If punctuality is a sin, then Agent Phil is the most virtuous man I know. Honestly – we’re taking saint material here, but he gets away with it because he’s sweetly pretty (ahem) and a thoroughly nice bloke. This is more or less what I’m thinking as I stand outside the porch of my hotel in London, looking at the rain soggy streets and wondering where the heck-fire-and-tarnation he’s got to, for tonight is THE PARTY and I’ve flown down special, just to go stand in a tent in Hyde Park and drink champagne until I fall over. Or that’s the plan anyway. To facilitate this lofty goal I’ve booked myself into a ‘family run’ place about ten, fifteen minutes walk away from where the booze-up is being held: The Majestic Hotel – majestic by name… er… let’s leave it at that, shall we? There’s something lurking under one of the single beds in my room that’s either a very large raisin, or something I don’t want to think about. But everywhere else is booked out due to the Live8 concert, so I’m lucky not to be sleeping in a wheely bin I suppose.
Agent Phil has been stuck in traffic, along with the taxi driver, his taxi, and LUKE SPEED! Believe it or not, this is the man in charge of film and television rights at Marjacq: Luke Speed… I always think he should have his own theme music, so when he enters a rooms it’ll be, ‘tan-tan-ta tan, tan, ta taaaaa, Luke Speeeeeeed!’ Anyway, even with the traffic problems we’re only about half an hour late by the time we get to the party – more than enough time to get wellied into the champagne before they chuck us all out of the place at nine. Last year, or so I’m told, the party was held in a Bedouin tent outside the gallery, this year it’s a kind of large, squished geodesic dome thing in Perspex and wood, easily big enough to hold three hundred odd people. And yes, I do mean ‘Odd’ people. The assembled crowd are the cream of HarperCollins and some of the yoghurt as well; every author, writer and write-ist to have been published in the last year – fiction, non fiction and reference, and their assorted agents and, in one case, dog.
Now I’ve never seen writers en masse before. Heck, the most I’ve ever seen in one place at one time was when I was down for the BA gala dinner in April, and even then there were only three of them. There are probably more than a hundred of them here, schmoozing, drinking, eating canapés, and I have to say, we’re a bloody weird lot. There are at least four people who’ve obviously got confused in advance and mistaken this bash for a costume party – two gypsies in full, flowing, multicoloured skirts with dangly gold jewellery and headscarves (no, they're not together); one woman who thinks she’s a pirate; and someone else who I can only guess was mainlining absinthe when he was getting dressed in the dark three days ago. Luckily I’m wearing my David Hasselhoff impersonator’s outfit, so I blend right in.
Jane is away in Morocco at the moment, but Sarah is here and in fine, feline fettle telling us about what happened last year and why she was determined not to drink as much this time. I however, have no such compunction and get stuck right in. Which is probably just as well, I’m not overly comfortable in large groups of people I don’t know and the champagne helps to soften the bow. It also helps that Sarah is a perfect hostess, introducing me to people, staying to get the conversation going, handing me over to another member of the HC team while she goes off to make sure that the other two of her authors who’ve turned up are similarly looked after. And all this means that I’m actually enjoying myself. Sarah’s not just a pretty face.
Amongst the highlights of the evening are speaking to Stephen Booth, very funny guy – especially on being assaulted in the lift at an American convention by a pair of rabid old-lady fans, and actually meeting Michael Marshall while we’re both sober. Last time had been a bit of a disaster, after someone played a prank on Agent Phil at the Voyager Summer Party, telling him that Michael was the big fat guy with a beard in the corner (who turned out to be called ‘Brian’). This time is much better – he’s a nice bloke. We’re still chatting by the time they close the bar and there’s a huge bouncer shouting that it’s time for us all to bugger off out of it and sod off somewhere else.
Phil and I sod off into town with Mr SPEED (dum-da-da, dum, dum, da daaa) who’s off to a ‘rugby do’ which probably means drinking lots of beer and fiddling about with each other’s underwear. You know what these rugby types are like. Phil and I are off to a nice little cocktail bar, because we’re all sophisticated and stuff. We are even more sophisticated after four large martinis. So sophisticated in fact that Phil misses his last train and we have to sneak him into my raisin-infested hotel room. Cue much drunken snoring and farting.
The next morning we have to do the sneaking thing again, and thence to a greasy spoon for a much needed mound of fried things with extra grease. Lovely. Phil lurches off on the Piccadilly line for home, looking forward to nursing his hangover at the school sports day (he’s running the plate smashing stand, and you know that’s going to hurt), but I’ve got a few hours to kill before I have to get to Heathrow for my flight back up north, so It’s off to the Odeon in Leicester Square to watch ‘War Of The Worlds’, which wasn’t bad. Wasn’t good, but it wasn’t bad.
London’s like an oven as I clamber aboard the crowded tube for the airport – everyone and their maiden aunt is converging on Hyde Park for the concert, but not me. I’m going to sit in the BMI business lounge and gorge on free crisps and orange juice (not feeling entirely up to a large gin yet) while I still have my silver card. I don’t suppose I’ll have it for much longer as I’m not flying anywhere near as much as I did when I was with INoGITCH, then it’ll be back to waiting in the normal lounge for me. That’s what I get for embracing the glitzy showbiz lifestyle of a full time write-ist I suppose.
And speaking of that glitzy showbiz lifestyle: it’s only three weeks to go till Harrogate and a beer-fuelled party extravaganza. It’s a hard life ;}#