Monday, 19 January 2009

“Some time I shall sleep out, the rest I’ll whistle.” (William Shakespeare)

A very interesting lunch meeting with Christopher Maclehose and John Calder today. On my way to the Turkish restaurant on The Cut, I popped by the Calder Bookshop, and there I met the actors Peter Pacey and Henry Woolf, who are going to tour Ireland with John Calder in a new production of Beckett’s Endgame in February.

I knew both actors already – they have done some readings at the bookshop, and every now and then I spot them on TV or on some theatre programme. That’s a great thing about the Calder Bookshop: because it’s so close to the Old Vic and the Young Vic, it attracts many great actors, playwrights, novelists and screenwriters. We recently had Simon Callow and Kazuo Ishiguro among our clients, and five A-list Hollywood actors rehearsed at our shop on a Sunday afternoon in December.

Henry Woolf is always full of jokes and anecdotes. Seeing that I had a copy of Murphy in my hands, he told us the story of when Harold Pinter stole a copy of it from the London Library. They were at school together, in 1947 or 1948 – Pinter must have been around seventeen – and Henry and his friends were united in their condemnation of such an antisocial act. “Some poor kid won’t be able to read that book, Harold,” they said. “I don’t think so,” Pinter replied coolly. “The only other time it was taken out was in 1939.” At the time of Pinter's theft, no one had heard of Beckett yet, but Pinter – Henry says – was far ahead of everyone else. John Calder added that the original Routledge edition of Murphy only sold 51 copies. Comforting.

At the restaurant, John and Christopher – both in full reminiscing mood – regaled me with a hundred thousand stories and anecdotes from a different publishing era. I was surprised to learn that their friendship goes back a very long way, since the early Sixties at least. And they know the same people – mostly names I have never heard of. But we also talked about Harvill, Alma, the Maclehose press, its phenomenally successful Stieg Larsson series and many other authors and publishing figures. My only regret: I forgot to ask Christopher about his dog Mishka.

I love these lunches with John Calder. The one drawback is that Mr Calder – at the venerable age of eighty-two – is able to outdrink the most consummate publishing executive. So the very thought of doing any work after one of these “meetings”, or writing a vaguely meaningful blog entry, is impossible. You will excuse me then, if I end this post here.

AG

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