October 2017 was the month of harvest for a crop planted over eight years ago. My book, Magician and Fool, was printed by i2i Publishing in England on October 4th and there were plans afoot to launch it in London. With the book now in tangible form, I flew to London for talks, inquiries and canvassing. I was to speak at Atlantis Bookshop and Watkins Books, and present a booth with my book at the UK Tarot Conference and try to interest book stores into stocking the book. When I checked into the Thistle City Barbican Hotel, my nerves were frayed at the thought that the books hadn’t arrived, making this trip a moot point, but Lionel Ross, my publisher, had made sure the four heavy boxes of books were waiting in the luggage room. I was never so happy to lug four twenty-three pound boxes to my hotel room. Here is a my table at the hotel for the UK Tarot Conference, flowers courtesy of my friends and family.
On the flight over, I thought about the travails that Pamela went through in publishing her literary magazine, The Green Sheaf. In 1903, The Green Sheaf was a self-published venture based on subscriptions, lasting only a year, with 13 issues published. Here is a photo of the first edition:
Pamela hand colored the illustrations, she taught classes in hand coloring and hired herself out to hand color other people’s artwork. In her magazine, several contributors’ work appears: Cecil French, Gordon Craig (Ellen Terry’s son and Edy Craig’s brother), William Butler Yeats and Christopher St John. In this symbol of the magazine, are the green sheafs pictures currency bills or works of literature that make up the magazine? Green ink was the favored color in the sign in book of Pamela’s soirees, perhaps it was a nod to her collaborations during her nights of gathered illustrious guests.
The first day, I took my press packet/sample book package to as many indie bookstores that I could from Mayfair to Picadilly. Later in the day, I brought a box of books to Atlantis Bookshop, where owners, Geraldine Beskin and her daughter, Bali, let me present a talk on Pamela to their downstairs space. Geraldine and Bali were enthusiastic and supportive, stocking copies of my book after my talk and captivating Sasha Graham, a tarot conference key speaker and dear friend, who had come with me to hear the talk at Atlantis.
Geraldine, Susan and Bali
Atlantis Bookshop is an occult bookstore specializing in The Golden Dawn, so I was not surprised to see one-of-a-kind editions on their shelves. The mood of the stores was serious fun, with a museum-type vibe to the artifacts in stock. Sasha and I went to a pub across the street from the British Museum afterwards and I was cheered by Sasha’s expert approval of my talk. The first talk about Pamela was now completed but the next talk was the one to test my nerves.
The next day was the talk at Watkins Books, which was something I was planning since I visited the shop in June. Watkins Books figures in the storyline of Magician and Fool and I was thrilled to be doing the reading right in front of the booth area where Swami Krishna had read my palm after my first visit. Would the presentation go as well as was predicted? Late in the afternoon, Carrie Paris and her husband, Robert, very kindly helped me schlep my twenty-three pound box of books in the car to Watkins Books and helped me set up the book table. Then they helped me calm down, drink water, get focused for the talk. Here is a photo of the book table with the merchandise that my twin sister, Cynthia Wands, had designed that they set up.
I had also asked Bryan Cranston to come and say a quick hello at Watkins Books during the course of my presentation on Pamela Colman Smith. Bryan was rehearsing NETWORK for the National Theatre, had a film in the process of opening, was just finished launching his own book and was in the middle of getting off-book for his play. It was a lot to ask him to make an appearance.
There is something magical about fame when it is founded on talent, not notoriety. It is a lightening rod, a beam of light that makes for a common language. ‘Ah, yes, I know you because I saw your Hamlet/Walter White/Abraham Lincoln.’ In Pamela’s world, when she signed on to tour with Sir Henry Irving with the Lyceum Theatre, fame was very much a part of her world. It shined and it burned. Shined, in that Pamela found an exclusive club that let her in and included her in the artistic process. Burned, in that she was never given the possibilities to have her own artistic creations used in Lyceum productions. But in being party to the Lyceum Theatre, she experienced the business of show business, and as with her Green Sheaf publications, she threw herself into a myriad of ways to support herself with her art.
My rehearsed talk on Pamela was practiced at home with family and friends, trying to time it to twenty minutes. I tried not to get distracted by all the stories each aspect of Pamela’s life lends itself to: stories of other artwork, creations, creative types in her life. But the story of Pamela’s artwork in her tarot cards and the heightened abilities she was able to put into the symbols in her cards is something that I am passionate about. And I hoped the talk at Watkins would reflect that. From 5:30 onwards, the small space at Watkins filled up with folks that I knew and some I did not; by 6 pm the thirty chairs were occupied. I tried to greet those that I knew briefly, but tried to keep to myself so that I could concentrate on the talk. Etan Ilfeld, the owner of the store who was taping the talk, stood with me near the entrance and we chatted for a bit. Eventually, he asked as to whether Bryan would be able to attend or not, since it was 6 pm and he was not there. I suggested that we wait ten minutes and then go. A very long ten minutes later, I said we should start and Etan introduced me.
I had hoped I had enough to say about Pamela that standing on my own would be enough and that the speech without Bryan would not be a disappointment. I settled my brain down and told myself that I was there to talk about Pamela and let that carry me through. I think you can tell by the video clip posted below when Bryan entered the room about ten minutes into my talk, I was very pleased to see him there. As Blanche says, ‘Sometimes there is God so quickly.’ But, I was also excited about being able to talk about Pamela and draw a comparison between Henry Irving’s stature and reputation as an actor and Bryan’s reputation. I felt like his appearance at my talk was the universe letting me make a point about what is a ‘star’. Sir Henry Irving, the first actor to be knighted, turned the tide for actors in general to be seen as legitimate artists and not be considered cut-purses or degenerates. Bryan, an American actor starring in the lead in a show at the National Theatre in London, was certainly doing his part in bringing accreditation to actors. The gasps and round of applause when I introduced Bryan was a truly lovely experience. You can see the talk in an edited clip from Watkins Books youtube channel here:
After Bryan left and I continued the talk, the question and answer segment of the evening was fabulous. People knowledgeable and concerned about Pamela wanted to talk about her, whether it was about her name on the tarot deck or about Nora Lake, her late-in-life companion. It was fascinating to see other people’s interest in her life.
After the talk, I signed books, talked to friends and made new ones. The evening’s talk seemed to have vanished until after supper when I was walking back to the underground. We walked back past the now closed shop of Watkins Books. The display case with copies of Magician and Fool glowed in the half light and the feeling was that of pride, relief and just…joy. I think Pamela would be pleased and I hope that my series of books about Pamela’s tarot cards brings more people into her creative and whimsical world.