Sunday, 18 January 2009
The Literary World
I have just finished a fascinating collection of reminiscences of writers' first arrival in London, published in 1957 and called Coming to London, edited by John Lehmann. It gives an insight into the early struggles of writers trying to establish themselves in the capital, mostly in the period between the two wars. Apart from the descriptions of eccentric characters and incidents, one thing is striking: the ambivalence towards London that so many writers felt. I wonder, if you assembled a similar group today, whether they would feel the same as, for example, Jocelyn Brooke, who wrote: "life in London tends progressively to inhibit the creative faculty, and is liable, unless one is more than usually tough, to prove finally stultifying." A place of opportunity, contacts, networking, but not, ultimately a place to write in.
This blog swings between two places: central London and the Welsh Marches and I can't quite decide, writing in both places, which is the more fructifying. As it happens, yesterday I was plunged into the heart of the literary world – except that it was in Oxford! Craig Raine's Areté magazine was celebrating its tenth birthday and all the contributors were invited (something that often doesn't happen, by the way, when publishers and magazines have a bash, sponsors, advertisers and hangers-on generally taking precedence over mere contributors and authors unless they are the starry ones). Craig is a fine host and his Oxford house was crammed with the literati, including the poet Christopher Reid whose collection A Scattering, beautifully moving elegies to his late wife, was being launched also at the party. My Belgian friend, Stan Lauryssens, star of the current issue of Areté with his piece on the monster Eichmann was there too. Stan was delighted to be shown an email from David Hare to Raine saying that this piece was the best thing in the magazine's whole 10 year history. All in all it was a good do but I suppose it has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of what anyone writes. On the other hand we all need to get out and enjoy ourselves from time to time.
PS Apologies to those who read an earlier version of this but I cut out some gossipy bits on reflection!