Thursday 12 February 2009

“Politicians are mortal, political ideas are mortal, poetry is mortal – good manners are immortal.” (Stefan Themerson)

I am shattered. I feel like Cambronne after the battle of Waterloo.

I actually was in the Waterloo area this morning, and a fine morning it was: the sun was shining, no clouds in the sky. Then I went to see a couple of publishers in central London, then I met an editor, a copyright lawyer, an author, an agent, a film producer, a bookseller and finally a rep. I think I have encompassed in one day the known universe of publishing. My field day was punctuated by an interminable series of coffees and glasses of wine – with the result that I am now a tipsy nervous wreck.

“You look a bit blue today,” said the author.

“Aren’t we a little perky today!” quoth the agent.

It wasn’t a day of hard business deals, but one of relentless gossip. I think the hot air puffed out by the publishing world is only second to that generated by Westminster, and a serious contribution, together with cows’ flatulence, to global warming. But I have learnt more during this one day of gossip than in one year of reading newspaper and magazine reports. Keeping your ear to the ground can be a life-saver in publishing.

But what is happening in England? OK, there is “the biggest slump since the War”, as the Telegraph proudly announced this morning. Still, how come the British are losing their traditional sang-froid? I see people shouting to each other in the streets, and witness Neapolitan-style road-rage accidents in the heart of Richmond. Every other day, a well-respected publisher lands his vocal resignation, and the comments in the Bookseller online are getting testier and testier. Is the civilized world as we knew it falling apart?

'Tis never too late to be wholly wrecked – as Byron said – and people should learn to come down the chute with the same aplomb with which they climbed up the ladder during the years of Plenty.

The next few months are going to be very interesting. I will be peeling my eyes open in anticipation.


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