I only noticed after I’d posted that my previous post was my 1,000th. Given that I average around 1,000 words a post, the Reading Room has about a million words of content. What a thought!
It’s fitting to mark the occasion, then, with an account of the first ever publisher/blogger event I’ve ever attended which took place in London yesterday. It was at the elegant offices of Bloomsbury publishing in Bedford Square. We were in a very lovely function room, full of bookcases of notable Bloomsbury titles, with rich duck egg blue walls, a marble fireplace and two glittering chandeliers. It was quite overwhelming to meet in person all the UK bloggers I’ve been following. Before I arrived, I’d felt a little nervous, but the strange thing was, as soon as I saw the person before me, I knew that we already knew one another well. Bloggers are their blogs incarnate, with a little extra something, the depth of character that not all reviews can reach. It was wonderful to meet Simon from Stuck in a Book, and Karen from Cornflower (who is a darling) and Jackie from Farm Lane Books, who is such a gentle, dignified person. I was particularly pleased to meet bloggers I’ve followed for years – Kim at Reading Matters, Elaine at Random Jottings and Lynne from Dovegreyreader. The remark that summed up the day for me came from Lynne, who was telling me that after all these years she still just loves book blogging. I was touched by the genuine passion in her voice, and knew that we all shared it.
What made the day so special, however, was the warmth of welcome we received from Bloomsbury publishers. These people are just so lovely. They had set out a wonderful tea for us all, and knowing I don’t eat cake or bread, produced this amazing bowl of fruit for me. I have to mention as well that they were conspicuously gorgeous, the women coming in all imaginable varieties of English rose, and the gentleman in their midst looked like he had just walked off the set of a movie with Hugh Grant in the lead. Really, we were in the most aesthetically pleasing circumstances possible. And then they started bringing in the authors.
I think of authors as self-contained souls, happy to spend the majority of their time in splendid isolation, researching or writing their books. So the ability that they all seem able to summon at will, to talk about their work before daunting audiences, never fails to amaze me. Debut author Suzanne Joinson spoke very amusingly about the publication of her novel, A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar, and Kate Summerscale, whose Suspicions of Mister Whicher many bloggers will recall, talked about her forthcoming book, Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace, based on the diaries of a Victorian woman drawn into a web of scandal and divorce. Also, William Boyd turned up. It was publication day for his latest book, Waiting for Sunrise, and he had been doing the rounds of London bookstores, signing copies. He is this huge man, built for striding around Scottish glens by the looks of it, rather than hunching over keyboards. After my various disasters with Julian Barnes I am happy to say that I did not disgrace myself, and spoke in whole, relatively coherent sentences, despite the starry gathering.
I have to admit that I am fascinated by the quality of charisma. I am an inveterate people-watcher, always on the lookout for new species of extraordinary human being. The person whom I found most hypnotic was one of the top editors at Bloomsbury, who talked for a while about the new list, books that she felt so passionately about that she just wanted to ‘lie on the floor and weep’. How to describe her? She looked expensive; someone who knew her own mind, who wouldn’t flinch at taking command. Funnily enough, she reminded me of a former Head of Department of mine, a woman who distinguished herself in the first place by wearing designer labels, notable in the crowd of female academics whose dress tends towards either the bag lady or the headmistress. She was terrifyingly clever and somewhat scary. She had the instant effect on me of bringing out my inner girl guide, and I would rush to detail all the good academic deeds I had done lately, listing articles I was working on to her gentle bemusement. When I took Mister Litlove to a department drinks do, he ended up alongside her in the crush, and being socially confident he launched into a rather provocative, not to say teasing conversation with her. I could barely bring myself to watch; I felt sure she would skin him alive. But lo and behold, she was laughing merrily and fluttering her eyelashes at him. So Mister Litlove lived to bounce, Tigger-like, through another day and I lost only a few years off my lifespan. She was someone whose personal power knocked you down first, and only in her wake did you realise how warm and gracious she could be. This editor at Bloomsbury reminded me very much of her.
And so the day drew to an end for me, as I had to get back to Cambridge. I had a rather lovely walk to the train station through twilit London, and although I’d been afraid of the crush on the commute home, it wasn’t bad at all. It was the end of the day and everyone was quiet and tired, lulled to peacefulness by the rocking of the train. I sat and hugged my new books and knew that almost six years and a thousand posts into blogging, it was a thrill to think it had new pleasures still in store for me.