Jo Fletcher on the fun of throwing dinner parties

As you know, I’ve been having a high old time of it recently, what with international launches and cocktail parties and oysters and espresso martinis and the like. We even celebrated a whole month Without Builders by throwing a small but perfectly formed dinner party this weekend (and thank you for asking, the lamb and spiced prune tajine with quinoa and beet-leaves was every bit as delicious as I had hoped). But you don’t just invite people over and provide a delicious and nutritious meal and count that a dinner party success, do you?

First of all you have to excavate the lounge so there’s somewhere for them to sit, and of course ours is still full of Stuff – not just displaced kitchen items like the duck popcorn maker (which I refuse point-blank to give away; we were given it as a wedding present – eight years ago today, actually – and I think it’s cute. Who could not be cheered by a duck popcorn maker? And one day we will have the time to actually use it.) And the various bits of drawer and unit left over from the great Kitchen Débâcle are bound to come in useful at some point. And the box of kitchen implements excess to requirements that will be Freecycled in due course. And then there are all the books that have arrived in the house over the past few months that have not yet joined either the ‘unread’ pile or the ‘to be filed’ pile or the ‘to be gifted’ pile.  And the tools have not yet returned to the airing cupboard as we are still fixing things. At any rate, you begin to see our dilemma.

But that’s what halls are for, so @LitAgentDrury manfully shifted a great pile of Stuff so there was room for our guests to walk from hall to sofa and chairs, and thence to dining table. Job Done. (He had to do a little bit of emergency shifting when he realised he hadn’t left a passageway from kitchen to table, but that was soon sorted.)

Then we had to clear another route so we could get to the lovely crystal glasses bought in Krakow for tuppence each, and move the books so he could reach the beautiful hare water jug my bestest friend gave us for Christmas (the only sort of jugged hare allowed in the Fletcher/Drury household, as hares are magical creatures. @LitAgentDrury took that diktat reasonably well, under the circumstances, and so we are both still very happy at being able to celebrate our wedding anniversary today!

Then there was cleaning and vacuuming and dusting, and even a bit of polishing (just the little bit of table that was actually visible, obviously). Plants were watered, the Whitsun Cactus was moved to the mantelpiece to display its amazing blossoms to better effect, SP retrieved his uniform, Spot the rescue dog was brushed down and Gloucester the foot-pig was rubbed up for the occasion.

Finally, while I moved on to peeling and chopping and slicing and dicing, grating and pounding and rubbing, sautéing and simmering, flaming and freezing and finally, sitting back and thinking: Yes, this might just work, @LitAgentDrury took charge of the evening’s wine choices (once he’d cleared routes to the wine rack under the stairs and the other wine rack under the piano and the other wine rack under the printer (on account of neither of us remembering where anything was).

By the time our guests arrived we were both exhausted, but thanks to the wonders of candlelight, the room looked lovely, the meal worked a treat and our guests played their part by being suitably entertaining. And when they left some time after midnight, we both started saying things like, ‘We really ought to do this more often . . .’

And then the next morning there was the washing up and drying up and putting away and relocating the piles so I could get to the manuscripts . . . you get the picture, I think . . .

So what has any of this got to do with publishing? Well, think about it: all our guests saw were relaxed hosts, a simple but delicious meal bubbling away and a welcoming room filled with interesting stuff to look at and wonderful books to browse. They didn’t see any of the two days of frantic tidying before and after, or the manic kitchen preparation, but had we not put all that effort in, it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as successful.

And that’s pretty much the same with books: you pick up a book and think (I sincerely hope!), Hmm, that looks interesting. I’ll give that a go. You might even admire the cover. But what you’re not going to do is think, I wonder how long that took to proofread? or, I wonder how many different artists they had to try to get that cover? or even, I wonder if the author fought back over every single change, or recognised that the copy-editor knew what they were  doing?

We are like swans, gliding serenely along on the surface whilst underneath our little feet are paddling sixteen to the dozen, desperately trying to keep us moving forward!

So when I say I’m dreadfully sorry that I can’t come out to play, don’t be miffed; be grateful! I’m rushing around like a mad thing trying to finish the editing so the copy-editor can do her thing, then the typesetter can do his thing, then the proofreader and author can do their things, then the typesetter can go back and redo their thing, so the printer can do his thing, so that in four months’ time you can hold a copy of (in this case Scarlet Tides) in your hand and say, ‘That looks great. I might just give that a go.’

Even I occasionally have to stop for a moment. For this weekend’s pause I ventured onto the Interweb for the BBC’s much-discussed grammar quiz at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22512744.

I will admit to a huge sigh of relief that I got it right, but Number 3 was a close-run thing. And I can’t help but wonder how many people these days know what a gerund or a misplaced modifier are – as far as I’m concerned, it’s more important you know how to use them properly (or avoid them) than what they’re actually called.

Note to self: maybe time to dig out my favourite grammar book for a quick refresher? Not Hart’s Rules or Strunk & White, though obviously they are invaluable. No, whenever I need a quick grammatical lift, I always reach for Karen Elizabeth Gordon’s The Transitive Vampire: a Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed. Admittedly it’s American grammar (you’ll have noticed the Oxford comma) – but even so, grammar is so much more palatable when applied to vampires, succubi and other denizens of the night and heavily illustrated with Gorey-esque line-drawings!

Enough digression; now I must crack on with my editing. The Inquisitors have just entered the fray and I have this sneaking suspicion this is not going to be a good thing for poor old Alaron. Mind you, about time he stopped whining and started taking control of his life. Watch this space!

 

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