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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Meeting Julian Barnes - Metroland author - Top London & Tube Writer

Last night I met one of my favourite authors
Julian Barnes at reading and signing event at the RSA. Julian Barnes' first novel, Metroland, won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1981 & is in my opinion essential reading for any Tube fan. It's a coming of age novel about two schoolboys growing up and travelling on the Metropolitan Line & their disgust for Metroland.

Reading Julian Barnes on the Tube

But I wasn't there for that. I love a lot of Julian Barnes' other novels. Although he's an out of towner by birth, he's lived in London for ages and writes about a London that's familiar to everyone. He crosses over ages soooo well.

The average age of the audience may have been 40 - that's because there were load of people in their twenties and loads in their sixties too. I'd never seen such a mix of ages at a book reading before.

There were so many resonances and things happening tonight that made it brill for me, so indulge me a bit while I gush or not.

I was late as usual and had to enter quietly, I had to shuffle past one guy to sit in a space and hot & bothered tried to take of my coat. A very sweet guy next to me kindly helped me with my coat. Julian Barnes read from his latest book "Nothing to be Frightened of" which is about death, fear of death & dying (a surprisingly uplifting read). His voice had that warm cosy lilting quality of being on a comfy train ride. I closed my eyes a couple of times, almost nodding off & was pleased to note that the nice guy next to me was doing the same.

Cover of Nothing to be Frightened of by Julian Barnes

After an interview with the host, it was audience Q & A time. The second questioner asked the most pretentious and long winded question about Hamlet, Socrates, death. The guy next to me whispered "For f**k's sake", which is exactly what I was thinking.

When the questioner eventually stopped Julian Barnes said something like "I'm sorry but I don't understand a word of what you've just asked". We loved Julian Barnes even more at that point. "Have you been reading my brother's books?" he asked (his brother is an eccentric philosopher who lives in France and wears 18th century clothing). "You should and you'll find your answer in them". What a great way to move onto the next question.

In the interviews and Q & A's we learnt that Barnes is an old school author who types on an electric typewriter & then literally cuts and pastes. "I use Pritt stick glue", he said. Yet he's no technophobe although calls himself "lo tech". He's in contact with his brother far more now by email than when they if they had both been living in the same country. Far from cause the death of relationships, email has helped bring life to his relationship with his brother.

When asked about his "last meal" before dying, he said he'd seen a website which lists prisoners on death row's last meals. "When you're about to die suddenly cholesterol doesn't seem so bad" he said.

Nothing to be Frightened of now has pride of place on my shelf

I HAD to buy a copy of Nothing to be Frightened of and get it signed. I was too disorganised to remember to bring all the other Barnes books that I already owned. The nice guys & gals at the RSA moved down the long queue with post-it notes collecting names you wanted your book to be dedicated to.

I thought about mine. I didn't want Annie Mole (cos it's a pen name) didn't want my real name either as I wanted something more memorable. My turn came and Julian (see how he's Julian now) looked at my "name" & then up at me.

"Our Lady of the Tube?" he said
"Yeah", I replied.
"Why's that?"
I gushed about Metroland and said it was my favourite Tube book, but also told him that I wrote a blog about the London Underground.
"Really?" he nodded. "Ah interesting"
"And I'm going to blog about meeting you." I gushed.
"You are?" he said quizzically, thinking "OHMIGOD mad stalking fan girl". (I've since discovered Julian has his own blog too and also uses Blogger as a host.)
"Can I shake your hand, it's an honour to meet you?"
"And you" he said with even further bemusement. And I moved on.

So here it is in all its glory:

Julian Barnes signed Book - To Our Lady of The Tube

Poor Julian Barnes had Nothing to be Frightened of but Annie Mole!

I happily read parts of the book on the way home and came across a great piece about the Tube (see you've been rewarded for getting this far - thanks)

Tube piece from Nothing to be Frightened of

Julian Barnes I salute you and thanks for a great evening.

Just a reminder that this is the last day to enter the quiz on Breakfast on Pluto, another fab book (and now film) which features the London Underground heavily. It's really not that difficult, specially now I've added more clues. Have fun!


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