Sarah Wendell: Hello and welcome to episode number 582 of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books. I’m Sarah Wendell, and today my guest is Lorelei King. Lorelei has been a guest on the show before, and you may recognize her name and certainly her voice from her work in romance audiobook narration. This week Lorelei is joining me to talk about her role as a core participant in the official UK government COVID inquiry, which begins its second phase on October 3rd. We also discuss her volunteer work on the Covid Memorial Wall in London.
Now, I want to give you a few WARNINGS: we’re going to talk about COVID and about death, as Lorelei’s husband died from COVID in March of 2020. We’re also going to talk about Boris Johnson and his WhatsApp message, so big CONTENT WARNING for buffoonery, and I want to give you a heads-up that this episode may not be one you want to listen to because we’re going to talk about death and grief, and that’s okay. So please look after yourself. We’re talking about some difficult things, but it’s fundamentally about living with grief and finding hope and finding purpose after a terrible loss. I really found this conversation to be very hopeful and really moving, so I hope you enjoy it as well.
I want to send a special hello and thank-you to our Patreon community, who make sure that every episode has a transcript and keeps me going week after week. If you have supported the show, thank you!
I have a compliment this week as well!
To Kim K.: Whenever you walk in the room, everyone in the room, including the cats, any birds, miscellaneous mammals, all of them think to themselves, Yes! Kim is here. Because you are great.
If you would like a compliment of your very own or you’d like to find out how to support this podcast, patreon.com/SmartBitches is where you can find all of the details. And I want to send a hello to Tracy, who is the newest member of our Patreon community. Thank you to all of you for your support; it means so very, very much.
Support for this episode comes from Earth Breeze. I have been watching highlight reels of people who go out in kayaks near my hometown of Pittsburgh and elsewhere as they clean up rivers and streams, and they pull a staggering amount of plastic waste out of the water. It’s really startling to see how many laundry jugs end up as pollution, so when I was invited to try Earth Breeze I was extremely excited. Earth Breeze looks like a dryer sheet, but it’s not. It’s a liquid-less laundry detergent sheet that dissolves a hundred percent in any wash cycle, hot or cold. No measuring, no mess, no dripping, no heavy lifting, and no plastic jug. Earth Breeze has thought of everything: the packaging is a lightweight cardboard envelope that saves space and avoids the plastic jug. When my packet arrived, Adam actually thought it was a book. Earth Breeze is compatible with high-efficiency washers, gray water systems, and is septic-safe. The eco sheets are hypoallergenic and dermatologist-tested. Does it work? Oh, yes, it does. You use exactly the right amount of each sheet depending on how large of a load of laundry you’re doing. It’s tough on stains, it fights odors, and my clothes come out fresh and clean every time. Right now my listeners can subscribe to Earth Breeze and save forty percent. Go to earthbreeze.com/SARAH; that’s earthbreeze.com/SARAH for forty percent off! Earthbreeze.com/SARAH.
Okay, I think it makes perfect sense to talk to one of the most prominent and well-recognized audiobook narrators in the romance genre about the COVID government inquiry, right? No, actually, this is the perfect person to talk to about this, and I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did. On with the podcast.
Lorelei King: Hi, I’m Lorelei King. I’m an actress, a writer, and an audiobook narrator. I’m an American, but I’ve lived in the UK for the last ten thousand years.
Sarah: Ten thousand years! [Laughs]
Lorelei: It feels like it sometimes, Sarah.
Sarah: I bet! Well, we, we have, we have talked before about audiobook narration. We have, I’ve listened to your book about audio-, audiobook narration, which is top-notch. I love it very much.
Lorelei: Is that Storyteller: How to Be an Audio Book Narrator?
Sarah: That is in fact Storyteller: How to Be an Audio Book Narrator.
Lorelei: Always – [laughs] – always plug!
Sarah: That’s, that’s, that’s why we do what we do. But I’m, I’ve been following you on Twitter for a very, very long time, partially because I, like, I’m a fan? And also we come from the same place, so every so often you make a joke that I particularly get. Like, right, it hits me right in the funny bone? So I’ve been following you on Twitter for a really long time, and I’ve been following your coverage of the UK COVID inquiry. So I thought it makes all the sense in the world for me to connect to a romance and mystery audiobook narrator to talk about the UK COVID inquiry. Please tell me about the COVID inquiry, ‘cause you are actually there. You are witnessing it.
Sarah: You are present. What, what is this? What’s going on? And how many umbrellas have you needed to bring?
Lorelei: [Laughs] Yeah, umbrellas is right, because of the rain, rain, rain; what a summer. First of all, thank you so much for asking. Secondly, forgive me; I’m going to say inquiry [inq-WHY-ree]. I know we say inquiry [in-queer-ee]; in Britain they say [inq-WHY-ree], so that’s how I’ve got used to saying it.
And the COVID inquiry is something that’s been consuming my life for a while now. Bit of background: my husband died of COVID-19 in March of 2020, early in the pandemic, and later that year I joined an activist group, the Covid Bereaved Families for Justice, and the aim of the group, besides being a support for COVID bereaved, the aim was to get an inquiry into the pandemic, because I think having been so traumatized ourselves by our bereavement, we thought it was important to address what went wrong and, and how we could learn from that so that in future maybe other people wouldn’t have to suffer the way that we did.
And just to explain a little bit about what the inquiry is, some countries already have had their inquiries, like Sweden, France, Italy, I think. The difference between that, those are non-statutory inquiries. This is a statutory inquiry. As far as I know, it may be the only, only one in the world at the moment, and the UK’s unique in this way, and what that means is that a statutory inquiry has a judge, it has legal power to force witnesses to testify and to produce evidence and documents. It is a criminal offense to try to obstruct an inquiry, and once the statutory inquiry’s established, it operates completely independently of the government. The former prime minister Boris Johnson was the one who established this inquiry after we fought for it hard in, in the group.
And yes, I’m, I’m there, either in person or online, ‘cause it’s also broadcast online, every day, because I’m what’s called a core participant through the Covid Bereaved Families for Justice. What that means is that I have legal representation at the inquiry. We’re not the only core participants. There are, there are others, but I think we’re probably one of the most vocal – [laughs] – one of the most vocal groups.
People go on for some years, and it’s structured in modules. We’ve just finished Module 1, which dealt with preparation, and believe me, there are many lessons to be learned there. And in the fall now is Module 2, which deals with government’s actions and decisions during the pandemic. That’s a huge module; that’s going to be a big one. We did have the politicians testifying, but many more politicians will be testifying in this one. And there are several modules that follow on from that. At the moment it’s six modules. They deal with healthcare settings, care homes, vaccination.
I mean, as an activist group, we have our issues with the inquiry. There are things about it we don’t like. The stories of the bereaved have not been able to be told. Our lawyers are not permitted to question witnesses, except in the most limited way. They submit questions they want to ask a witness, and they may be given five minutes at the end of a, of a hearing day to ask a question. They may be asked to rewrite the question according to what the inquiry wants. So that doesn’t make us happy. We’re also very unhappy with the government, who, as I said, they have to provide evidence if asked by the chair. The chair is Baroness Hallett, a very experienced judge, and she asked for Boris Johnson’s WhatsApp messages –
Sarah: Oh –
Lorelei: – and some other things, and they, they went to court to stop us. They went to court, and there was a judicial review at the high court. We all went just to be, be there, and of course the court ruled in our favor and said, You have to give the inquiry these documents. Now, that’s what I mean when I talk about the difference, that an inquiry such as run in the other countries won’t have that power. People can just say no! Go away. So we’ve got that. So there’s been a delay in that particular evidence, which is for the, this module, Module 2.
So I said it’s going to go on for some years, and our hope is that this investment of time and money – because it’s expensive; the taxpayer’s paying for it – will help us deal with things better in the future. And although we’re a group of bereaved and arguably the most active, and much of it is being driven by the bereaved, in fact it’s an inquiry for, for all of us. The, the whole country can benefit from this, bereaved and non-bereaved, because it’s not just looking at the spread of the disease and the deaths that were caused; it was also other things. The fact people lost their businesses because of lockdown. Schools were closed. There’ve been some developmental problems, I understand, with some ages of children because of that. The one I think is most cruel is people with dementia living in care homes couldn’t be visited by their families for a year or more and felt abandoned, and that kind of cruelty can’t happen again.
Now, I’m not saying there’s any easy answers, but I’m saying this is a chance for us to address the issue and try to find better ways to do it in, in future.
You just tell me to stop talking when you want to.
But just to explain that ordinarily with the statutory inquiry, when the inquiry’s over, they make the recommendations. Not in this case: Baroness Hallett is going to give her recommendations at the end of each module, which I think is great, rather than having to wait four years or whatever. So Module 1 recommendations will come in summer of 2024, I believe. I don’t think my involvement with this cause is going to, is going to end anytime soon, because the whole thing about recommendations is that they have to be enacted –
Lorelei: – by whichever government is in power.
Lorelei: And one thing I learned in Module 1 preparation, when they do it, they’ve done exercises in the past; recommendations were made; they ignore them! On a personal level, it gives my life purpose. I felt, I felt kind of purposeless, rudderless, after the death of my husband, and, and much of what I do now is to, to honor him, to honor his memory.
Sarah: Well, first, I’m so sorry.
Lorelei: Thank you.
Sarah: So the, one of the things that your coverage has reminded me of, here in the States, after 9/11, a lot of the widows of men who died in 9/11, firefighters, people in the World Trade Center, people in the Pentagon, a lot of the widows got together and were like, Nonononononono, we’re going to hold you accountable for what you did and didn’t do, because there, there was warning. We knew this might happen. They would connect over text messages. There wasn’t as much social media. They were coordinating appearances so that they would be looking people in the eye while they testified, and being present to force some accountability, some kind of accountability. Is that part of what you do as a core participant is just be present and continually advocate for some accountability for what happened?
Lorelei: Absolutely! I mean, you’ve hit the nail on the head there. And I feel a great affinity with those widows. We have many widows in our group. Not just widows; you know, bereaved children and, and siblings and so on. But yes; one of the things, for example, when one particular politician came whom I personally hold responsible for a lot, we were there, and we, we can sit in the public gallery, and we’re about twenty feet from the witnesses, and we sit there with our loved ones’ photographs in our laps.
Lorelei: I actually waited for his car when he arrived. I had pictures of my husband with him, this particular politician, ‘cause he had had a photo op with my husband, and then I had a picture of his coffin. He, he barely glanced, glanced at me as he got out of his car.
Sarah: Ooh, I’m mad just hearing this! Ohhh!
Lorelei: But there was a ton of press there that day, because there are when you get the big protocol politicians, so I thought, Okay, he might not want to see; I think they do, and I turned, and, and it’s true: it’s, that kind of publicity is important. I’m spoke-, one of the media spokespeople for the group as well, and it’s important that we keep our story out there and keep it, keep it alive. Because it is about accountability. I’ve also, I, for me the main goal is to make things better in the future –
Lorelei: – but of course there has to be accountability as well.
I, I want to take this chance, actually, to correct a little – or just to maybe cut off a, one road, ‘cause a lot of people don’t quite understand. They think it’s something to do with compensation or money; it’s nothing to do with that.
Lorelei: There is no question; there is no compensation; there is no – it’s nothing to do with that. This is about how the government, what actions can be taken in the future. That’s it. ‘Cause I think some people may, might think cynically that it’s – and it’s not. Zero to do with that.
Sarah: This is, so this is not a civil suit; this is not for damages; you are not trying to achieve a certain monetary compensation. What you’re actually trying to do is to force future governments to move beyond suggestions or ideas into, No, y’all actually have to do this if this happens again. Because, I mean, look at how many similarities there were between COVID and Spanish flu, and there’s so many more of us humans on the Earth, and we’re all connected and traveling a lot. This type of thing will happen again. Your goal is, If we do have this problem, we’re not going to stand around and say, It’s not a problem. We’re not going to pretend like it’s not happening. You ha-, it’s, it’s about compelling the government to respond in a particular way to prevent this type of thing from happening again to people.
Lorelei: You’re absolutely right. Two points from what you just said: what I find interesting about the flu epidemic, the Spanish flu epidemic, what is similar as well is – I don’t know if you find this; I do, just because of my particular position in this – people are now just a little bit like, they want it to be over?
Lorelei: They just want to La-la-la-la-la; they want to move on. But interestingly, and what we’ve read about – ‘cause do a bit of research into the Spanish flu – it wasn’t that it was magically not that bad or just disappeared or whatever; people, it was the same thing! People did not want to talk about it; they wanted to put it behind them.
Lorelei: That was one thing. The second thing is, some of the evidence I heard in Module 1 from the scientists was, you know, pretty, mm, eye-opening, because there was one who just said, It is coming again, it’s going to be much worse, and it’s going to be soon! Some scientists are saying that. So the more we can prepare now –
Lorelei: – the better. I think this is one of my issues as well: it’s one thing to wait for Baroness Hallett’s recommendations – great. The, the recommendations are now public, so any government, including the one we have at the moment, could look at them and say, Hey, why don’t we implement some of those now? Nothing stopping them! And that, this is the thing: I feel sometimes like governments won’t do anything until they’re forced to, absolutely forced to.
Sarah: It’s true.
Lorelei: And we’re the ones who suffer.
Sarah: Yep. And you have to hold people over and over, and you also have to keep reminding people of something that was painful and scary, and I used to think this was just an American trait, especially after 9/11? Like, we, we, we don’t like being sad all at the same time. I mean, also, America is such a big-ass country, we don’t do anything at the same time; we’ve got like seven time zones! We can’t even celebrate the New Year together, but we can be bereaved together, and we, we have been, and we don’t like being unhappy. [Laughs] Americans like to be happy; we’re very gregarious. We do not like to be unhappy! And I think that, that is actually a commonality with a lot of people: we don’t want to think about how miserable and scary that was. It sucked! It sucked a lot, and –
Lorelei: Sucked big time.
Sarah: – it was terrible! We were, I’m not a fan. Zero stars! It, it, COVID gets a very bad Yelp review from me. But –
Sarah: – if you don’t look at how bad it was, it’ll happen again. I happen to be Jewish, and we talk a lot about the Holocaust. Ask me why we do that. ‘Cause we don’t want it to happen again. ‘Cause it might. ‘Cause it has, ‘cause it will! ‘Cause this is, you know, to cart, to quote Carl Sagan, “We have traveled this way before. And there is much to be learned.”
What are some of the things that you have learned that have helped you as being part of one of the core participants in the inquiry?
Look, I’m trying to say it both ways in one word, and it’s just not working. [Laughs]
Lorelei: Yeah, no, though say it your way; I’m, I’m happy. I’m not going to say inquiry.
Lorelei: It’s one of those words when I’m narrating an audiobook, I have to consciously think, Oh no, inquiry, inquiry, shh.
I think what I’ve learned is that even one person can make a difference.
Lorelei: I’ve learned that actions are not futile. I’ve learned a lot at quite a cost, but a lot of empathy. And I’ve learned how grief can destroy some people and how traumatic it is and how gentle we have to be with each other. I’ve learned, well, I’m afraid I’ve learned to be more cynical when it comes to those in power. I do not believe they have our best interests at heart. I think those days are gone. And I’ve learned that we can’t just sit back and assume – leading off from that point – we can’t just sit back and assume that people are doing things, that things are happening –
Lorelei: – for our benefit, or just to keep us going. They’re not! And we all have to be involved. I didn’t expect – [laughs] – return to activism at this stage of my life, but I see now how important it is.
Sarah: Yeah. And that if you can show up and be present, it makes quite a difference.
Lorelei: Yeah! One of the things that I did, I was sitting with our lawyers during one of the preliminary hearings, and he mentioned that they were going to do a podcast just saying what had happened that week in the inquiry, and so I said, Oh! You know, this is not outside my wheelhouse. You know, do – so –
Sarah: That’s entirely in your house of wheels! Are we joking here?
Lorelei: [Laughs] So they asked me to help, and so we did that every week with the lawyers. We did different guests, usually other lawyers, and we would kind of – and because I’m like the stupid lay person, I could ask, ‘cause it’s, it’s, it is very legalistic, very dense, a lot of the – and very scientific – a lot of the time. So I would just say, What does this mean? What does that mean? And they would explain it in a more, you know, user-friendly way. So we did that once a week, and I think we’re going to do it, we’ll be doing it again in the second module. So, so that was fun.
I guess that’s another thing I learned. It’s like you never know when your skills can come in handy in a different way –
Lorelei: – than you originally planned. That was fun. And, and, like I said, it’s on the Broudie Jackson Canter YouTube channel.
Sarah: I’m going to, I will link to it; never fear.
So I also want to ask you about the Covid Memorial Wall, and I know I’ve seen the wall in footage of the queue of people waiting to see the queen when she was lying in state. Tell me about the Covid Memorial Wall, because that’s another activist and volunteer thing that you’re doing. And it’s, it’s also really beautiful. Tell me all about it!
Lorelei: I’ll tell you what, you know, the inquiry is like my battle, and the memorial wall is my refuge, and –
Sarah: Oh, lovely!
Lorelei: [Laughs] So a little bit about the history of the wall: it started as a guerilla action, you’re right, and it was done, well, almost overnight. It was coordinated through Covid Bereaved Families for Justice and a political activist group called Led By Donkeys, who are amazing, absolutely amazing.
Sarah: I’m sorry, Led By Donkeys?!
Lorelei: Led By Donkeys. Yeah.
Lorelei: It’s a quote from something. We are led by donkeys? What are, we’re something – I don’t even know what the origin of the quote is, but they’re just these amazing people who’ve just done incredible – largely, they started around Brexit – I’m sure you guys have heard of Brexit and, and everything about that – and then they joined up with Covid Bereaved Families.
And they wanted to do a piece of art, and they found the wall, which is right across from the Houses of Parliament, right across from the seat of power on the South Bank. The location is perfect: half a kilometer of Portland stone wall. And they had signs made; it all looked very official. People wore tabards. They asked for volunteers, and they put all these hearts on, and that, the painting went on for several days. It was not originally intended to be permanent. It was intended to be a piece of activism, but then people started coming. They started claiming hearts as their own, putting their loved one’s name on it. The thing, at that point there was one red painted heart for every person who died in this country of COVID. At that point it was a hundred fifty thousand. That’s still true; there’s still a heart for every person. Whether or not it has a name is irrelevant; there’s a red heart for every person who died in this country. It’s over two hundred and twenty thousand.
Lorelei: And as people started to come, it sort of took on a life of its own, and we, through one of our members named Fran, she sort of started a subgroup called Friends of the Wall, and some of us joined up, and our, our mission is to preserve the wall. So that’s part of what we do, because originally they used art pens, which don’t last, and –
Sarah: No, those’ll wash in the rain.
Lorelei: Yep! They stayed in the rain, but they fade very, very quickly. They get sort of absorbed into the wall. So we have repainted every heart with red masonry paint, a half a kilometer of hearts. It’s, it’s quite – and that, that goes on. There are still ones we’re still refreshing, we’re still restoring, and it’s become kind of this mammoth project.
We do dedications for people who can’t get to London. They, they contact us. If their loved one died in the UK of COVID, we, we will dedicate a heart for them. And for many people this is, one of the reasons it’s meaningful is that some people don’t, don’t have a grave! You know, they don’t have a grave for their loved one, or they couldn’t get a headstone, or whatever. This is the memorial to their loved ones, and it’s very precious to them. And a lot of, we go every week and restore and do dedications, and we also sometimes have ministrative people, because people come visit the wall; it’s very emotional for people to visit their heart for the first time.
We also try to publicize it. That image is now iconic. It’s, it’s used in many news reports; it’s used as the background. Our goal is for the wall to be made permanent. We’ve had a few visits from the commemoration commission, which decides these matters, or makes recommendations on these matters, and I believe the recommendations will be published soon, so we’re really hoping that it will be made permanent, because then, ‘cause at the moment it’s, there’s nine of us.
Lorelei: Nine women who maintain this wall. It’s, it’s a lot. [Laughs]
Sarah: That is a lot. And that’s all, that’s all volunteer and donations. That’s not any federal funding; that’s not any government funding.
Sarah: That is just volunteer labor and donations from people.
Lorelei: Yeah. Nine, nine of us, nine of us volunteers and –
Lorelei: – we have a, we have fundraising page as well, and people do donate. Sometimes they press money into our hands at the wall, which is nice. And we also are very lucky in that we do have a little bit of, I don’t know if you call it corporate sponsorship, but, like, Sharpie, they donate pens to us. There’s a, a, Valspar donates some paint to us. So we do get some, some materials are donated, and some we have to buy.
So it is, it’s, like, on a shoestring, but, but we manage it, and it’s, it’s just, it’s one of the most meaningful things I do, I think, in this life, especially since Vince died. I kind of, I just want, I want the rest of my life to have meaning, and I don’t want to waste time. And this is one of the most meaningful things I do.
I mean, today, for example, we were contacted by a lady, she lost a seven-year-old son –
Lorelei: – to COVID. I know this boy’s heart. I did his heart. I put his dedication on. And this is what, we call it Wall Magic, and last week I, I went to visit it, have a look at it, and I refreshed the outline, and I did a little TikTok of it. Like, obviously keeping him anonymous. And anyway, his mother, having not seen that, she contacted us today and said, Could you please check my son’s heart to make sure it’s still okay? And I said, Wow. You know, I just did. Here’s the video of me doing it. But that, that particular heart really gets to me, ‘cause I think people don’t realize children died. Yes, it may mostly have been old people, but children died of this disease, this virus. So it’s moments like that, when you just think, and it means so much to her, and, and I could tell that, and that, that means a lot to me. It’s very rewarding.
Sarah: One of the things I learned during COVID, I, I, I personally do not like gatherings? A group of people is called a No Thank You for me. But I recognized, even after a few weeks of COVID, that the absence of the opportunity to come together and say something has ended or something has begun, whether it’s a funeral or a graduation, the absence of the opportunity to come together in a, in a group acknowledgment and say, This has happened and we are changed, is a great loss. It’s striking to me; if you look at history, we’ve had these things happen. We have, we have a Covid Memorial Wall; we have the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall; we have the 9/11 monument. We have the AIDS quilt; remember the AIDS quilt? It’s now so big you can’t put it anywhere. There’s no space big enough to hold the whole AIDS quilt. Like, that’s staggering. We are so, as humans, we’re so creative in coming up with ways of saying, I was here, and this person was here, and I miss this person, and here is the thing that lets me think about them.
I’m going to get choked up now. ‘Scuse me! I keep tissues at my desk –
Lorelei: Oh. [Laughs] I think what –
Lorelei: I think what you’re saying, what you’re saying is very interesting, Sarah, and it’s true, and I think that’s one of the reasons why COVID grief, along with, I imagine, other types, is so specifically difficult, because we couldn’t mourn. I think it was – I can only speak for myself, but I’m sure this experience was shared when – ‘cause Vince died early in it, and we did his funeral; it was twenty minutes. There were six people and, or eight people and – but no one could sit with me, knowing, you know. And then I went home. We did do a little drink on Zoom later, but – and then we were in lockdown.
Lorelei: So I was, like, alone with this horrible grief, and many people were in that position, and it, it – I grieved. You know, I grieved both my parents. I understand at least how I operate in grief. I know kind of the steps that I tend to go through. This was completely different. I didn’t, it kind of took me by surprise, and that’s why three, more than three years on, I still feel almost as traumatized as I did at the beginning. Although with my new, I do feel purpose now, so that, that helps somewhat, but it, it is that mourning rituals are so important. And getting back to the wall, which, as you mentioned, I think these – that’s what’s so special about it: it’s collective. It’s –
Lorelei: – made by the bereaved for the bereaved. It’s a piece of collective art, collective mourning, and I think it’s especially beautiful for that reason.
Sarah: And it’s also extremely visible.
So I know here in, in the States there’s a, a pretty, pretty strong and loud movement of people declaring COVID is over; we don’t have to worry about; and there are state laws that, like, prohibit mask requirements? And I kind of pay attention to the surges and the up and the down, so I am back to masking inside locations because cases are going up. I wear masks on public transportation, and sometimes there’s like a couple other people, but for the most part there’s a part of me that’s kind of ready for somebody to say something to me. Like, I’m kind of like braced for somebody to, to scold me or somehow interact with me and say, you know, I’m being silly. Like, first of all, what do you care? Why do you care? Why do you care what I have on my face? But I also know that these people are in the UK, and I imagine that when you’re at the wall you get some grieving people and some people who are looking for connection, and then some people who are looking to do, do something else.
Lorelei: We do. It’s a sad fact that we do get abuse almost every time we’re there. Sometimes it’s very polite, like –
Lorelei: – just, they don’t believe it. You know, it’s like, Oh, they didn’t, they didn’t die of COVID.
Lorelei: You know, all, one thing, every volunteer is bereaved. That’s one of the requirements to be a volunteer: you must be COVID bereaved. And I just think, whatever your beliefs, even if you think COVID doesn’t exist as, you know, some people do, why are you picking on the bereaved? Our people died. You may not believe they died of that, fair enough, but why do you abuse the bereaved because of that? So I find – and sometimes it’s definitely the, the full-on, full-on people shouting obscenities and all that kind of thing; you just kind of ignore it. We do get graffiti sometimes.
Sarah: But you’re there, and you’re visible –
Sarah: – so that you might as well –
Sarah: – be the one to, to – it is –
Sarah: – it is staggering to me in any context to yell at someone who is being public with their grief. Like, what, who, who raised you? What are you doing? [Laughs] My God!
Lorelei: Right? I mean, I do find it, I find it just very strange! Very strange; why would you do that?
Sarah: Why would you do –
Lorelei: Why would you be so cruel?
Sarah: Why would you yell at someone who’s grieving? Like, what –
Sarah: – what?! Oh, for heaven’s sake!
Lorelei: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
So that’s, you know, that’s one of the downsides of, of being a volunteer. Happily, we’re a really tight-knit group, and if one of us is, feels weak or, or attacked or whatever, you know, the others will rush into support. We do, I’m very proud to say that a couple of our ladies are nicknamed the Angry Birds, and – [laughs] – they don’t hold back. They will express their opinions.
Sarah: Oh, I would not mess with any person who is nicknamed an Angry Bird. Holy cow!
Sarah: What are some of the things that you do at the wall? You repaint the hearts; you write names on them. Do you have to, like, weatherproof them, or do you just repaint them as they fade?
Lorelei: Yeah, that’s an interesting question. We, what, to answer the first part, yes, we do; we restore hearts. I have to say, I’m very proud of us; we’re very organized. We now, we keep, we have records; we keep photographic records; we keep – not of the people who requested it, bec-, but it, you know, with the names of the dead and, and where their heart, the location of the heart –
Lorelei: – because it’s a half a, half a kilometer. It’s, you know –
Sarah: It’s a lot, yeah.
Lorelei: It’s a long wall; you have to know. And we’ve put numbers at the top of each panel. And we have a lot of old photographs from when they were first made, so we’re very good at finding hearts, sometimes to restore. If we can see the writing, we’ll restore it. If we can find a historical record, we’ll restore it. So we do that. That’s very time-consuming part of our work, but I, I find it the most gratifying. I really love finding a heart. One heart, it took me three weeks, and I found it! I knew I could find it, and I restored it. We paint new hearts, and we also engage with people. That’s part of our job, I think, is to inform!
Lorelei: I think we can be educational. Sometimes we’ll get young people from the Continent, and they’ll come and they’ll look, and they’ll be very impressed with the wall, but to see it visually represented –
Sarah: It’s stunning.
Lorelei: – is, you get it. You can read a number on a page, but when you see it – and I, and I’ve had them say so. Wow, this many people. Amazing! Thank goodness it’s over!
Lorelei: And you have to say gently to them, you have to say, Well, it’s not. It’s not – not as many people are dying, but people are dying.
That’s one thing we do with the wall as well. I believe we’re the only public space in this country to every week put the number of COVID dead. So we have a banner, and we change out the numbers every week based on the whatever; we, we go online and find out how many people have died that week, and we just keep it updated. Not to be morose or whatever, but just so that people know, people are still dying. Not in the same numbers, but we have to be aware.
Sarah: That’s part of the activism –
Lorelei: So I –
Sarah: – is to say, This is still happening! Yeah!
Lorelei: Yeah. We’re not saying even change what you do, but don’t close your eyes. You have to be aware.
And you’ve asked about preserving. Now, this is interesting, because part of, we’ve become involved with so many interesting people. One of them is a group of scientists who are studying the effects of how paint fades on –
Lorelei: – particular surfaces, so –
Sarah: And you’ve got the paint scientists!
Lorelei: So they come, they come, and they’ve measured and monitored. There’s certain hearts that they, they measure and see how it’s fading, and it’s like, great! We’re contributing! The wall is contributing to this research, this scientific research from one of the universities, so terrific!
But we have, and we haven’t – think we’re waiting until we know for sure if the wall will be made permanent, because then it’s going to be a very different kettle of fish. There will be more people involved in the decisions about how it’s going to be preserved. We do, we have started varnishing some hearts. The other thing, the wall is Portland stone, which breathes.
Lorelei: So we don’t want to do anything too radical.
Lorelei: So some hearts we varnish after we’ve painted them, and some we just, we just keep repainting.
So that’s, that’s the life of a volunteer. I, I do have to say, another part of being a volunteer, if you’re very lucky, is one of our number is the most brilliant baker –
Sarah: Oh no!
Lorelei: – and you might eat – yeah, you might get a –
Lorelei: – you might get a nice cake every week. And she’s, she’s such a lovely girl. She made us, two weeks ago we had, she made individual chocolate cheesecakes with heart decorations and a heart spoon to eat it with.
Lorelei: These are these women. These are these women! They are so loving and giving.
Sarah: Now, I didn’t put this in my list of questions –
Sarah: – and you can absolutely skip this. Would you tell me something about your husband? ‘Cause I did not, I did not know him. But I would –
Sarah: – I would be really honored if you would, you know, share a memory of him.
Lorelei: I, I would love to. I might get emotional, if that’s okay. It’s just emotion, but he was…I like to tell a story about how we met. We met at the BBC. We were both very…
Sarah: Oh, okay! [Laughs] As you do!
Lorelei: As you do! Well, he’s, was in – but, but listen to this! So we met at the BBC, and yet our mothers live eighty miles apart. He’s, you know, he was, he’s American, Italian-American, and when I first met him, and I remember I looked across at him – we were both early; it’s our thing – and something about his face, I just, I felt like I knew him, you know, and – it wasn’t love at first sight; it wasn’t anything like that. Like, but I felt something. It was like, I looked at that face and I felt something. And then – [laughs] – and then he spoke to me, and he said, Let me see your paper. And I thought, what an asshole!
Lorelei: And I just thought he was the biggest asshole! We had to work together for a week, and so I knew I had to get along, but I didn’t like him at all. And then I, but I, you know, I, I tried to win him over with my, I was really charming because I thought, God, this guy. But it worked too well, and he asked me out, and I didn’t want to go out with him.
Lorelei: So I broke the date, and then we, we started talking on the phone about something, he thought about something anodyne, like, oh, he heard about a casting that I might be – or something like – actor to actor. And, and he was different on the phone. So we talked on the phone for a couple weeks, and then we met up again, and then – that was that! But he was just, besides being very handsome, he was really funny. He just had a very observational sense of humor. He was so funny.
Sarah: No wonder he moved to England!
Lorelei: Yeah. And so wise, and he – I, I remember his, I often thought he should do a little book: The Wit and Wisdom of Vince Marzello. My best friend was, she was very vexed about something, she was upset, and she was, she and I were, you know, talking and talking, and he just walked by as we were talking. He went, Erin, I’m going to give you the two-word passport to sanity: fuck ‘em.
Lorelei: …He would just always come out with things like that. But he had a quality, and I think it’s this that is ineffable, hard to explain: he was so lovable. There was just something about him that was lovable. I just, I just loved everything about his face, and this is more than handsomeness, you know. It’s just loving that face. When he died I…together thirty-two years, and –
Lorelei: – long time, you know. Best part of my life, and I just, I was in love with him at the end as much as – more! More than at the beginning, and I’d never had that. He was a hundred percent on my side, he was a delight in every way, and we just got along really well. And I miss him. He was one of a kind. One of a kind. Thank you for asking! Sometimes people are afraid to talk about our lost ones, aren’t they?
Sarah: Yep! Yeah.
Lorelei: And, and yet, the bereaved love to talk about our loved ones. You know, we –
Sarah: Oh, of course! Absolutely! Because you’re, you’re the one, you’re the one carrying these memories.
Lorelei: Yeah. Yeah, and keeping him alive and – so I do like to talk about him, and I still, he still makes me smile. Sometimes I’ll remember things he said, and I just think, wow, that’s a power. That’s a superpower.
Sarah: Oh yeah.
Lorelei: Beyond the grave, even. I myself do not believe in life after death. I’m Catholic culturally, but I, I don’t really believe in life after death. I don’t – that’s incorrect – I don’t believe in the survival of the personality after death. Let’s put it that way. And I didn’t dream about Vince until one night, I don’t know, maybe it was a couple of months after he died, and he came to me in a dream, and he was, he was, like, beautiful. He was, he was in his prime; like, say, forty; gorgeous. He had a saint’s eyes, really shiny and bright, and he looked at me with such tenderness, and he said, You’re a billion years old and you’re made out of stars. And I, I remembered that, and I thought, oh my God, that, what a message to get. If you’re only going to get one message – I had it engraved on the back of his headstone. And I looked it up; I thought, is this a poem that I know? But I can’t find it anywhere. I think it’s his, you know? I’ll, I’ll always treasure that. That was really a special moment.
Sarah: Thank you for sharing him!
Lorelei: Yeah. Oh, thank you for asking! I’m, like I said, I’m delighted.
Sarah: Listeners, we’re all taking time out over here to wipe our eyes, so if you need a break –
Sarah: – you need to grab a tissue, please feel free!
I also want to ask you –
Sarah: – to change direction just a little.
Sarah: What are you working on in Audiobook Land, ma’am?
Lorelei: Yes, Audiobook Land! Well, I’m just finished recording Janet Evanovich’s latest Stephanie Plum, which is Dirty Thirty.
Sarah: Thirty! Can you believe that?!
Lorelei: Thirty! No, I cannot!
Lorelei: I remember when I first started recording her books. I recorded the British versions, which were abridged. I mean, this is, this is back before cell phones, and it was Four to Score was the first one, and it was what they called an emergency record. I don’t know why it was, it had to happen at the last minute. So they phoned and said, You up for this emergency record? I thought it was going to be a lady-detective-y, you know, kind of thing, and I said, Sure. They sent me the script, and I started to read it, and I just thought, oh my – this is so fresh, so original. This voice is –
Lorelei: – like nothing I’ve ever heard before.
Sarah: Are there any books that you have read or are reading that you would like to tell people about? I always ask because, well, I have very poor impulse control when it comes to books.
Lorelei: [Laughs] Oh, I, boy, I hear that. So I’ve read a lot, and, and as a narrator, though, because you have to read so much for work, and you read different kinds of things! And this is great, because it can introduce you to new genres that I might never have come across and all that kind of thing. But I don’t get that much chance for leisure reading. Having said that, I’ve also started directing audiobooks in the past couple of years more, which I really enjoy. Not because I’m bossy – who said that?
Sarah: I didn’t say a word. I would never have thought such a thing. No.
Lorelei: [Laughs] So I think in terms of narrating, what I’ve really enjoyed, obviously the Stephanie Plums, but I was really sad to finish the Darynda Jones trilogy, the Sunshine Vicram trilogy. That was such a fun, fun series. But I’m still, I’m still doing her super spicy novellas that are set in the, you know, Grim Reaper world; still doing that.
But one of the series that’s interesting, it’s another trilogy; it’s by P. C. Cast. I don’t know if you know it; it’s the Into the Mist series, and –
Sarah: I know P. C. Cast from way back –
Sarah: – in the day. She was a fan of the site and used to write these books about goddesses coming to Earth or trading places –
Sarah: – with a human body, and she wrote the website into one of them as a way in which the goddess learned about life on Earth, and when I tell you I –
Lorelei: You’re kidding!
Sarah: I had an out-of-body experience when I saw that.
Lorelei: That, that would be so thrilling! Oh my –
Sarah: I –
Lorelei: – I can imagine!
Sarah: – was beside myself entirely.
Lorelei: Yeah! Oh! I love that! This new, this series that I’m doing for, it’s great; it’s kind of a, it’s a post-apocalyptic, dystopian – which I love; I love all that stuff – a trilogy about a bunch of women who, you know, in their post-apocalyptic life, and it’s, it’s really, find it very interesting, and it’s about survival, and so I, I really enjoyed that.
But, and, and in my directing, I think the book I, that had the biggest impact on me – I don’t know if you know it – it’s called My Murder by Katie Williams. This book has the freshest, most original concept that I’ve heard in a while, which is essentially – it’s not a spoiler because I believe it’s in the, you know, whatever, the blurb.
Sarah: It’s in the cover copy. Yeah.
Lorelei: But it’s about – yeah – it’s about murder victims, a serial killer’s murder victims being brought back to life as part of a special government whatever, and one of these revived women tries to solve her own murder.
Lorelei: And it’s just, I’ve got, I’ve got goosies even remembering it! I just loved it! I found it so fresh, and I directed that for Penguin Random House, and it was narrated by Rebecca Lowman. She was fabulous – not that I’m jealous.
Lorelei: Not that I’m jealous at all, but – ‘cause I got to, I got to read the book as well, but she did a terrific job. So I highly recommend that one if you like things slightly darker. It’s good.
Sarah: Thank you! And thank you so much for doing this interview and telling me all about all of the things that you’re doing. I’m, I’m really honored that you shared so much with me, so thank you so much.
Lorelei: Oh, thank you so much, Sarah! I’m just, I’m really, it’s so nice to be – I mean, obviously I love talking about our business, the book business and the audio business, but it’s really nice to be asked about other things too.
Sarah: Where can people find you if you wish to be found? ‘Cause some people don’t want to be found; some people are like, Please don’t find me. [Laughs]
Lorelei: No, I, I really like interacting with, with people. Well, as we touched on earlier, you can usually find me at the COVID inquiry or the memorial wall, but if you’re talking about online I have my website, loreleiking.com. I’m on Twitter – I cannot call it X; I’m sorry –
Sarah: No. [Laughs]
Lorelei: – as, as @LoreleiKing, and I’m on Instagram, Facebook Pro, and Threads as loreleikingofficial. And I just started dabbling on TikTok. I know I’m really late to the game, but it’s kind of fun! I’ve only just started. I’m more addicted to watching them. Oh my God!
Sarah: It’s very easy to just go and go and go, and you look up and you’re like –
Sarah: – why haven’t I peed in six hours? And I’m hungry, and it’s dark – what happened?
Lorelei: But I know a lot about online scammers, how to make macaroni and cheese forty-seven ways.
Lorelei: You know, it’s just the, the subjects are so varied, it’s, it’s very interesting.
Sarah: Is this important life information?
Lorelei: Yeah! You never know when it’s going to come in handy.
Sarah: And that brings us to the end of this week’s episode, and I want to send a very special thank-you to Lorelei King for being so honest and open with us. I will link to The Covid Inquiry Podcast and to the memorial wall website in the show notes, and you can find that at smartbitchestrashybooks.com/podcast under episode number 582.
Coming up next week, beginning on October 6th, we are starting a new project here, and it is called “The Romantic Times Rewind.” I’ve gotten my hands on some back issues of Romantic Times magazine. If you know that magazine, you know how many books are in it, and for two episodes each month Amanda and I will be looking back through a particular month of RT magazine or Romantic Times. Sometimes it was called RT Booklovers, sometimes it was called Romantic Times, but it went dark in May of 2018, and there are so many books to discover in the history of Romantic Times, so that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to take a deep dive into each magazine, we’re going to look at the reviews by genre, and then we’re going to look at the ads and the features. If you are a member of the podcast Patreon, you will get a scan of the entire magazine as part of your membership, and you can read along with us and also enjoy the absolutely incredible ads – Oh. My. Goodness.
If you have back issues of Romantic Times magazine, digital or print, and you would like to send them to me, I would be delighted to hear from you. You can reach me at [email protected]. Please put Romantic Times Rewind in the subject line so I do not miss it. (My inbox is a little full of mayhem.)
And I hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane on the podcast as much as I do. I’m also going to be putting pictures from the episode and the issue up on the website and on Instagram and, because I just want to, Tumblr: smartbitches.tumblr.com. Because if we’re going to go retro, we’re going all the way, and I can’t use MySpace.
As always, I end with a terrible joke. This jokes comes from Clay, who likes to drive with cows. All right, this is from one of Clay’s youth patrons, so clearly everyone who goes to Clay’s library is awesome. You ready?
What do you call an undead cheese?
Give up? What do you call an undead cheese?
[Laughs] Oh, well played! Very, very good. Excellent. I would give that a solid, solid stinky-cheese A.
On behalf of everyone here, we wish you the very best of reading. Have a wonderful weekend, and we will see you back here next week.
Smart Podcast, Trashy Books is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. You can find outstanding podcasts to subscribe to at frolic.media/podcasts.
[end of cool music]