Just as my few fragile buds of hope seem about to be crushed by a juggernaut over-laden with a cargo of heavy reasons for bleak despair, an odd thing happens.
The juggernaut in question was a wander around a branch of a national chain, its book shelves heavy with celebrity guff, ‘ten for the price of a cup of tea’ offers on paperbacks and a particularly viperous member of staff who wouldn’t believe my conviction that the author whose work I was seeking might actually be on a bookshelf and not in the “world music’ section of the CD racks (Me, “No really, he’s an author, he writes books.” Viper, “Nah mate trust me, I’m sure he’s a drummer or sumink, have you looked under Ghana?” I kid you not) It’s my fault, I know. I should have gone to Daunts. He should have gone to school.
Dark dismay filled my heart. A gloom further dimmed later by my shame and frustration in not saying anything to the bus passenger seated in front of me for whom eating liberally vinegared fish and chips in an enclosed public space was not adequate rebellion and who felt he had to throw those pieces that didn’t meet his expectations onto the floor of the aisle and then spit semi-chewed saveloy onto the seat next to him. Would that I could put my seething silence down to tiredness or fear. Sadly I only realise now that I just couldn’t be arsed to engage him. As a friend of mine recently told me, “never argue with idiots, they’ll bring you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”
Thus it was, with a heart like a black hole, that I proceeded with the day, wondering what the point of it all was. Until I opened my diary and realised that the day could yet have a pleasing outcome. The first light of joy was a fine lunch at a Pall Mall club with a rather impressive fellow whose youth belies his wisdom and who through his PR company is doing some interesting work in applying his fascinatingly inventive theory of “why most PR companies are useless.” I’ll spare his blushes, but will say that the conversation was as interesting as the lunch was delicious.
Then on to the Cavalry and Guards Club in Piccadilly where the annual Society of Authors “Authors’ Awards” were held. Margaret Drabble introduced proceedings by racing through the closest thing to a PowerPoint display that I imagine the Society of Authors will ever produce, a video display of the prizes, the shortlisted entries and then the winners. In seamless harmony Sebastian Faulks presented the awards cheques, totalling £60, 500 to each of twenty-one writers whose work was being recognised. Never did a man look more happy to giving away someone else’s money to worthy and deserving recipients. Never did I feel happier to be at an awards event and thankful that there were no TV cameras, no "slebs" and only those who have a genuine talent, or provable interest in fine writing, fine publishing and fine thinking. I can't tell you what balm it was.
Faulks’ end of-ceremony-speech was funny and masterful, making reference to the esteemed panels of judges by name and saying that a more illustrious collection of judge-writers would be hard to imagine. At which point Lady Antonia Fraser turned to A.N. Wilson (both judges of the Elizabeth Longford Prize for Historical Fiction) and muttered soto voce “I agree!”
Sebastian went on to say that we have been living through a true “golden age” of British writing, the proof being the number of people who confess that for the first time in years there just isn’t time to read all the good books, both fiction and non-fiction, that one wishes to. I heartily agree. Despite all the gloom and doom that is among us, we are indeed in the midst of a glorious era of very fine writing and for that we should be grateful. I am, as it allows my little buds of hope to survive a while longer.