Friday, September 29, 2006

Those literary dos...

To London on Wednesday to attend the Writers' Inc Competition winners evening and collect an award for my short story Compass and Torch. Well, it's only a commendatory award, I'm only in effect a runner-up: is it really worth the fuss of travelling all that way and forcing my hosts out of their bed and onto the living-room sofa bed? Well, the thing is, of course, you just never know... And what shall I wear? I've no idea what kind of do it's likely to be. Better not wear my black trousers and waiter's waistcoat from Afflecks Palace - last time I wore them to London I was waiting for friends at the door of a private view and several people came up to me with a formal 'Good evening' and waited to be shown where to go and handed champagne.

My hosts come with me - they might get a drink out of it for their pains - and we stroll up from Shoreditch to the Barbican library, and sure enough, there's wine waiting. 'Network!' they remind me, but I don't know a soul in the room... and there's no time, anyway: the proceedings are about to begin, and what's this? Turns out it's to be a whole evening of readings, and my hosts are artists, not writers: will they cope?

Turns out they do. Turns out they're downright fascinated. 'We're not used to this,' they tell me: 'the nakedness of the writer-artist out there presenting his/her work on such a personal level.' Crikey. And then in the break they have a big discussion about the fact that competition judge and Writers Inc resident poet Mario Petrucci is introducing us with flattering summaries of our pieces. 'Wouldn't happen in the art world,' they tell me: 'someone else deconstructing an artist's work in front of the artist without reference to him/her.' Blimey.

Then it's the second half, time for the short-story section of the evening, culminating with the winner reading his brilliant story. Turns out he's not only the man in the specs and stripey shirt and trainers whose wine glass I nearly knocked out of his hand, but Michael Carson, whose name I know well from literary magazines. As I'm talking to him afterwards, a woman in a red jacket comes up to me: 'You're Elizabeth Baines! I had no idea until you went up to get your prize...' And who is she? The poet Katherine Gallagher whose poetry I've been reading for years...

'Finished your speed networking?' ask my hosts as I join them at last in the foyer. 'Right, we're hungry, let's go and spend your cheque!'

Definitely worth it after all.

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