it turned out, was much like Friday, only better. I finally made it to a panel other than my own, the “Foreign Perspective” one, chaired by Paul Johnston and attended by Robert Wilson, Mark Mills, Barbara Nadel and Craig Russell. It was terrific, and made me regret not having caught more of them, in particular the “What’s Wrong With Popular Fiction?” panel, during which I was stuck in a restaurant that serves no less than 30 kinds of vodka. How I ended up there I’ll never know.
But most of the afternoon was spent around the Old Swan bar, trying to keep track of Kevin and talking more deeply with everyone. Robert Wilson and his wife, Jane, were extremely charming, and we discussed property in Portugal as well as many other interesting things, like Jane’s advice on how to quit smoking.
Alex Barclay (who’s even better looking than her author photo) and Kevin (who is too), standing side-by-side, launched into a machine-gun sequence of hilarious jokes. I kept trying to get into the action, but my years in Hungary were starting to show: I just couldn’t keep up. So I just relaxed and enjoyed the performance.
Jeffery Deaver turned out to be incredibly nice; he got me to talk a little about my books and the Romanian Revolution, which of course made me happy. I remember chatting with Charlie Williams, though I’m not sure about our subject, and James Twining, whose books sound like something I really must check out.
At some point I looked up from my chair to find Ian Rankin standing at the bar, staring into my eyes. Not sure what attracted him, but I nodded a hello and he pointed at the full bar where he was having difficulty getting a drink. I shrugged. He nodded and tried again for a drink. It was a magic moment. George Pelecanos was also there, in a super-looking Italian suit (don’t know how he held up given the heat) and was usually surrounded by an entourage. Never got around to talking to him, which is too bad.
Another HarperCollins dinner followed, and by that point in the proceedings I was completely comfortable with everything. What that meant was that I felt free to act like a brat.
I sat across from my editor and Val McDermid, whose good humor at my antics is something to be truly admired. For some reason, my mode of humor that night was endless complaints, which hopefully didn’t alienate me too much. After a champagne toast to Val’s Old Peculier Novel-of-the-Year win (here’s her holding the win), another bottle of champagne was delivered and placed between me and Val. Being a gentleman, I proceeded to fill everyone’s glasses from it, not hearing my editor shouting at me to stop. Turns out I’d stolen Val’s bottle, which had been a gift from our editor for the win. So, red-faced, I pretended I was in the right, and proceeded to try and steal Val’s food. Of course, she’d only relinquish the asparagus, when I was really after the bangers and mash. Oh well.The food was excellent, the wine flowed and the conversation was nonstop. Like something out of A Moveable Feast, but more entertaining. I was next to Mark Mills, who turns out to be a terribly interesting person, and we swapped travel tales and then shared our remarkably similar views on religion and the lack thereof. Since he and Slavica and I kept going out for smokes, Robert Wilson had to keep moving his chair to let us out. He was a good sport about it, and slowly the musical chairs started being played, which is always the sign of a successful party.
Alex Barclay told us tales of being on French television for her book, while Mark Mills talked of being on late-night Italian television for his. I suddenly felt a little inept, since these guys were doing it for their first books, and I’m now on #4 without ever having been on TV. But on the other hand they voiced the same thing I would’ve voiced in their situations: complete terror. I think this is a general rule: Writers do big publicity because they have to; most fear and hate the idea. But you gotta do what you gotta do.
We kept getting reintroduced to Stuart MacBride, who was really nice and funny. (Coincidentally, we took the same train from Leeds to Harrogate with him, and I remember looking over at his face, which rang a bell, but not having the guts to just walk up and say, Who are you? But I knew he was a writer because he was editing on the ride—full-time, that guy.) He ended up, after the dinner, pretty much chairing our table-team for the Quiz Show, run by Val and Billingham, in an unbearably shiny gold suit.
I must admit, I wasn’t hot on the idea of taking part in a quiz on a subject (crime fiction) I’m assumed to know something about, but it was really a riot. We originally tried to overload a table with about a hundred HarperCollins people but were scolded into submission by a woman who didn’t find us funny at all. So we split into two tables.
Despite putting our heads together and cheating as much as possible (Val also scolded me when I tried to climb on the stage to better read the titles on a collection of Miss Marple hardbacks), we didn’t win. And the only real contribution I made was knowing the theme music to The Persuaders. I was very proud of myself for that.
And so it went. Some people took the game a little too seriously, others (like us) not seriously enough, but in the end it was all about joking and teasing, which is how it should be. Except of course for John Rickards, who walked away with the prize.
Back out to the bar until late, talking and talking and drinking and smoking. It was just—and I know this sounds silly—lovely. Kinda like life, really. But more star-studded.
(Originally posted at the Contemporary Nomad)