Society of Authors Literary Awards and Summer Party

Author: Hugh Roberts

I attended the Society of Authors Literary Awards and Summer Party last Thursday at the RIBA in Portland Place, London. Billed as the writing awards ‘for authors by authors’, such a gathering was bound to be a success. The RIBA’s great gallery enhanced it of course, but a collection of more than 400 writers would make such an event go with a swing in an underground shelter.

I had previously concluded that joining such an august body was of little beyond networking value unless I am also prepared to contribute something. So last month, I accepted to be nominated for the Management Committee (MC). Unexpectedly, I was recently admitted for my 3 years before the mast, as from the January 2019. Attendance at a couple of meetings before that is encouraged, presumably so the Society can check you can still parse and précis, the literary equivalent of being able to hold a knife and fork perhaps? I imagine most business of the MC will also be more prosaic. The housekeeping behind our imminent HQ move from Chelsea to Bloomsbury will keep us occupied next year. Surprisingly for me, the SoA is very well endowed, owns its own properties and will provide a wonderful new venue for its business in Bedford Row near the British Museum, quite close to where it all started in 1884.  Thanks to those authors ‘of means’ who have made this possible – Alfred Lord Tennyson as our first President among the very first of them, but also among the living, from Alan Ayckbourn to Phillip Ziegler, via every other letter in the alphabet soup of currently celebrated authors.

After a suitable introduction from our current President Phillip Pullman, Chair of the MC David Donachie introduced the awards part of the evening as follows:-

“These awards are unique for being uncommercial, funded to the tune of nearly £100,000 by bequests from writers working in every form, judged by their present-day heirs and awarded to the best in each category. They celebrate, as well as promote, writers and writing and nothing else.”

Steven Fry had jetted in from Canada  as only the famous do, to present the awards, and gave an amusing speech abasing his own celebrity author status before his audience of ‘real writers’. You will rarely go wrong with flattery of this non cloying type, and we all loved it of course.

I duly networked as one must, rubbing shoulders with the President and chatting to Tracy Chevalier whose husband has just published his first book – on trees no less, but mainly made myself known to a few others on the MC who had time for a newbie. David will be a good chairman to work to; his welcome, prowess as an author (16 books and counting), love of 6 Nations rugby (blue not red, but you cannot have it all) but particularly his irreverent humour, are just what I can empathise with – the subject of course of the second of my own modest offerings as an author among the good and great – ‘Journeys with Open Eyes’.

Why do we attend such events? Authors after all are the most introverted of people spending long hours crafting their output to ensure the best of outcomes. Why do we suddenly emerge from virtual solitude to socialise, see and be seen? Well we can all agree that very few make much of a living from authorship and those that do pretty much keep quiet about it. So I can only imagine that our emergence blinking into the light is a search for affirmation; that we are not alone, there are others too with the same lonely self-inflicted task and really, we can be quite entertaining for each other and ourselves when we  want. That is certainly worth living for and perhaps more so than success or failure – those two imposters that Kipling nailed long ago.

If you’re already published, apply to join us in the SoA. I am looking forward to our next get together.

Steven Fry in full eloquent flow; I should take notice of the award he is announcing for next year. There may be hope yet.

A rare sight: authors listening with rapt attention to someone else. That is David Donachie Chair of SoA’s Management Committee in the white jacket next to Phillip Pullman our President.

Some of this year’s award winners, rightly basking in the glow of mutual affirmation.

A few more of us intrigued to watch the photographer defying Health and Safety on the fire escape high above the terrace. He survived.