Will the downturn of the economy mean an end to books parties? This is a famously sociable industry – we do bashes like bankers do bonuses. Over the years, I have partied on houseboats and Thames cruisers, on the platform of a disused Underground station, high in the air on Tower Bridge, in churches, in embassies, a medical museum and the reptile house of London Zoo. (Eeek.) However, the recent Orion authors party at the Victoria and Albert Museum, though glorious, felt a bit like the end of the Roman Empire, the glamorous, decadent and doomed all sipping their last glass of champagne.
Fortunately, a party doesn't have to be opulent to be fun. Two recent London launches featured sweeties rather than champers; Love Hearts and Refresher chews at Richard Milward's do at the Amuti Gallery in Woburn Walk, Blackjacks, Fruit Salads and fizzy flying saucers at the Charing Cross Road launch of Christopher Fowler's memoir Paperboy (Doubleday). The very young Milward read from his droll new novel Ten Storey Love Song (Faber) with his head encased in a cardboard box painted to resemble a block of flats, his mouth and nose emerging cutely from the door flap. He looks as though he can barely remember the Eighties; Fowler in contrast took us back to the Fifties and Sixties. He read out his list of "Childhood things I hated": biscuit barrels in the shape of thatched-roof cottages, Cilla Black's high notes and "10.30pm – the time Britain closed down every night". The "Childhood things I loved" were equally grisly: Heinz Kidney Soup, being allowed to carry a knife, glue and matches, and the exchange: "Ten Senior Service, please." "Certainly, young sir."
How to begin to do justice to Fowler's jaunty yet harrowing story of growing up with Greenwich's answer to the Addams family, in a semi-derelict house filled with spare motorcycle parts and throbbing with unspoken emotions? Later, the family moves to another house of horror in Abbey Wood, and dad gets even weirder and more reclusive: kind of like Fred West but without the home-made porn and murder. Salvation for young Chris came via the local library, the comics shop and the cinema. This is The Boy That Books Built wearing National Health spectacles and sucking on a sweet cigarette. When times get tough, we need more books, not fewer. Anyone for a bowl of Heinz Kidney Soup?