I took a day off yesterday. Got a cheap train to London and spent the journey reading Michael Eaton’s excellent BFI Classic about ‘Our Friends In The North’, Peter Flannery’s brilliant 1997 TV drama series that BBC4 have just begun a repeat showing of (I rewatched the whole thing on DVD over a week last year and it holds up incredibly well). Then I wandered round the Tate Modern, soundtracking the rehung artworks with my iPod (a live orchestral ‘Atom Heart Mother’ was rather more impressive than the Whiteread white boxes, while the Dexy’s Midnight Runners worked surprisingly well with the surrealists. Bowie’s ‘Low’ didn’t quite mix with Rothko). Then a quick bit of bookshopping on the Charing Cross Road (one shop had a set of Bernard Malamud first editions. I bought a nice copy of ‘Idiot’s First’, one of his best short story collections, but couldn’t afford the pristine copies of his first two novels). Only one shop had any Bill James in stock (no, not the sadly depleted crime specialist ‘Murder One’, but Foyles) an out of print paperback of his fourth Harper and Iles novel, ‘Protection’. His is by far the best ongoing crime series in the UK, yet nobody publishes it in paperback any more. Why?
Then it was on to the Groucho club for the launch of the Ultimate Teenage Book Guide, a magnificent compendium edited by Daniel Hahn, Leonie Flynn and Susan Reuben. It contains several essays and reviews of over 700 novels suitable for teenage readers (a mix of YA and ‘adult’ novels). I wrote several entries (and Neil Arksey wrote a kind one of one of my novels – I’ll leave you to find out which) and Kevin Brooks greeted me with how pleased he was that I’d written about Ed McBain. Drink flowed, including a pink David Almond cocktail (unfortunately David was on a plane back from New York that didn’t arrive in time for him to sample this concoction of vodka, peach juice and champagne, with a rose petal on top).
Anyway, it was a great do, and the writers I spoke to included Julia Green, Matt Whyman, Philip Reeve, Celia Rees, Matt Thorne, Melvin Burgess, Tim Bowler, Jeanne Willis, Graham Marks and ooh, loads of other people, sorry to those I’ve missed out but, you know, drink was involved. It was a particular pleasure to meet Elizabeth Laird, whose novel ‘A Little Piece Of Ground’ I’m a great admirer of. And there were a bunch of editors and the like who it was good to catch up with. Danny Hahn made a very nice speech that concluded with a tribute to one of the contributors, the great novelist Jan Mark, who died suddenly last month. I’d been looking forward to meeting Jan, and now I never will.