Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Critic’s Life, Part III: Orion Rising

(This is the final installment of Ali Karim’s three-part report. Part I can be found here. Part II is here.)

After lunch with Linwood Barclay and meeting poet-crime novelist Sophie Hannah at Charing Cross’ Murder One bookstore, I proceeded at a brisk walk toward Covent Garden, where I was to meet up with Shots editor Mike Stotter and woman of mystery Ayo Onatade. As we quaffed a few beers together, we noted that this was the first time we’d been invited to the famed Orion Publishing Party. The fact that we had been asked to go was a clear indication of how important crime fiction has become to British publisher Orion.

Orion, you probably know, publishes books in all genres, including healthy science fiction and horror lines (following its acquisition many years ago of Victor Gollancz). It also produces literary fiction (through its Weidenfeld & Nicolson imprint), general fiction, biography, autobiography, children’s books, military books, and an extensive range of audio books. It is, however, the company’s huge crime fiction list that interests me most. Over the years, I have read some amazing novels, thanks to Orion, and interviewed a number of its best-known wordsmiths, among them Americans Michael Connelly, Alafair Burke, George Pelecanos, and Robert Crais, along with Brits John Connor, Chris Simms, Laura Wilson, and Steve Mosby.

After paying our tab, Stotter, Onatade, and I headed off to the celebration venue, the Royal Opera House. Orion really knows how to party, as the 150-year-old Opera House is undoubtedly the most impressive place we’ve visited during our crime-fiction travels. Once inside, and after depositing our coats, we were ushered into the ballroom, where we found more than 500 guests milling about. We couldn’t help but notice that Paul Hamlyn Hall was still decorated for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Awards that had been held here the previous night.

Soon, with chilled champagne and canapés in hand, we fell into conversation with author-critic Peter Guttridge and John Connor, and bumped into Steve Mosby, whose highly acclaimed novel The 50/50 Killer is now out in paperback. After that, we spent some time with novelist and book critic Laura Wilson, who invited us to the launch of her latest novel, Stratton’s War, the opener of a series from a writer known for psychological thrillers that are normally standalones.

By this time, eagle-eyed Stotter had spotted the bar and rounded up more champagne for us all. Just in time to hear Peter Roche, managing director of the Orion Publishing Group, address the audience. He began by thanking everyone for attending, and observing that while indicators suggest that 2008 could be a very rough year for publishing, Orion is positioned well to weather the storm. He added that he’d checked the evening’s guest list, and there were 200 Orion authors in attendance, along with 185 literary agents, which he found peculiar. He said that in 1904, London boasted only four literary agents; so if this present trend continues, Roche joked, in a few years agents will outnumber writers.

Deciding to mingle some more, I headed off to greet some Orion science-fiction authors whose work I have enjoyed in years past. Although Richard Morgan (Black Man, aka Thirteen) wasn’t able to come to this party, I did manage to chat with Adam Roberts (The Snow) and Paul McAuley, another SF writer who has to his credit a few mainstream-ish thrillers, such as the excellent Players.

Since I’m never one to shy away from dropping names … let me just mention that among the luminaries peppering the hall, I spotted Lady Antonia Fraser; politician and writer, the Right Honourable Douglas Hurd; singer-songwriter Jamelia, and TV comedian Rory Bremner. I smiled at them all as I passed by, pretending to be some high-powered literary agent, which wasn’t hard considering their numbers in our midst. Finally, I happened upon one of those very agents, Jane Gregory, owner of the UK’s Gregory and Company, who proceeded to introduce me to the best-selling author of Labyrinth, Kate Mosse (both women are shown at right). Next, I shared a tipple with Judith Murdoch, who’s excited about Tony Black’s Paying for It, which she placed with Random House. She told me that Black is currently hard at work on the follow-up. Then I spent some time with Broo Doherty, who represents Paul Johnston (The Death List), before making the rounds of half a dozen other agents, among them witty Phil Patterson, who fronts for Stuart MacBride, and with whom I had a drunken session at last summer’s Crime Writers’ Association Dagger Awards ceremony.

Moving on, I introduced Stotter to some of my old horror fiction contacts, such as Dorothy Lumley, who is married to horror fictionist Brian Lumley and is also a literary agent. We also stumbled into Euan Thorneycroft, an agent with A.M. Heath, who arrived with my old friend, the author Roger Jon Ellory. It was only last year that Ellory was struggling to find an audience for his beautifully crafted crime fiction. But thanks to his 2007 novel, A Quiet Belief in Angels, being picked up by the Richard & Judy Book Club, Ellory is enjoying some long-overdue renown, at least in Great Britain.

Then we noticed Linwood Barclay propping up the bar with his editor, Bill Massey, so Stotter and I headed over. We discussed Barclay’s superb British debut book, No Time for Goodbye, and fell into an extended conversation about the late California private-eye novelist Ross Macdonald, who Barclay considers his literary mentor.

Before long, though, I realized I was full of bubbly and out of energy. So, after thanking the Orion team for their hospitality, I made to leave. But just before exiting, I encountered multi-millionaire businessman Duncan Bannatyne, who has penned his own book for Orion. I know of Bannatyne because of his TV show, Dragon’s Den. He’s recognized for his financial acumen as well as his acidic wit. After a brief chat with him, Stotter and I finally got out the door. The night was done, but apparently our association with Orion still wasn’t. On the train platform at Covent Garden, we noticed that the publisher has even penetrated the London Underground with its Poetry in the Tube project.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

as a new author of orion (Sharon McGovern-Afraid biography) i was very impressed with the orion party, i too had a chat with peter gutteridge, meeting for the first time, what a nice man, but the highlight for me was to be around such a lot of talented and nice people, i am very honoured to get my book published, (i have waited 30yrs for this) and humbled by the whole experiance. thank you orion.