I was lucky enough to be in London on Wednesday for another drinks reception at Bloomsbury.
Authors who are releasing books in January – June 2013 were invited to meet each other as well as the Bloomsbury team who have been (and still are working on their books). Yet another wonderful evening, made of course by the people who were there – diverse, brilliant and lovely.
You might think (I did) that going to something like this might be a little scary – you know there will be authors there who you really ‘ought’ to recognise, or at least when introduced you should know of and ideally have read their work. (In reality of course no matter how well read you are this just isn’t possible). On the other hand there might be people who you read avidly and admire, but you worry about telling them so without gushing and looking like a bit of a stalker.
But it seems that most established authors seem to know your fear, and everyone is very relaxed and usually find ways to turn the conversation a two way chat about both of you. No-one asked, for example, “Have you read any of my books?” Authors really are lovely people.
Another thing is that you can’t possibly meet everyone. Walking into a room full of authors is like walking into a bookshop – where do you start? There were so many other people in the room I would have loved to talk to, or even just say hello, but time just flew by.
My highlights of the evening:
- Meeting the delightful grandmother turned snail-scientist, Ruth Brooks, who was bustling about the room meeting as many people as she could and finding out as much as possible about everybody. Ruth’s non-fiction book is ‘A Slow Passion’:
When BBC Radio 4’s Material World programme announced a search for the UK’s top amateur scientist, little did anyone expect that the winning experiment would comprise one of our humblest garden pests. Ruth Brooks posed this question: Do snails have a homing instinct? The nation was gripped by the unexpected thesis and by Ruth’s online diaries, which catalogued her trials and tribulations as she got to grips with these slimy little gastropods. A Slow Passion is Ruth’s story, with anecdotes and misadventures galore. What starts out as a ruthless vendetta against the snails that are decimating her hostas becomes a journey of discovery into the whys and wherefores of snail life. When Ruth dumps a group of the worst offending snails in a far-off wood, she decides to paint their shells with nail varnish, just to see what happens. And guess what, they come back home. This is the beginning of an obsession that sees the grandmother-turned-scientist prowling about and pouncing on the snails in her garden, sneaking off on night-time missions to repatriate bucketloads of painted snails, reading up on the sex-life of snails (which turns out to be unexpectedly romantic) and, eventually, sending off the application to a national competition for home science. With charming illustrations, A Slow Passion is a sweet, funny and surprising investigation into the hidden life of snails, which will change the way you look at the smaller (and slower) things in life.
- * Chatting to wise and witty Elisabeth Luard, food-writer, journalist and broadcaster, whose memoir is ‘My Life as a Wife : Love, Liquor and What to Do About the Other Women’
They met in the back offices of Private Eye. He was the proprietor, the man the press called the Emperor of Satire, who every girl in London wanted to date. She was the reluctant debutante, an art student, and the office typist. Their affair was secret, and passionate, and days at the office were followed by nights in her Pimlico flat. When things got tricky, she swapped London for Mexico. He followed and proposed. She was just twenty-one when they married.
Luard’s fascinating, witty and often brave memoir charts forty years of marriage to a man who was as cavalier and unreliable as he was charismatic and charming. Good-looking and athletic, with a keen intelligence and a deep understanding of and love for women, Nicholas Luard was also an absentee father, a philanderer, a wheeler-dealer whose numerous harebrained business schemes usually lost rather than made money, and ultimately a man whose love of the bottle was all-consuming. But while life with Nicholas was never going to be easy, it was also never going to be dull.
In My Life as a Wife, award-winning writer Elisabeth Luard tells the story of her life with this hugely glamorous and extraordinary maverick of a man. She traces their years spent together in London, Spain, France, the Hebrides and Wales, with four children, one of whom died tragically from AIDS. It is a journey littered with numerous eccentric friends and innumerable escapades, often staying just ahead of the bank, through to the grim days of her husband’s terrifying descent into alcoholism and insanity, his liver transplant and ultimately his death.
Yet this is a story of laughter and hope as well as sadness – the healing power of children, the comfort of the kitchen table, the delight of good food and the simple joy of making life work – written by a woman of spirit.
- * Making a bee-line for William Sutcliffe, whose book ‘The Wall’ is one of my must-read novels for 2013. William was telling me about his trips to Israel and Palestine to research his novel, and about how he managed to keep a focus on storytelling rather than political ‘tubthumping’:
Joshua is thirteen. He lives with his mother and step-father in Amarias, an isolated town on top of a hill, where all the houses are brand new. At the edge of Amarias is a high wall, guarded by soldiers, which can only be crossed through a heavily fortified checkpoint. Joshua has been taught that beyond the concrete is a brutal and unforgiving enemy, and that The Wall is the only thing keeping him and his people safe.
One day, looking for a lost football, Joshua stumbles across a tunnel which leads towards this forbidden territory. He knows he won’t get another opportunity to see what is beyond The Wall until he’s old enough for military service, and the chance to crawl through and solve the mystery is too tempting to resist. He’s heard plenty of stories about the other side, but nothing has prepared him for what he finds…
The Wall is a novel about a boy who undertakes a short journey to another world, to a place where everything he knows about loyalty, identity and justice is turned upside down. It is also a political fable that powerfully evokes the realities of life on the West Bank, telling the story of a Settler child who finds there are two sides to every story.
That’s just three of the amazing people in the room. And it was wall-to-wall with them!
- I also got to catch up with some of my fellow 2013 literary debutants, as well Stephen May whose brilliant novel ‘Life! Death! Prizes!’ has just been nominated for the Costa Award 2012 and meet some other fellow newbies, like Hannah Evans, whose book MOB Rule (January 2013) talks about her lessons learned as a mother of 3 boys.
- Finally, Roshi Fernando and I plucked up the courage to go and ‘mingle’ with the very approachable Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Here I am hugging on him like some kind of groupie, as we told him how we admired his work on sustainability, food integrity and eating seasonal produce and chatted about literature, France and figs.
Last but by no means least, I had the chance to catch up in person with the lovely people at Bloomsbury involved with The Night Rainbow as well as other editors, designers, marketing, sales, PR and rights people, all of whom are working hard on all our different books with such passion and care.
I feel really privileged to be a part of this Bloomsbury family.