Londonia is a dystopian tale, albeit a relatively cheery one, but I didn't expect to be shoving it off from its moorings in quite such an extraordinary moment in time.
Having planned the event for many weeks the thought of the whole thing being called off was depressing to say the least - and I know thousands of other folks are in a similar and worse situation with far bigger events to worry about. Anyway, we did it - just in time, on Friday the 13th of March 2020.
Arrived early evening in London and headed for our favourite home-from-home cheapy hotel, St Athans, in Bloomsbury. Visited the local Indian restaurant for a plate of veg curry, returned and slept soundly.
Mad day of trawling Oxfam shops for a selection of plates, mugs, glasses etc to 'prop' the food section of the venue. (As the book is largely concerned with the heroine's profession of Finder and super scavenger, I felt an eclectic mix of old crockery would be appropriate). Also found a suitable recycled outfit for me, including a goodly hat from a clothes jumble emporium in Covent Garden, red stiletto boots from Goodge street Oxfam and a five quid Aquascutam jacket to which I added a large embroidered bird motif - added later at three o'clock in the morning when I couldn't sleep...
Took it all back to the hotel, replied to about fifty emails all concerning whether the launch was going ahead - some people being nervous, most encouraging me to do it. The venue staff were fine, my brother doing the food was fine, nearly everyone was coming, so I stopped worrying and continued writing lists.
Supper in bizarre 70s time-warp Italian restaurant on Southampton Row, where there were many suited men with tattooed bald heads, and appalling music. The food was good - after I sent it back for being undercooked.
I didn't sleep apart from about two hours during which my dreams were more chaotic than usual, so was feeling somewhat dazed. Had breakfast in a caf round the corner and earwigged lots of conversations about The VIRUS, one including the phrase: 'so does pasta and bog roll kill the virus then? Har-har-har-har...'
Went and queued up outside Waitrose along with many people peering through the glass doors to see if bog rolls had been re-stocked. Eight o'clock, the doors opened and their was a gentle, middle-class stampede for the afore-mentioned items. I was after unusual beers that I could soak the labels off and use for my own 'Stripy Horse Drinking-House beers' plus some wine box wine that could be bastardised and put into demijohns and a few cakes to alter. Paid scary bill and left it all to be collected later.
Went back to bed for a bit and stared at the ceiling. Got up and met our lovely relatives who were going to help with the event - Nick having agreed to be MC. Indian resto lunch, collected all the china, food etc and went to the venue. Gill and I went to buy a vast quantity of Indian sweets (barfi) and got lost; cab back and three hours of really mad prep. All exhausted as the venue is up three flights of stairs - but well worth it. Link below.
So. The soiree.
The wonderful Shoreditch Treehouse
the Oxfam china
food table and Sid from 'The Gorecy Potatoes'
Me making 'gnole' labels
Me and my bro - Adrian who did all the magnificent food, with the help of Sophie and Terry
Rosalie, Ray (publishers) and me
Nick the MC - questions and answers
Me, sister in law, Katherine, and Nick
Mark playing his 'Londonia Suite' at the close of the evening
Wonderful in every way. Ray and Rosalie from Tartarus - my publishers, appeared with incredibly heavy boxes of books (it is a big tome); Nick was brilliant as MC; his and Gill's son, Charlie wonderful as Bert-the Swagger in the introduction; my brother and team surpassed themselves with the food; intrepid and lovely friends, family, agent and new acquaintances all appeared, and Mark (husband) arrived hot-foot from the airport only a little late.
Music was provided brilliantly by Mark, Sid and Ruth - who appear in the book as the Gorecy (hot in Polish) potatoes.
I answered Nick's questions, read three sections of the book, and, yes, even though I am British, totally enjoyed being the centre of attention for an evening; to mark this personally important moment in time when a long-standing project finally came to fruition.
After Mark had played his 'Londonia suite' on the venue's magnificent Steinway, people gradually left and a mad clear up followed. Stood yawning waiting for a cab outside and back to the hotel where one of the lovely staff suggested in his slow, mesmerising Russian accent: 'I get you nice cup of tea?'
Which he did and it was nice. Very.
Good sleep but not enough.
Breakfast at the Bloomsbury coffee-house downstairs, then a long walk around Regents Park, Camden, and Euston to meet friend Claire for the Diwana Bel Poori House (wonderful vegetarian buffet) experience.
Nap, and met more friends for tea in Museum Street after which I gazed at my book in the window of Atlantis Bookshop.... Wow. Author happiness indeed. Signed books and then carried on to my favourite street in London - Cecil Court, where sits the very dangerous Storey's antique map shop. Had a browse, resisted buying a huge 1765 map of London, had a good chat with the owners then called in to Watkins and Goldsboro books to go on about my book - which they put up with charmingly.
Covent garden was scarily business as usual mass eating, drinking, self-admiration, shopping... Walked swiftly back to the hotel and out to very quiet favourite Italian restaurant called Montdello in Goodge Street which has all its 70s decoration and original owners firmly in place, praise be! Hotel. Bed.
Taxi to Liverpool St Station, Train to Stansted (we have given up flying but this was the only option for this occasion). Airport was similar to Covent Garden in its shopping frenzy-ness. We didn't partake of shop, eat and relax as we were late. Boarded three quarter-empty plane and spent most of the time gazing down at all the thousands of tiny villages and towns, wondering about each household's reaction to the eerie and rapidly changing virus advice unfolding via the various governments media teams.
Home. Dogs were fine, our lovely dog-sitter, Amy, fine; chickens, fine . . . all the madness and planning finished and end result very much enjoyed.
I'm writing this on Tuesday, back in my writing studio (bed with hot water bottles). It's Mark's birthday and we've just eaten a very fine roast lunch. Strange times, and I think I will stop at this point and make a new blog book. Feels like a fitting time. If the dystopian scenario in my novel were to come to pass . . . blog safe on paper and within cardboard . . . well, seems like a good idea.
Book can be ordered on link below, or from most bookshops/Amazon, etc.
A quieter London - canal near Camden