Life in a medium-sized city does have distinct advantages. “Large enough to be interesting, small enough to be friendly”, that’s what I always say. And so, when some bright sparks suggested arranging a photo-shoot in the Market Square for all of Nottingham’s “creative” types (writers, artists, musicians, designers, and yea, even unto can-we-say-humble bloggers), word was bound to get through.
All togged up in the nice smart Gieves & Hawkes jacket that I wore to the Lowdham Book Festival, I toddled along to the square just in time to squeeze myself into the back of the shots. Within seconds I found Dymbel, who was soon introducing me (as “blogger extraordinaire”, gawd bless him) to various authentically rumpled, literary-looking types. (Those crisp, tailored lines were such a giveaway.)
“Hello, I’m Mike! I’m an integral part of the mass amateurisation and dumbing down of culture, which threatens to obliterate the last shreds of respect for an intellectual elite! And you are….?”
Well, I could have said that. You know, all waspish-like, for laffs. But instead I came over all Aaargh This Is A Networking Opportunity I Cannot Cope, and fled back to the sanctuary of the office.
First thing I did: Google for the guy that Dymbel first introduced me to. (“You must know each other. No? Well, maybe you move in different worlds.”) Oh crap, he was only one of the most senior and well-respected members of the Nottingham literary community. And I’d just shaken my head and blinked. Well, he hadn’t heard of me either. Cuts both ways, dunnit?
An hour or so later, loins duly girded and best face forward, I was over at the Broadway Cinema for the official post-shoot canapé-and-fizz bash, getting there just in time for the last few seconds of the last speech. Basically, this was a launch event for something called the Nottingham Creative Business Awards 2007, which you can read all about over here. All neurotic passive-aggressive snark aside, I wish it well.
Before long, I found myself talking to a couple of published writers: Clare Brown (who doesn’t have a blog) and Nicola Monaghan (who has two: a fiction blog and a “creative process” blog). Naturally, both conversations homed in on the bloggers-with-book-deals phenomenon, the are-blogs-for-writers-a-help-or-hindrance question, and so forth and suchlike. Most enjoyable.
While Nicola clued me up on the Bookarazzi website, another resource for bloggers with book deals, a familiar face sat down opposite. “Just relax”, he said, pulling out his pad and pen.
This wasn’t the first time that Brick had drawn a caricature of me – his splendid James Gillray pastiche (“All Broad Street trembled as he strode”), as commissioned by Dymbel and Dymbellina for my fortieth birthday, still enjoys pride of place in the cottage – but it was the first time that he, or indeed anyone else, had done so impromptu.
If you’re one of those people who comes over all self-conscious and coy whenever a camera lens is wafted in their general direction, then imagine having that feeling extended for ten minutes or so, while you try and make interesting conversation with nice bright creative types at a Networking Opportunity, with blues music blaring into your left eardrum, just loud enough to block out what was being said diagonally opposite. But I coped, really I did, maintaining both my posture (ooh, three-quarter face on the left hand side, the best angle!) and my brightest, most engaged smile.
An hour or so later, and we were on the top floor of Waterstone’s, awaiting the arrival of Armistead Maupin.
“Look at my new digi-dictaphone!”, I chirped to Dymbel and Dymbellina. “I hope it can pick him up from this distance.”
“Er, Mike, you do know that you’re not supposed to quote writers without their express permission? It’s not exactly ethical.”
I instantly rouged up. Call me naïve, but surely public events like these were, by their very definition, on the record? Evidently not. Well, too late to go asking around at the eleventh hour. I’d make the recording anyway, and then have a word at the signing session after the talk.
As expected, Armistead Maupin was pure delight from start to finish. (The article appears in the Evening Post on Friday, and on t’blog soon after that.) As the final applause died away, the woman to my right leant over. I’d noticed her looking over a few times, and had assumed that she was glaring at the digi-dictaphone, not so subtly wedged between my Pradas.
But no. This was K, a fellow German graduate of the class of 1985, whom I hadn’t seen for over twenty years – even longer than Armistead, come to think of it. With so much to catch up on, I didn’t make my way to the signing queue until perilously late in the day.
When Mike Met Armistead, then. It wasn’t quite the communion of souls that I’d hoped for. By this stage, over a hundred eager punters down, the great man was clearly flagging, and unmaskably disengaged from his immediate surroundings. I tried, of course – and in giving me his permission to quote him directly for the article, he was the very model of graciousness. Signatures were procured, for me and for sadly absent “fag-hag extraordinaire” MissMish (her suggestion, his dedication).
Ah, the creative life, how it takes its toll. The article took three hours, the recording just the right side of audible, the copy filed just before 1:00 a.m. Bloody difficult, but enormous fun. And I’m not complaining neither. It’s turning out to be quite a week…