William Donaldson's Week: Cold feet about cold turkey

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The Independent Online
AS I prophesied last week, my publisher, Geoffrey Strachan, is becoming increasingly impatient with my attempts to advertise work in progress by going off the rails myself.

You can't blame him, I suppose. Having landed himself with Root around Britain, he now fears that the book will be a clinker unless I manage, between now and Christmas, to involve myself in the mother of all public humiliations.

He summoned me to lunch on Wednesday and, in spite of having more important things on his mind, did remember to kick off as usual by comparing my stuff unfavourably with Terence Blacker's.

'His column was particularly sharp this week,' he said.

'He might be more impressed by your good opinion,' I said, 'had you not addressed him as Mr Blackler when seeking to commission him to write a book, and then, when he expressed some interest in your offer, not replying for five years.'

'These things take time,' said Strachan.

I had reacted rather tartly, I suppose, but I was disappointed that my efforts to make a monkey of myself - becoming addicted to cocaine, king-hitting old gentlemen in the Groucho Club - had not yet yielded greater dividends. I was aggrieved, too, that Strachan wasn't more pleased by Root into Europe's progress up the best-seller charts - and this in spite of its being categorised as 'fiction' in one and 'non-fiction' in the other.

'An interesting confusion,' I said. 'You may recall the attempts Professor O'Hear of Bradford University made in the New Review to correct David Lodge's mistaken definition of fiction.

' 'What,' asked O'Hear, 'is the status of Pope's Essay on Man, for instance, or a summing-up by Mr Justice Melford Stevenson, or the weather forecast, or a newspaper gossip column?' O'Hear argued . . .'

'Never mind that,' said Strachan. 'We've got a problem. You don't appear to be any more noticeably off the rails than usual, and it's important that you should be in and out of the rehabilitation clinic by Christmas at the latest.'

Time was when Strachan would have discussed O'Hear's absorbing argument for hours; now it seemed that I might as well be lunching with a common woman from a conglomerate: the sort who, before commissioning a book, first consults the sales director and the sales director's wife and, for all I know, the sales director's dog.

I was doing my best, after all. In spite of the fact that the Independent famously employs eight pop music correspondents under the age of 22, Lee Blake, the inspiration behind Red Hot + Dance, had insisted that I, rather than any of them, should cover its launch at Zatopek on Monday night. I told Strachan this.

'And what might Red Hot + Dance be?' he said.

I ask you. 'It's the follow-up album,' I said, 'to the hugely successful Red Hot and Blue. A slammin' compilation - on behalf of Aids charities - of existing stuff by George Michael, Madonna and so forth, put together by such renowned remix producers as Brian Eno, Sly and Robbie, and Todd Terry. Need I say more?'

'How was the launch?'

'I don't know. I was thrown out.'

'Too fat? Too old?'

'Certainly not. They thought I was a dealer. I was with my friend Dread the Head, the chef at the Marquee Restaurant.'

'He was thrown out, too?'

'No. They were delighted to see him. 'Ah, Mr Dread,' they said. 'Do come in.' The next morning I rang up my pal Ben Harrison, the red-hot PR in charge of the campaign, but they said he couldn't accept any calls until he'd had his elevenses.'

'Young people.'

'Precisely. He did ring back eventually to suggest that I fly to New York tomorrow, where Elizabeth Taylor is to host a star-studded slammin' launch at the Ritz. 'Salt'N'Peppa An Emotional Fish and Inspiral Carpets will be there,' he said. 'Three of my favourites,' I said.'

'I hope you'll go,' said Strachan.

I was in two minds, frankly. I'd rung up my friend Carly Simon the night before to ask her to attend it with me, but she'd said she wasn't leaving her apartment at the moment.

It seems that her former husband, James Taylor, having been treated for his heroin addiction by the dreaded Minnesota Model some years ago, was now on the 12 stages of recovery.

The final stage required him to apologise to all the people harmed by his addiction. 'I certainly want to be in when he gets to me,' Carly had said. 'I don't even leave the apartment to do the shopping.'

'I'm getting cold feet about the rehabilitation clinic,' I said. 'Apparently the cure kills the creative impulse.'

'I dare say it does,' said Strachan, 'but that would hardly matter in your case. Have you dumped Alison, your beloved, yet? As you know, that's an important part of going off the rails.

'After you're cured, you're supposed to emerge from a log cabin in the north with an older woman on your arm, preferably French.'

'I tried to,' I said, 'but at the moment I can't get an appointment. I rang her up yesterday, but the social secretary who now keeps her diary said that I'd have to wait in line. 'At the moment,' she said, 'Alison is flat to the boards dumping her fat American who markets computers for a living.' '

'This is going very badly,' said Strachan. 'I'd have less trouble with Terence Blackler.'

He wouldn't, as it happens. Blacker's so straight he won't even take a Do-Do to keep him awake when he's playing his guitar in Beauchamp Place.