Bearded Writist in shock non-kilt dagger fiasco
Mr Stuart, on the other hand, despite being confidently predicted to come last by many a wise counsel, surprised everyone (not least himself) by winning the Dagger in the Library. Jammy bastard.
Actually, I'm not bitter, though I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed. There's no point entering the competition if you don't want to win it. But being shortlisted is a wonderful second place, and it has already generated interest from the far east.
What then of the awards ceremony?
Well, I'd been warned in advance about many things, none of which came to pass. The day started early, hitching a lift into town with the Horse Doctor to catch a train to Birmingham New Street. The girl sitting next to me had a scar on her hand in exactly the same place as me, between the thumb and forefinger. I acquired mine in a freak airgun accident when I was about ten. I never asked her how she got hers.
Trains being what they are in this country, we reached Birmingham New Street about five minutes after my connection to London Euston had departed. Fortunately there are plenty of trains to London Euston during the day, so I was able to get the next one. Nobody sat next to me on this train, but the couple in the seats in front of me did spend the entire journey holding hands. Maybe there were afraid the train would crash.
London isn't my favourite place. Imagine living somewhere where you maybe see a half dozen people in the course of your day, every day. And it's the same half dozen people. Now put yourself in a place where a half dozen people are within touching distance at any one time, and they each have a half dozen of their own to touch, and so on, and so on. The paper stands were covered in headlines telling of a tube derailment and 800 people being trapped underground, unsure whether this was a terrorist attack or just user error. I decided to walk the mile and a half from Euston to my hotel.
Which turned out to be every bit as seedy as I had expected for the price I was paying. And my room, shoved up in the eaves and small enough to give a swung cat concussion, had that charming mix of sweltering heat and exhaust fumes from the noisy street below. I could have closed the window, but then I'd have cooked, even though it wasn't an especially hot day. Still, the bed was comfortable enough, and the shower worked.
Rescue came in the form of a phone call from Mr Stuart, who was even then in Soho, up to degenerate things involving Sushi and Agent Phil. We met up at Oxford Circus and proceeded to a couple of pubs favoured by the Marylebone literarti. Beer was drunk and toot was talked until we suddenly realised it was almost time for the awards dinner. I made it back to the hotel, into my kilt and thence a taxi in the nick of time, arriving somewhat flushed at the Four Seasons Park Lane on the dot of half past six.
Margaret Murphy, who organised the debut daggers this year, had arranged for all of us shortlistees (is that a word?) to meet in the foyer, where we were each given a bag full of books. Now I'm always grateful for free books, but it was amusing to see one of the was Dying Light, by a certain bearded writist whose company I had been enjoying scant minutes earlier. When I pointed out to Margaret that I was mentioned in the acknowledgements in the front of the book for 'anything else not tied down', she told me that she had noticed that and didn't think there could be too many James Oswalds out there.
Out of the twelve shortlisted authors for the Debut Daggers, I'm told that eleven made it to the ceremony, including two from Canada and one from the states. I am impressed - I thought it was a long way to come from Aberystwyth. One of the others, David Jackson, bustled up and accosted me, as the only person in the whole place wearing a kilt. 'You must be James Oswald,' he said. When I asked him how he knew, he said he'd read my blog. The power of the internet strikes again. David, if you're reading this, congratulations on being Highly Commended. I look forward to reading Pariah soon.
The awards dinner was also notable for being the place where I finally got to meet my agent. She's been representing me for about eighteen months now, but we've never quite managed to meet in person. Or speak on the phone for that matter. Prior to Thursday evening, all communication had been by email or letter. Now I have a face to put to a name, as does she.
Of the dinner, I will say very little. The food was good, if not spectacular, and the wine plentiful enough though perhaps not the nicest. I was seated between Martin Brackstone, one of the other Debut Dagger shortlistees, and Tim Bates - an agent from Pollinger who admitted he had no real reason to be there but was going to enjoy himself anyway. It was a pleasant enough evening, though the noise levels were such that I found my voice giving out quite early on, and had to concentrate very hard to hear what anyone else was saying.
There was a speech by Bob Marshall Andrews, a Labour back-bench MP and well-known critic of his own party, which was by all accounts a great deal better than last year's effort. And then the awards. The Debut Dagger was announced first, which at least meant the agony wasn't prolonged. As it came to be announced, I was filled with an unusual amount of trepidation for one as laid back as myself. And then when they announced the name - congratulations to Alan Bradley - I was actually relieved for a moment. It meant I didn't have to attempt a speech. Then, of course, the righteous indignation set in. How could they possibly have missed the pure brilliance of my writing? Surely there had been some mistake. I demand a recount!
Martin and I decided that, given the history of past winners and shortlistees, it was better not to win.
The rest of the awards went reasonably quickly. Mr Stuart gave perhaps the shortest speech, which was hardly surprising since he had genuinely not believed he would win. The award is for a body of work, and whilst the Logan McRae books are very good, as yet there's only three of them out there for public lending. Still, congratulations to him and all that. I was disappointed only by his failure to wear a kilt, though that did mean that I got all the girly attention to myself.*
After the awards, most people just drifted away. I said goodbye to my agent, congratulated or commiserated with the other Debut Dagger shortlistees, then found myself strangely drawn to the HarperCollins crowd who were determined to celebrate Mr Stuart's success. There was a bar set aside for the CWA party, but after a while it threatened to close down. We adjourned to the hotel bar instead, only to be told that we couldn't buy any drinks there because we weren't resident. A bit of a panic ensued until we discovered that Simon Kernick was staying at the hotel, at which point he became everyone's best friend. Still the management tried to make life awkward for us, insisting that Simon had to pay for all drinks, and that we couldn't give him money to get them for us. Since we weren't being loud and obnoxious, and there were very few other guests about to complain, I couldn't see what all the fuss was about. When Stuart's editor, the lovely Sarah, appeared with a bottle of champagne and several glasses, the barman almost had a fit, but faced with a determined bunch of crime writers, he finally backed down.
The rest of the evening was thus spent in the upstairs bar at the Four Seasons Hotel, drinking wine paid for by Simon and champagne paid for by Sarah, and talking toot with Ali Karim and others. We finally had to admit defeat when we realised that the barman had quietly snuck away, leaving the bar all locked up and unwelcoming behind us. Since it was near enough three in the morning, it was probably time to go anyway.
Mr Stuart headed off towards Knightsbridge with his suitcase - I hope there was someone still up at his hotel so that he could check in, but I've not heard from him since so he may yet be walking the streets of London in search of a bed. I walked back to my seedy little place, accompanied part of the way by Agent Phil who was headed back to his office, there to sleep under his desk or something.
I don't envy him the state of his head the next morning.
*It's true - kilts are a complete babe magnet. Don't ask me why a man dressed in a skirt should be so attractive to women. It's one of life's more wondrous and pleasant mysteries.