Twelve years, one reading

My ex-US editor (from “The Pope’s Rhinoceros”), a college friend I hadn’t seen for twenty years, my agent…. Last night’s reading from “John Saturnall’s Feast” (my first since publishing “In the Shape of a Boar”) felt like an anthology of friends. A packed room at the Bloomsbury Institute heard my fellow-authors Esther Freud and Andrea Stuart in fine voice. Esther read a funny section about actors auditioning in America. Andrea delivered an emotive essay on her part-British, part-Barbadian ancestry. I read from the extract in Granta (the evening’s sponsors) then took questions. Why so long between books? asked one man, reasonably enough, to which I wanted to answer ‘How long have you got?’. A question on ‘Britishness’ set all three of us thinking about locale. All actors want to go to America, answered Esther. And as soon as they get there they all want to come home. The ancestors of those who survived the Middle Passage, Andrea said, are still working out exactly where home is. There was no Britishness in the 1630’s, I answered. People lived in parishes, and tended not to move. Later I remembered the wisest thing ever written by Immanuel Kant: ‘All Mankind’s troubles stem from not staying at home.’

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