One of the serious perks of
being the co-ordinator of Time To Read (well, apart from working from home with
my dog, Gusto, sleeping on my lap while I’m typing) is being invited to book
launches and there was a particularly good one put on by Vintage this week
which I want to tell you about.
The Vintage 2018 preview event
took place in the wonderful Waterstones at Deansgate in Manchester on a mild Monday
evening. It turns out that the bookshop
has a secret events room behind double doors by the Costa on the top floor.
So what happens? Well, you
walk in and there’s free drinks (wine and juice) as well as free nibbles (the
best Marks and Spencers can offer) and six authors waiting around for the event
to start. This is a great time to speak to them, as they’ve not formally been
introduced yet and people are a bit stand-offish. I chickened out of talking to
Irvine Welsh and instead spoke to the very friendly Abir Mukherjee, who’s an
old hand at such things and politely underestimated my age, and Damian Le Bas and
his wife, who were fascinating.
Then the event properly
started and we all took our seats to listen to the speakers and to people form
the publishers. The first speaker described who was there, including not only a
sprinkling of us librarians, but also staff from Waterstones, independent
bookshops and book bloggers. The publishers then summarised their favourite forthcoming
books from other authors, including two which caught my eye – Star of the North
by DB John, due out in May, about child abductions carried out by North Korea
and the new one by Yuval
Noah Harari, “21 Lessons for the 21st Century”. If you’ve not read any Harari, well, start
now … but don’t miss this one. The man is a genius.
OK, now on to the speakers.
Irvine Welsh, the megastar in the room, was first on and literally set his
stopwatch at the start to make sure he did not speak too long. He was there to
speak about his “third real Trainspotters” book
Dead Men’s Trousers. This is a “twisted
redemption” for his characters.
Then we had Damian
Le Bas whose Stopping Places is about his journey to places in the UK which
had links to Travellers. I checked with him and he’s also fine with the terms
Gypsies and Romany, although the fact I had to do this showed how touchy the
subject still is, even in 2018. And, yes, some people do use the socially unacceptable
term “pikey” but I bet none of them knew that they do so because it comes from
the old word “turnpike”, which is a road-toll. He’s full of fascinating
information like that and has a real flair for description, as his reading of
his trip to Appleby Fair in Cumbria demonstrated. Did you know that you can so
carefully control a coin toss that heads can come up nine times out of ten?
Diana Evans came nest with
Ordinary People, a novel about black British middle class people from the day
Obama was elected to the death of Michael Jackson in the same year. Themes like
parenthood and middle age are touched on as is, of course, race, which she made
clear was “not just a black person’s problem. Again there’s some good turns of
phrase like the description of "Obama walking out victorious on to the
bulletproof stage". I love fact as well
book has a playlist.
Poetry is a notoriously hard
sell but Andrew McMillan,
now based in Manchester, gives it his best shot. Like his previous book,
Physical is very graphic and eyewateringly personal, with lightning-quick turns
of phrase that shock almost as much as the meteorological phenomenon itself. It’s
about a homosexual adolescence but is basically also about awkwardness and the
pains of growing up generally.
The next speaker grabbed the
attention of everyone from the start. The story of a child dying in your arms
from burns and the smell of her hair as it is washed is going to stay with me for a long time. Such is the
work of Christie
Watson, whose book “The Language of Kindness: A Nurse's Story is, for my
money, going to be – or damn well should be – the bestselling book here. She’s a nurse in the NHS and talks about
kindness as well as life and death. She is an absolutely riveting speaker and can
move from gruesome morbidity to humour
in a minute. I think the time has come for this as it’s not misery fiction – it’s
kindness non-fiction – and from a nurse,
not a doctor or a midwife. I did video snaps of the other authors but I forgot
to do it with Christie, she was that good. There was a 14-way auction for the rights to
this book and I can see why.
Ah, but then we had the
infinitely likeable Abir Mukherjee –whose
“Smoke and Ashes” is the third in a detective series based in 1920s India.
It’s a good backdrop for thrillers and he does it well, with the latest being
about the shameful medical tests done on Indian troops at the time, mixed in
with preparations for the arrival of Prince Edward (the future Edward VIII) in
Calcutta. I’ve not come across his work before but I’m going to jolly well read
Abir then proved very popular
in the next stage of the evening, which was a social get-together with the
authors, although poor Irvine Welsh – who I suspect was too famous to be
socially talked to – had to stand around for a bit while people just came up to
him to autograph his new book. Oooh, did I mention there were piles of free
copies of the books to just pick up? That’s rather good isn’t it? Or it would
have been if I had not been so intent on speaking to people I forgot to get
them until it was too late. Such are the problems of such a good evening. Here’s
looking forward to the next one.