This year, I was asked to be on the judging panel of the Authors' Club First Novel Award. The way the award works is that all members of the Authors' Club are encouraged to read the entered books and to write reports on them, and then everything is compiled and compared by the committee, who work out a shortlist and pass it on to the adjudicator, this year Philip Hensher. The entire event climaxes with a lovely dinner, and presentation of the prize by the final judge, and this happened last Monday. Chad and I went along - it was only polite and the food is always so good. It was the best night out I've had in ages, Mr Hensher was a scream, and the evening ended with Chad, myself and a couple of other miscreants in the Groucho club. I'm not sure what I was expecting the Groucho to be like, except that this wasn't it. I guess I had pictures in my head of people dressed in bright jackets and dancing on the tables. It was classy, instead, and yet relaxed, with young, arty members. I can totally see why it was seen as a breath of fresh air compared to other London Clubs.
One of the highlights of the night for me (apart from having such a laugh with cool people) was meeting the Independent on Sunday's current literary editor. I have to admit, I quite enjoyed the blanche in her cheeks when she was introduced, having run, just the day before, by far the worse review I have ever received. I won't link to it here. I'm not giving the writer of said review any publicity at all, so if you want to see it, you can find it yourself. I'm not even going to comment about the review; people can read my books and make their own minds up and I don't expect everyone to like them. In fact, I quite deliberately write fiction that provokes, and think it's a bit of a victory that there are people who can't quite deal with the worlds I create.
What I will say is the same as I said on the night, to the literary editor sat two places away at dinner. No matter what a review says, I'd rather it existed than not. I believe every mention of your name, of the book, is of vital importance. Maybe I wouldn't feel the same if there weren't plenty of good reviews out there to balance the bad, but I do know this; when the Chatto edition of Starfishing came out, it didn't pick up many reviews at all, and it was completely dispiriting. There's nothing worse than a book being more or less ignored, so I'm pleased that it's getting so much more attention this time around. I'm also pleased that most of that attention is positive, but the odd bad review, even a real stinker like the I on S printed, is still worth having.
I've been thinking a lot about that adage all publicity is good publicity. PT Barnum apparently said 'I don't care what they say about me, just make sure they spell my name right!' and I like that attitude, and it works for me as a writer. But I'm not sure we can totally follow these rules in these days of celebrity obsession.
Take poor old Lily Allen. Hounded at home, followed around, chased by cars. Does it sound familiar? I'm sure that we were all left in shock about ten years ago by a woman who was hunted and chased by the press to such an extent it was contributory to her death, in a certain tunnel in Paris. Thank god, then, that the powers that be have made a sensible move and given Lily a court order to keep the dogs from her door. Sure, she courts publicity for her work, who doesn't? And she writes good music and lives a certain lifestyle, so lots of people are interested in her. I don't think this is a fair reason to hound the girl the way the press have been doing. There has to be a limit.
And talking of that limit can only lead us to the current Princess of our Hearts, Jade Goody, and her reality TV life. I'm not sure what there is left to say about the poor woman, except that I hope there was a pre-nup and that her babies see every penny of the money squeezed out with her dying breaths. Of course, that's after OK! take their cut, and Max Clifford of course, and all the rest. Magic.
For me, the whole Jade Goody nightmare was summed up by an anonymous and provocative local artist, all over Nottingham and also here. Quality.
It is her boys I feel for. No matter how much it's providing your inheritance, losing your mum must be bad enough. To see her illness plastered all over the papers and TV and not be able to turn away from it must be too much to bear. I just hope they are left alone now to deal with their grief.
RIP Jade. Well, if you want to, though I can't help wondering if we should send a photographer down there with you babe.