Some of you may know of my love for the US author Richard Russo. When I heard he was making a rare UK appearance at Damian Barr’s Literary Salon at the Savoy I knew I had to make the effort to go. A Monday night and a trip from Nottingham and back for work the next day – all doable with planning and caffeine.
Imagine, if you will, a local government worker with a book to sell, a working parent whose little spare time is spent reading and writing, a comfortable if tiring routine to the days, little social life, an introvert with a hint of shyness (laying it on thick but still…) Now imagine The Savoy, all 1930s decor, hushed corridors and doormen, the Lancaster ballroom a swirling light blue, plaster detail, gilding and mirrored doors. FULL of people many of whom know each other, all of whom appear to be fully au fait with their surroundings. And take a breath.
Obviously, there was no need to worry. Everyone was friendly. The room was a lovely atmosphere and I sat and chatted to those on my table – all seemed to think I was slightly bonkers to be here from Nottingham for the evening, and none of whom had heard of Richard Russo before. I did my best to recommend books for them to start with, and said he was very funny.
The Literary Salon was set up just as I left the book industry so while it was my first time, it’s well established as a high class literary event – “always a good night out” said the man at my table. I sipped a lovely Valpolicella – recommended by another Damian Barr project A Book and a Bottle – to be drunk while reading Jessie Burton’s The Muse (on my TBR pile so now I will be forced to buy some wine – such a hard life). Fine writers, good wine, lovely surroundings – it’s all you could want if you fancy a bit of the high life once in a while.
Damian appeared with a flourish from behind the stage curtains, nattily dressed in bow tie and light blue trousers. He gave a sparkling introduction, referencing Noel Coward, the importance of diversity and tolerance and mentioning the terrible events of Saturday night not far away on London Bridge. And then our first guest was up.
The joy of all literary events, of course, is that you get to hear about books and ideas that you may not otherwise come across if just browsing. I doubt I would have otherwise found Sam Leith’s book You Talkin’ to Me? or Natalie Haynes’ Children of Jocasta but they were both terrific and obviously now added to my ever-growing TBR list.
A break before the main man appeared. I was getting slightly nervous by this point as I needed to leave soon to catch my last train home. I had planned on 9.15 leaving time but we were reconvening after the break at 9pm and I’d have come all this way and barely caught what I wanted to see. It’s a literary salon, I’m not criticising, the atmosphere was much better relaxed but… eeek!
But then there he was, reading out a selection from Everybody’s Fool, and how the people at my table laughed. I felt vindicated in my praise. It was a lovely interview, moving in places and funny in others, or it was until I finally had to sneak out.
Now, obviously the sensible person with a trek across London to make her train at St Pancras takes a cab. I am not a sensible person and I hate cabs and avoid them wherever possible (don’t ask why – it’s completely irrational of me). A combination of running and the tube was therefore my option. As I did this, I learned a number of things:
- I usually run 10k twice a week so distance and endurance is not an issue but not wearing a sports bra is. Ouch.
- Running while trying to preserve the lemon meringue cupcakes you bought as a treat for the hubby is a lost cause.
- Running in a waterproof coat causes heat to build up from your body so that when you reach your destination, you sit and steam gently. A sauna from within. Such a great look.
- My backpack, so useful for everyday life, does not take well to running and will burst open. Say what you will about London but I know of few other cities where a strange man will step into a rain-soaked road, pick up the contents of a woman’s handbag – including smashed face powder and a tampon – and return them to her without batting an eyelid. (The northern man is too preoccupied with humour for gallantry in this way.)
- The Northern line from Charing Cross doesn’t go to St Pancras – only Euston where you have to catch a different train across or run down the Euston Road. No prizes for guessing which I chose.
I made the train with minutes to spare and tucked into my Savoy sandwich and smashed cupcake.
What lessons can we learn from this?
The Literary Salon events are lovely and I must come again. Next time, however, perhaps a hotel and an early morning train would be the way to go. Or even, maybe, a cab.