Wednesday, July 15, 2009

BC About the Author: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

For the month of July, we read Shaffer and Barrow's The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Mary Ann Shaffer was born in Martinsburg, West Virginia, in 1934. Her career included libraries, bookstores, and publishing, but her life-long dream was to "write a book that someone would like enough to publish." Though she did not live to see it, this dream has been realized in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

She became interested in Guernsey while visiting London in 1976. On a whim, she decided to fly to Guernsey but became stranded there when a thick fog descended and all boats and planes were forbidden to leave the island. As she waited for the fog to lift, warming herself by the heat of the hand-dryer in the men's restroom, she read all the books in the Guernsey airport bookstore, including Jersey under the Jack-Boot. Thus began her fascination with the German Occupation of the Channel Islands. +/-

Many years later, when goaded by her book club to write a novel, Mary Ann naturally thought of Guernsey. She chose to write in the epistolary form because, "for some bizarre reason, I thought it would be easier." Several years of work yielded The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which was greeted with avid enthusiasm, first by her family, then by her writing group, and finally by publishers around the world.

Sadly, Mary Ann's health began to decline shortly thereafter, and she asked her niece, Annie Barrows, to help her finish the book. Mary Ann passed away in February 2008, knowing that her novel was to be published in English and in translation in many languages throughout the world.

Visit the book's official website here.


Annie Barrows grew up in Northern California, and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley, with a degree in Medieval History. Unable to find a job in the middle ages, she decided upon a career as an editor, eventually landing at Chronicle Books in San Francisco, where she was in charge of "all the books that nobody in their right mind would publish." After earning an M.F.A. in Creative Writing at Mills College, Annie wrote a number of books for grown-ups about such diverse subjects as fortune-telling (she can read palms!), urban legends (there are no alligators in the sewer!), and opera (she knows what they're singing about!).

In 2003, Annie grew weary of grown-ups, and began to write for kids, which she found to be more fun. Her first children's book, Ivy and Bean, an ALA Notable Book for 2007, was soon followed by other books in the series.

In between writing books about Ivy and Bean, Annie began to write The Magic Half. "I wrote the kind of book I loved as a kid—what I call regular magic, which means that it takes place in the same world we all live in, except that a magical event occurs. The Magic Half is a catalog of my favorite daydreams: a tiny door in an enchanted house, time travel, and twins."

[Annie wrote a beautiful afterword (which was included at the end of my copy of Guernsey, hopefully it is in yours too) about her aunt's talent with words and stories. If you get a chance, it's definitely worth reading.]

Vist her website here.

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