The late Elaine Stritch told a wonderful story about drinking into the small hours with Judy Garland when, as the sun began to rise over Manhattan, Garland stood up and drawled ‘Elaine, I never thought I’d say this but goodnight’. Well, I never thought I’d say this but James Sherwood’s Discriminating Guide to London is finished and the manuscript was delivered to Thames & Hudson on Friday afternoon.
Sondheim always comes to mind when a long endeavour is completed. There Won’t Be Trumpets is such a clever lyric. Unless you are HM The Queen the likelihood of an important occasion in one’s life being accompanied by a Handel trumpet voluntary is slim. Far from any Chariots of Fire music to speed the way, I’d been listening to Penelope Keith’s masterly readings of the Agatha Raisin novels. I didn’t even stub out a final cigarette having stopped choking back the gaspers well before Christmas.
So 100,000 of my rambling, whimsical and hopefully mildly amusing words about London’s restaurants, hotels, cocktail bars, fleshpots and shops should be between illustrated hard covers by September. T&H says there’s been interest from American which is rather like telling the big bad wolf that pork might be in the offing. To quote Lucia, we shall see what we shall see. For now I did the ritual clearing of the desk – and the mind – in preparation for the next book.
The past couple of years have been ones of deep thought about the future for the professions I touch upon. As far as fashion and luxury goods go, journalism turned into public relations a long time ago. The writer’s role has been relegated to selling product and if one isn’t prepared to do so indiscriminately one is less than useless to publishers or brands. The arbiters of taste have been shot down by social media.
Books we’re told are Dodos. Technology will hunt them down like ivory poachers. Suffice to say I disagree. Time will tell as it always does but I suspect the creatures baying for the blood of the printed page might well be remembered like those who cried ‘Release Barabbas’ a thousand years ago. As long as publishers keep investing in books I’ll keep writing them if lucky enough to be asked. While clearing my desk of a Manhattan skyline of books, magazines and pamphlets I was reminded of how useless an iPad or extra MacBook Air would be in comparison to a book that I can turn the corner of a page or write in a margin.
Writing has been much on my mind as the book squeezed my brain to a conclusion like a cider press. There was a wonderful five minutes on the Today programme about writing and walking citing Dickens as a prime example. Dickens would walk twenty miles per day often after dark accompanied by friends. Dickens’ night walks fascinate me. As you know I walk at least to Mayfair and back twice if not four times a day and often spend a Saturday or Sunday rambling in the City or on the South Bank.
But wouldn’t it be amusing when the weather becomes more clement to take a Dickensian night walk? I always feel safe at night as long as I’m in a postcode with a 1 in it. Most people who walk after dark (or perhaps after midnight) are either up to no good or have no choice. But I do think much interest could be had from a night walk if the conclusion was not a speakeasy or unsavoury club. So the next time you see me streaking down St John Street in a turban like Molly Parkin you’ll know I am on a night walk of Smithfield Market.
We had three very interesting Desert Island Discs broadcasts this week. One was of the late Phyllis ‘P. D.’ James the crime writer who I found had an elegance of mind and pragmatism that is necessary to lead a contented life. We had Bob Hoskins the actor who I had no idea suffered several nervous breakdowns and found salvation in his work. Finally we had the perfume entrepreneur Jo Malone who I found bewildering. Her first song was Rock The Boat by the Hughes Corporation because ‘if there’s a boat to get in I rock it’.
Ms Malone went on to choose various ditties that proved she wasn’t troubled by self-doubt culminating in a Whitney Houston power ballad and an affirmation that all entrepreneurs go through hell to get to the summit. At some point I did shout at the radio ‘so do writers but there isn’t a multi-million dollar Estee Lauder buyout at the end of it for our pains…more’s the pity’.
A rambling letter thus proving that when I am between projects I do tend to lose focus. Thank the lord that I have books that will take me to June. I had another project that would have proved a tarot reader right about foreign travel, creativity and retribution. I may or may not keep it. I may or may not regret losing it. At this precise moment it is probably best to breathe easy having finished my book and let others worry about what doesn’t concern me.