Wednesday 28 January 2009

“Like our harsh northern whistling, grunting guttural.” (Lord Byron)

Another hard day at work – its highlight, a lunch in Notting Hill with Max Scott, the publisher of Stacey International and Capuchin Classics. I have known Max for close to ten years, and can confidently say that he is – by common consensus – the poshest-speaking publisher in the world. Imagine Hugh Grant after a couple of Martinis too many, or Prince Charles rehearsing a best-man speech in front of a mirror. I have to say that, after twelve years in this country, I have come to understand the man o’ the street quite well – yet, I can only just about grasp ten to fifteen per cent of Max’s half-whispered mumbling. I do exaggerate, of course (and Max, please do not take offence, as I know you will be reading this), but I wish I could do lip-reading when I am in his company.

Stacey’s headquarters in Notting Hill are nothing short of grand. It is a real three-storey publishing “house” and, wherever you turn, you’ll see paintings, sculptures and other priceless museum pieces. I am sure it’s all insured. I’d only apply for a job there to be able to finger by stealth, during my lunch break, one of the rare volumes in the hall. As Max went upstairs to get his coat, I casually picked up volume eight of a nineteenth-century edition of Swift’s Works, edited by Sir Walter Scott. The whiff I caught as I opened the book almost sent me into sensory overload.

Lunch was at a very fine traditional English pub. Beer was our beverage today, and sausage and mash (which is Cockney for “cash”) our fare. You might think that this was something of an anticlimax, but you’d be wrong, as the food was simple and delicious. We were joined at the table by David Birkett, another lovely chap that I have known for years. He is now Stacey’s sales director, but he used to work for Troika, the rep force we used when we launched Hesperus in 2002. David was instrumental in getting us off to a flying start, and I was happy to see that his enthusiasm for books is undiminished.

Our lunch was a long trip down memory lane – with Max reminiscing at length about a mutual middle-eastern acquaintance who was, shall we say, a little bit too open about some intimate details of her body functions – with frequent detours into gossip alley.

Since I talked about Hesperus, I’d like to add here a couple of words about John Updike, who not only was a great writer, but a great gentleman. He, with Doris Lessing, was one of the first authors who replied to our invitation to write a foreword to one of our classics. And the Diaries of Adam and Eve (which is now being republished by Oneworld Classics) were as much his idea as ours, because he pointed us in the right direction for more little-known “Adamic” stories by Twain. The money we offered him for his introduction was pitiful – and I still remember one of his hand-written cards or letters saying: “I don’t know why I am doing this, as it doesn’t even cover the cost of the stamps.” He had a wonderful sense of humour.

Finally, a reminder of another exciting Thursday night event at the Calder Bookshop tomorrow: Mike David will be reading from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The reading starts at 7:00 pm and tickets are only £6/£4. Unfortunately I won’t be there tomorrow, as I am due to show up at a big Boccaccio event at the Italian Institute in Edinburgh (details here – the event starts at 6:00pm). I hope I’ll be able to post a blog from there, otherwise see you on Friday.


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