Sunday, 28 December 2008

One guinea

Year’s end – and in another of those filler-lists I’ve got the J. T. Leroy Award for Gender-Bending in Fiction (The Times alternative book awards, which seems about right) – and it’s a year and a month (a temporal guinea) since CBe started, and I’ve had about as much fun as you can have while sitting at a desk. Sincere thanks to those who’ve trusted me blindly with their work, who have stocked the books or bought them, and for the good will that’s been shown.

Someone who’d been in publishing much longer than me once told me that if he was starting up from scratch he wouldn’t bother with an office because you only really need two people: one to choose the books and do the editorial stuff, the other for publicity, to make sure that people know about the books and that they are worth shelling out for. I and the books have been missing that other person, half brother/sister. Not that I’m about to hire a ‘publicist’, because (a) though I could feed them the occasional bowl of soup I couldn’t offer them actual money, and (b) I’m not sure they’re much use: unless the person is either supremely pretty or intelligent or both, when someone starts talking publicity to me I switch off. But I'll need to do more to kick-start word of mouth (the best form of publicity anyway), and be even more shameless in talking up the books.

What will happen next year is that the books will create their own momentum. Beginning in February with Natural Mechanical by J. O. Morgan, a book that’s a Poetry Book Society recommendation and that’s by an author who’s never published before, a book that will be read by many people who normally wouldn’t come within a barge-pole’s length of poetry. Continuing in May with Christopher Reid’s The Song of Lunch, a mock-elegy for old-time Soho, a book that’s been waiting to be written until it found the right author. Later, a ghost story, in a setting not remote from Lamb House. And one of the books will win a prize, and I will write a novel called ‘The noise made by reversing lorries’ (the yard at the back of my house has been a building site for the past six months). And some people will decide that John Pilger is right about Obama but in fact simply by being a channel for so much hope and need he’ll make some new and unexpected things happen. And I will give up smoking and week later take up something equally life-shortening. And there’ll be two small-press books on the Booker shortlist (and the Booker’s anti-small-press bias will be debated: the condition, for example, that submitting publishers must hand over £5,000 towards publicity if the book is shortlisted, and another £5,000 if it wins). And England will lose the Ashes but make a damn good fist of it. And the Olympics will be a sorry mess (all that win, win stuff being a hollow echo of the same mentality that did for the City). Some of these things will happen. I am, as you see, making the whole thing up as I go along (though soon I may need a little help).

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