I’ll say one thing for people in the publishing world: they throw some wonderful parties. Picador’s event last Wednesday was my idea of heaven: a huge Regency mansion, its elegantly shabby rooms filled with literary types and furnished with little more than a glitter ball, a chaise longue and piles of books, some of which the guests could take home, others fashioned into seats and tables.
The one flaw in all this perfection was that the ‘Gin Palace’ I was directed towards was exactly that – there really was nothing but gin there, and as a Pole I regard gin as something to be dabbed behind the ears rather than swallowed. Still, as there was no vodka to be had I graciously accepted a glass, and wearing what I hoped was an expression of appropriately Slavic disdain wandered through the crowds until I found my editor, Sam Humphreys, who showed me where I could abandon the gin and get some real alcohol.
The party resembled heaven in another way, too, in that there were plenty of people there who I recognised, or at least thought looked vaguely familiar. This meant that for the most part the guests were divided into those I was too shy to speak to in case I was overcome and started stammering and/or giggling as soon as I was in their presence and those I didn’t dare speak to in case I failed to recognise that they were people of such literary eminence that I ought to be overcome by shyness in their presence and start stammering and/or giggling. It’s hard, being a very small fish in a very big pond…
So I failed to do anything that could be described as networking, although it was good to meet fellow Picador author Charles Lambert, whose first novel, Little Monsters, I’d really enjoyed.
Another thing you can say about the publishing world is that it seems to be full of very young and very glamorous people. I had one of my customary wardrobe malfunctions between the Tube and the party when my hold-ups failed to live up to expectations, and, not wanting to do a Nora Batty in such a sophisticated gathering, I went to the ladies to remove them. As there were two of the v. young and v. glamorous girls chatting outside I had to skulk in the cubicle for some time until I felt it was safe to come out (I didn’t want them wondering why I’d left my stockings behind, there was nothing as utilitarian as a bin around, and it didn’t seem appropriate to interrupt their conversation about the Orange Prize to explain the provenance Nora Batty). They don’t tell you about this sort of thing when you sign a book deal. If I imagined publisher’s parties at all – and I was probably far too busy being hysterical to do anything of the kind – I would have thought of witty banter, tinkling laughter, cigarette holders tilted at a rakish angle, that sort of thing; not hiding in the toilets and trying not to drink gin.