Novelist Jacqueline Winspear will give the annual Huntingford Humanities Lecture this Thursday. (Jacqueline Winspear)

Novelist Jacqueline Winspear will give the annual Huntingford Humanities Lecture this Thursday. (Jacqueline Winspear)

Novelist Winspear to give annual lecture

Huntingford Humanities Lecture on Thursday

CHIMACUM — A vocational test told teenage Jackie Winspear she ought to be a teacher. Off to college she went, and she was doing fine. Except she didn’t want to teach.

Winspear, who’d grown up in Kent, England, dreamed of becoming a writer and traveler. She listened heartfully to stories of wartime from her parents and her neighbors, and was inspired.

One day at the University of London, an instructor handed back an essay Winspear had written.

“In a throwaway comment [the teacher] said I had a very journalistic style to my writing and maybe I was in the wrong place. I should have upped sticks right there and then, seeing it as a ‘message’ — but I couldn’t stand the thought of what might ensue when I called to tell my parents that I’d left college,” she recalls in her memoir.

This writer is now Jacqueline Winspear, giver of the Jefferson County Library 2023 Huntingford Humanities Lecture. The 90-minute program will start at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Chimacum Junior-Senior High School Auditorium, 91 West Valley Road.

Admission is free to the annual event, named for Sara “Sally” Huntingford, who, 45 years ago, helped form the Jefferson County Library District. For information, see jclibrary.info or phone 360-385-6544.

Two decades after Winspear took that inaccurate test, she signed up for a journalism class at UCLA. She had moved to California and had a “day job,” as she called it. At age 36, she still yearned for the writer’s life.

The class led to writing magazine articles. She began assembling the career she’d wanted all along.

Then came another significant turn, “a moment of artistic grace,” as Winspear describes it in the memoir. Sitting in traffic on a rainy day, she dreamed up a story about a courageous woman. There in California, nearly 6,000 miles away from the England of her youth, she could still hear the voices of women who had told their stories.

Winspear wrote this new tale down; it became a manuscript, and that became “Maisie Dobbs,” her first novel. It was published in 2003, the year the writer turned 48.

Winspear made up for lost time. She would have been prolific if the Maisie Dobbs novels — 17 of them now — were her only books.

But the author has also written a memoir, “This Time Next Year We’ll Be Laughing,” named after something her father used to say. She’s written the nonfiction “What Would Maisie Do?” and two standalone novels, “The Care and Management of Lies” (2014) and “The White Lady,” published just this spring.

“People have asked why I haven’t written nonfiction about many of the subjects I’ve focused upon in my work,” Winspear said in an email interview.

“The answer is easy: I can touch truth more readily with fiction than I can with fact. And with some subjects, frankly, I can reach a greater number of readers, and if I’m doing it right I can touch the hearts of more people with story,” she continued.

“Think about it — that’s why the myths and legends have had such staying power — they represent the human condition reflected in stories, and people are drawn to stories.”

In “The White Lady,” Winspear wanted to take a woman through two world wars in which she was a secret resistance worker — and a trained killer. Winspear wanted to know what that experience could do to the soul of this woman.

Her name is Elinor White, and “to up the stakes, I put her into a situation where she faces another war, that of organized crime in post-WW2 Britain,” the author added.

“I like playing with time and place, and moving characters around. I did it with ‘The Care and Management of Lies,’ which was really about love, both on and off the battlefield.”

Chris HoffmanHill, public services manager at Jefferson County Library, gave the reasons for choosing this writer for this year’s Huntingford Humanities Lecture. Her predecessors over the past 15 years include Jess Walter, Sherman Alexie, David Guterson and Daniel James Brown.

“Jacqueline Winspear is an excellent writer with beloved books,” HoffmanHill said.

“We were looking for a fun, joyful Huntingford. It has been a rough three years, and we just wanted to enjoy and savor the power of a good read.”

________

Diane Urbani de la Paz is a freelance writer and photographer living in Port Townsend.

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