I prepared as if LBF was going to happen, beginning with a vigourous pre-fair free solo ascent of El Capitan in Yosemite with Andrew “Danger is My Middle Name” Nurnberg. Free soloing means no ropes or protective gear and I was nervously looking up at the famously tough 3,000-foot cliff face—and told the venerable agent so. He whirled on me, a crazed, Begbie-like glint in the eye (the same look, I imagine, he puts on when having to deal with the Harper Lee Estate) and said: “This is how you feel alive. If you want to play it safe, go do something like running your tongue along the sneeze-guard of the Diamond Princess breakfast buffet, or hugging the livestock in a Wuhan street market. Now those activities would be totally safe.”
Health and safety-wise, let us salute LBF organiser Reed for its prompt, not-dragging-the-feet cancellation, which resulted in so little inconvenience and was roundly praised throughout the trade. There are, of course, a few upsides to this non-LBF week, chief among them that I didn’t have to try to convincingly say the sentence:
“Yes, I am really enjoying this alcohol-free Sharjah Market Focus party.”
There were a hardy few who went through with their LBF plans, both IRL and online, led by White Rabbit, Lee Brackstone’s boutique imprint/scam-so-he-can-meet- favourite-pop-stars-and-bands (delete as appropriate). Its launch bash was at a sweaty central London bar rammed with music-biz types; believe me, coronavirus was the communicable disease you would least worry about contracting from that crowd. Orion boss Katie Espiner looked on and, despite being dressed in a hazmat suit, said she had no worries whatsoever about Covid-19: “This is just ‘Breaking Bad’ cosplay,” she confided to a close confidante at the bar. And by close, I mean a confidante on the precipice of her two-metre safety perimeter.
Kudos this week to the Blitz spirit of the Hachette rights teams for their “virtual LBF” on the social meeds, spearheaded by Rebecca Folland (pictured below). It all seemed rather jolly—book reveals, prizes given out to followers, even “stand parties”. Although watching a video of Hachetters guzzling champers while I was self-isolating wasn’t as fun as expected—I knew the breakfast bar tongue thing was bad advice, Nurnberg; and your middle name is Frederick, not Danger!
The Sonny Mehta memorial service went forward, too. He was unboutedly the greatest Anglophone publisher of the past 50 years, with that rarest of skills: being able to see the worth in the likes of Kazuo Ishiguro and E L James. Someone to raise a glass to, be it virtual or not.