At 6:30 the queue is already round the block outside Shoreditch House. The crowd buzz with excitement at the promise of Gin and Tonic – and of course to see their three authors lined up to read from their latest works at the first Shoreditch House Literary Salon of 2012.
Migrating from Soho House in 2009, Shoreditch House Literary Salon is a modern twist on the salons of The Enlightenment. Held monthly, three guest authors are invited to the salon to talk about their latest works. Previous guests have been sixties icon Molly Parkin, Ulrika Jonnson and Diana Athill OBE.
Managing to bag myself a seat, I settle down with my complimentary Hendricks gin to survey my fellow ‘Salonistas’. We are a varied bunch; our ages range from freedom pass to just outgrowing pass-the-parcel and we are perhaps as diverse in our lifestyles. The man who has drawn us all together this evening, our charismatic host, is playwrite, columnist and Publisher’s Publicity Circle nominated Event’s Manager of the Year 2011 Damian Barr, who settles the guest authors and makes rounds of the room, checking in on his Salonistas.
Once the room is full, Barr taps his Manhattan with his spoon and the buzz in the room lulls as he says a few words of welcome (and commiserations to the unlucky frost-bitten hopefuls outside) and announces our guest authors. Jojo Moyes, John Crace and Patrick Gale.
Charterhouse rules prohibit me from quoting Barr directly, but his wit is as dry as the Hendricks and flows just as freely.
JoJo Moyes takes the stage. Returning to the Salon to promote her 9th novel, she gushes over Richard and Judy’s book club – she won’t hear a bad word said about it; they gave her the exposure to maintain he place on the best-sellers list for five consecutive weeks. Me Before You, released Jan 2012, is a loving tale of a quadriplegic ex-rugby player, his new and inexperienced carer and his internal battle with his physical condition leading him to weigh up a move to Dignitas. The reading is followed by questions from the Damian Barr and the audience and then a gracious and enthused round-of-applause for Moyes.
We move smoothly onto John Crace’s reading. Crace is at the Salon to promote his new book Vertigo: One Football Fan’s Fear of Success (Sept 2011) but starts by reading a never-before-heard Digested Read – a column he writes for The Guardian – where he dissects, strips bear, and reassembles an abstract but hilariously frank version of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Once the reading is finished, the defrosted audience listen to Barr and Crace discuss Vertigo. Despite Barr making it abundantly clear that 24 sweaty men on a pitch is where his interest ends, the ubiquitous nature of the subject make for an accessible and entertaining Q&A.
The 20 minute interval sees the transition of the Salonistas from a respectable bunch to a bunch of vultures as the complimentary pizza is placed precariously at the bar. The crowd is buzzing: “He makes interviewing look so easy.” and “I would never have picked up a novel about a love story between a carer and her quadriplegic charge on the way to Dignitas, but now…” and “I come to every one – all the way from Swindon.” and “Where is the pizza?”
A young man at the event to support Patrick Gale says: “I feel like I’ve nurtured my soul tonight – all this literature. I’ve been a fan since I was 16. His stories always used to be centred around his gay characters, but these days he writes beautiful women; absolutely gorgeous characters.”
And with that, the event resumes. Patrick Gale arrives on stage and introduces his new work. He gives us a choice: the last chapter, also the beginning of the story, or a passage about the evil character. We vote and, predictably, we hear about the evil character. A fluid and vivacious read makes it clear why Gale is the star of the show. Charterhouse rules abiding, I would not dream of commenting on their subsequent conversation, but it was a voyeuristic insight into the fascinating life of Gale.
The night ends far too quickly and the four flights of stairs (mistakenly) taken down to the cold does nothing to dispel the warm and nurtured soul I know I’m not the only one to take away. What better way to spend a crisp Tuesday evening.