An evening with Penguin

Living in a town near Oxford, it takes a lot to tempt me into London midweek during term-time – but when an invitation came to attend Penguin’s General Bloggers Evening in the swanky surroundings of a private room in a dining club in Soho, with a fantastic line-up of no less than seven authors attending, plus the lure of goody bags – I quickly made arrangements for a friend to pick up my daughter from school and feed her until hubby got back from work, and yesterday afternoon, off I went to the Big Smoke for my first publisher’s event.

Along with my book-acquiring habit, I’m also chronically early for everything – I tend to get stressed if I’m running late.  The evening was meant to start at 6.30, but I was getting footsore with wandering around and went up about ten minutes early, but the Penguin crew didn’t mind, so phew!  Around ten minutes later, a horde of other bloggers arrived including Jackie from FarmLaneBooks, Sakura from Chasing Bawa, Simon from Stuck in a Book, Claire from Paperback Reader, Hayley from Desperate Reader, and David from Follow the Thread, all of whom I’d met before. It was also lovely to meet Jess from Park Benches and Bookends, (all links on the Blogroll to your right).

Each of the authors read or talked about their latest books for a short while, then afterwards there was loads of time to chat with them and the Penguin crew.  The authors were:

  • Joe Dunthorne – author of Submarine and the upcoming Wild Abandon.  Joe read a hilarious scene from his yet to be published novel set in a commune, in which a meditating eleven year old boy talks to his sixteen year old self to find out what happens in the future.  Very funny indeed.  Can’t wait, and I already had Submarine in the TBR – in the news as Richard Ayodade’s film based on the novel has just come out and got a great reception.
  • Luke Williams – a debut author of the upcoming The Echo Chamber.
  • Jean Kwok – author of Girl in Translation, in which a family from Hong Kong comes to New York and ends up living in a roach-infested apartment in Brooklyn, working in sweat shops.  Although a work of fiction, there were definite parallels between Jean’s life (she comes from Hong Kong and moved to Brooklyn when she was five and had a hard life for some years.)  She was fun to talk to and loves bloggers.
  • Ross Raisin – author of God’s Own Country and the upcoming Waterline.  I read Ross’s first novel recently (review coming up soon), but I loved it. Set in the North York Moors, it is a tale of a young farm lad who runs off with the new nextdoor neighbour’s underage daughter.  His new book is ‘much sadder’ he said, all about the decline of shipbuilding on the Clyde and the effect on families.  I chatted to Ross for ages afterwards, and telling him how much I’d liked God’s Own Country, he admitted it was funny to hear people talking about the book still, as he’d handed it in two years ago and started work on the next soon after.  He was also really interested in blogging and asked us lots of questions about why and how we got started.
  • Rebecca Hunt – author of Mr Chartwell.  I’ve yet to read this book, but after last night it’s gone right up the TBR pile.  Set during Winston Churchill’s latter years in which his ‘Black Dog’ of depression becomes reality – a talking big black dog!  Rebecca read a passage in which the dog was trying to wheedle his way onto the bed of a local widow he lodged with, and naturally she was more than a little creeped out by the prospect. She got the voice of the Dog so well! I’m very much looking forward to reading this book.
  • Helen Gordon – author of the upcoming Landfall.  Another debut novelist, Helen’s book is set in the home counties and features an art critic and a precocious young teenager.  I couldn’t help thinking that Helen looks slightly like a younger Elizabeth Moss (Peggy in Mad Men).  I grabbed a proof copy of this one to read.
  • Hisham Matar – author of Anatomy of  a Disappearance, and the Booker nominated In the Country of Men.  I’m currently reading In the Country of Men and am enjoying the exquisite writing very much.  Hisham read from his latest book (see a wonderful review by Dovegreyreader here), and his mellifluous Mediterranean tones really brought to life the first chapter in which a man remembers his father from the smell of his watch-strap – lovely.  Earlier I talked briefly to Hisham and when I said I worked in a school, he told me a little of his work with the charity First Story in which authors go into school to do creative writing projects with the children.

Thank you to Penguin, and especially the authors who made time to come and talk to a group of bloggers.
It made my day.

* * * * *

To buy any of those available books from, click below:
In the Country of Men, Anatomy of a Disappearance by Hisham Matar
God’s Own Country, Waterline by Ross Raisin
Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
Submarine by Joe Dunthorne
Mr Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt


21 thoughts on “An evening with Penguin

  1. It was lovely to see you again Annabel and I look forward to more meetings:) I’m really looking forward to reading Mr. Chartwell as well as I have a soft spot for Churchill as well as some of the other books I snagged.

  2. *waving * to Sakura too and I was sooooo sorry not to be there and so glad you were Annabel and have written all about it!
    I’d have given my eye-teeth to talk to some of those authors but I did beg Penguin to podcast it so am hoping something will come of that. I would especially like to hear the voice of the dog from Rebecca Hunt. I’ve asked a few other publishers to perhaps do some of these events on Skype video too, it would be so good for us poor rural dwellers who just can’t stump up the train fare to London or organise days off work too often, to be able to share in the event:-)

    • They were recording it on something Lynne, so cross your fingers for a podcast. It’s a shame that most events tend to be centred around London, but Skype does offer intriguing possibilities if they can arrange it.

  3. I am so envious particularly as I am in the middle of Girl In Translation and really enjoying it!
    Glad you had a good time though and I understand completely about the having to hang around for ages because you were early. My other half has the sense of timing of a guinea pig and if he is in charge of getting us places it is always in a panic stricken rush because he has thought he could do just one last thing before setting off so when I am having to be somewhere I always give myself far more time than I should need and end up wandering around for what feels like forever because I can’t be TOO early!

    • Liz, I’m glad Girl in Trans is good – Looking forward to reading it even more now.

      You hear people saying that being early is a waste of time, but it isn’t at all, I’m sure you’ll agree. You get time to compose yourself, think about what’s coming up, and you can always read a book (as long as you have somewhere to wait) – what’s wrong with that!

    • Jackie – great to see you also. As to where to start, I thoroughly recommend Ross Raisin’s first. The only one I’d managed to read before the event, but I loved it!

  4. Sadly, I couldn’t make the event (I went and saw your friend — and mine — Peter Gabriel at the Hammersmith Apollo accompanied by a 46-piece orchestra instead) but pleased to hear it was a good one. Sounds like there was a great line-up. I would have been excited to meet Hisham Matar.

    • Sadly (too) I’ve not really kept up with Peter Gabriel recently. I’m never sure what to think about orchestral albums, so I didn’t bought his new one – if you tell me it’s good, I might be tempted… I’m sure the live show was marvelous though as he always puts so much thought into the performance. Hopefully we’ll meet again at another do.

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  6. Lovely to see you there, Annabel, and sorry I didn’t go to the train station at the same time as you – I’d only just worked up the courage to speak to one of the authors! A great write-up.

    • … and you could have sat with me opposite Libby Purves! I didn’t dare let on I recognised her though.

    • It was fab Louisa. I nabbed copies of Matar’s latest, Jean Kwok and Helen Gordon’s books too, plus a couple of other titles – a good haul.

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