So, anyway, there I was last Thursday evening, several feet up a step ladder, as one is, haranguing a multitude of friends and well-wishers, wondering if this was fantasy or reality, and concluding that it was a mixture of the two. ‘The scene’ – as Matthew Oxenhay might have said, and in fact does say at one point in the novel – ‘was a distillation of life present, of life cumulative to date.’
The venue was the London Review Bookshop in Bloomsbury. There cannot be a more perfect place to launch a book, or indeed to browse and buy one. I don’t share the elitist condemnation of Amazon, and it would be hypocritical if I did, but bookshops such as the LRB are the heart and soul of reading, and therefore of writing also.
Life cumulative to date… The oldest friend present (leaving aside family) is someone I have known for 60 years, since we played cricket in the back yard of a London street, and had a walking stick waved at us by an aged sculptor, relic of Bohemian Chelsea, who thought we were making too much noise. There were friends from school, from university, from advertising, from every phase of life, right up to more recent friends.
It occurs to me that, while those present felt goodwill towards me, they also felt goodwill towards the idea of a book being launched. There is nothing intrinsically more noble about being an author than being a city trader, but people would rather attend the launch of a book than the launch of a new hedge fund.
It is invidious to single out names, so I shall now be invidious. David Llewelyn was there – about whom I shall blog at greater length another time. He was the man who picked The Breaking of Eggs from the slush pile and helped to get it published. He has been equally valuable with Trading Futures, especially in the early stages, when I didn’t know what I was doing with the novel, or should be doing.
David Summerscale, my English teacher at school and later headmaster of Westminster, was there, as he had been at the launch of Eggs. Some of us are lucky enough to have had inspirational teachers; perhaps few of us ever get round to thanking them. I didn’t, all those decades ago, so it’s good to be able to make up for it now. A bit late, although maybe not, as it is only now that his inspiration has started to bear tangible fruit.
From the world’s point of view, a book is a book only when it’s published. A writer can have a pile of manuscripts at home, or on the computer, but he or she doesn’t become an author till one of them finds itself in a bookshop. For that to happen, someone has to sell it and someone has to buy it.
In this instance, the seller was my superb agent, Jane Turnbull, and the buyer was my delightful editor at Picador, Ravi Mirchandani, who made the opening speech on Thursday night, wittily, unaffectedly, charmingly. The second speech came from my old friend Duncan Baird, founder of Duncan Baird Publishers, a highly respected non-fiction house. (Duncan, I really think you should have done fiction. Then I could have got started years ago.) He was, as always, urbane, reflective and extraordinarily generous. You can see the speeches of Ravi and Duncan on this video clip.
Duncan dates from the Advertising layer in my geological substratum (you can tell it by the quantity of alcohol that still gushes from it), as does Kevan Pegley, now a film producer, who largely created this website and who filmed the event. As did my delightful and efficient step-daughter, Emma Sayce, who is also responsible for creating the parallel universe on Twitter that I now appear to inhabit. This is convenient because I find that my memory bank can no longer accommodate more than 140 characters.
Then there is my wife Kay, immensely supportive and influential all the way through the writing of Trading Futures: an experienced editor who is unafraid of putting a red pen through paragraph after paragraph, and suggesting how the ones that survive should be reordered. And someone who has since taken charge of the marketing effort and has done things on behalf of the book that I wouldn’t dare to do for myself. Oh yes, and who largely organised the launch party.
There’s a limit to how far an author should crawl towards his publisher, but I must say that Picador have been superb with this novel from beginning to not-quite-yet-we-hope end. If Trading Futures fails to earn attention, it won’t be their fault. Blame the writer. The jacket design by Neil Lang is outstanding. And, lurking behind everything, has been my publicity officer, Camilla Elworthy. Lurking is not the right word. Camilla is not a lurker. She is vociferous and upfront until the moment one turns to thank her, and then she just seems to melt away. (But we now have a picture of you at the launch, Camilla. And, what’s more, we’ll use it, unless you do some really good work for the book. Oh. That’s what you’re already doing…)
That’s about it. I did a short reading from Trading Futures, which you can view here as a video clip. We all went off singing into the night, feeling brave as hell.