she operates in the complex and often scary world of post-war Liberia, and I also discovered what I thought about Liberia, and I remembered events and people and stories that defined my 13 interesting years there.
Every book - I am just editing the third one now - tells me more about her - and more about myself. Writing is definitely not therapy for me but it is a fascinating journey into my memories as well as my imagination, a process that, when I stop procrastinating and get down to doing it, takes me out of myself and into Gloria's world - a world both familiar and strange, comfortable and frightening.
I hope they take the reader on a similar journey, a good story in an unfamiliar landscape with characters who repel and attract in equal measure. But now when I pass through Carl Berners Plass heading into central Oslo, a city so different in every way from Monrovia, Liberia's capital, I am reminded of Gloria's world of heat and dust and I sometimes imagine I catch a glimpse of her standing in the gloomy Metro station, waiting for her next story to be told.