Report by Venetia Welby
Last Thursday we – a raucous crowd of Salt authors – descended upon London’s most seductive members’ club to raise money for the Red Cross Ukraine Appeal. Such was the power of our poetic revelry that an extraordinary sum of over £10k was manifested. Many of the generous donors hoped to win an assortment of raffle prizes, including art, vintage clobber, a year’s membership of Vout-O-Reenee’s – and a veritable library of signed, limited edition books. For those unlucky enough not to win any of these Burley Fisher, winner for a second consecutive year of London’s Best Bookshop, created a Salty shrine of performers’ books for sale. For those of you who couldn’t make it at all – and some of you had intended to, but been struck down by a new wave of plague – here’s what went down:
We lounged louchely about the surreal furniture of the bar while our super host David Collard guided proceedings with wit and warmth.
David Collard. Photo: Sophie Parkin
Nicholas Royle kicked things off, delighting the audience with a reading from White Spines, his memoir about collecting Picador books, plus a whole lot of hilarious ad-libbing. I read a passage from Dreamtime about my dubious heroine Sol coming to, finding herself stoned in a Tokyo love hotel. Poet Peter Daniels read beautifully from his third collection My Tin Watermelon and from earlier publications, to a warm response and then the audience went very quiet, hypnotised by the opening pages of Samuel Fisher’s The Chameleon about a book called John, a book which can be any book.
Samuel Fisher. Photo: Venetia Welby
A lengthy interval to absorb many more perfect cocktails, the better to lounge louchely – a state D.J. Taylor had perfected by the much later start of the second half, when he read from his new collection Stewkey Blues: Stories in a Norfolk accent.
D.J. Taylor. Photo: Nicholas Royle
Then David Collard spoke movingly about the late Salt-published poet Kenneth Allott, and the poignant optimism of poets in 1936, not knowing what lay ahead. Bibi Berki gripped, reading the intriguing opening of her novel The Watch, in which an Oxford student is asked to step in to guard a suicidal girl through the night. Finally, we were unprepared for the violent reactions we’d have in response to Julian Stannard’s poem 'Eau Sauvage' from his new collection Heat Wave, which had the whole room howling and falling about in mass hysteria.
I get an unexpected
text from Lord Lucan:
Will you read my poems?
Yes, Lord Lucan, I will.
Julian Stannard. Photo: Sophie Parkin
When we had recovered, which took some doing and more cocktails, Vouts’ glamorous hostess and artist Sophie Parkin drew the raffle – and the party began in earnest. We were all delighted to see Salt’s founder and poet Chris Emery there to approve the action, newly returned to the Salty fold after a three-year hiatus. And the next morning, we all wanted to do it again.
Enormous thanks to those who came, who read, who donated raffle prizes and bought tickets, to Sophie of Vouts, Burley Fisher and to our generous donors – in particular, heroes Bill and Charlotte Bannister-Parker.
Sophie Parkin. Photo: Nicholas Royle
Venetia Welby is a writer and journalist who has lived and worked on four continents. Her debut novel Mother of Darkness was published by Quartet in 2017 and her essays and short fiction have appeared in The London Magazine, Review 31 and anthologies Garden Among Fires and Trauma, among others. She lives in London with her husband, son and Bengal cat. Find out more at www.venetiawelby.com or follow Venetia on Twitter @venwelby or Instagram @vvwelby for updates.