Friday, September 30, 2005

London diary : Friday 23 September 2005

AMBA lunch at Royal Air Force Club, Piccadilly

AMBA – the Association of Mills & Boon Authors – was the brainchild of one of the imprint's most brilliant, prolific and innovative writers, the late Charlotte Lamb who also wrote mainstream novels under her real name, Sheila Holland.

As I did, Sheila started her career under the aegis of John and Alan Boon who treated their authors – far fewer in those days than now – like queens.

My picture of Alan Boon, who was Editorial Director, at his window table at the Ritz comes from the photo album of American author Leigh Michaels. It was taken by her husband, Michael W Lemberger, and shows [from left to right] the late Jacqui Bianchi, a legendary editor, Alan Boon and Leigh listening to the now-retired Horst Bausch.

In 1971, for reasons explained here, John and Alan sold the previously family-owned firm to their Canadian associate, Harlequin Enterprises. A few years later Harlequin was taken over by the Torstar Corporation, publisher of Canada's largest metropolitan daily newspaper The Toronto Star.

Sheila Holland foresaw that writing for a global corporation might be significantly different from writing for the Boon brothers who epitomised the "publishing is an occupation for gentlemen" era. She felt that, by getting together, the authors could play a stronger hand than was possible individually.

In fact it was the internet and email, rather than AMBA, which put the writers in close touch with each other. Although movers and shakers from Harlequin's Toronto and New York offices do sometimes fly over for AMBA functions, these events are predominantly social.

However, at last Thursday's AMBA luncheon at the Royal Air Force Club, I was strongly reminded of the charming and cosmopolitan Boons when, after we had eaten the main course, the new UK Managing Director, Guy Hallowes, left the table where he had started lunch and sat down on my left.

Guy grew up in South Africa but later decided to move to Australia and has also spent time in North America. Like the Boons, he has a strong sense of humour. Thanks to my newspaper training, I rarely if ever have problems making friends withstrangers. But even a shy young writer, new to the HM&B list, would have responded to his easy manner.

Harlequin Mills & Boon party at Army & Navy Club, Pall Mall

The evening's festivities were held at another elegant club.
On 20th June 1837 Queen Victoria acceded to the Throne, the Electric Telegraph was patented and in August, The Army & Navy Club was founded. The first President, Lt General Sir Edward Barnes, had fought at the Battle of Waterloo, storming and recovering Quatre Bras at the head of the 92nd Regiment. In 1838 he was succeeded by a distinguished sailor, Admiral Sir Philip Durham who had commanded HMS Defiance at the Battle of Trafalgar, boarding and capturing the French ‘Aigle’.
The Club was formed to meet the needs of the many army officers who were waiting to join the other Service Clubs, which were already full. Royal Navy and Royal Marines officers were included at the behest of the Duke of Wellington, who refused to become Patron or a member unless they were offered membership. The Club opened at No 1 King Street with a joining fee of 15 guineas and a subscription of 5 guineas. The rules included ‘no gambling or smoking’.

From 5.30 to 7.30 p.m. the champagne flowed, trays of tempting nibbles were offered by attentive staff – including a tall, good-looking, blond Russian who told me he was working his way round the world – and authors and editors circulated.

Retrieving my coat from the Ladies, I met and chatted to Guy Hallowes' artist wife, Anne, who is busy preparing for an exhibition in Sydney and, later, had a brief meeting with their son, a musician.

Eileen Ramsay having returned to Scotland, there was no one at the club to talk to so I spent the rest of the evening reading the day's newspapers and looking forward to tomorrow's flight home.

Big city life is fun occasionally, but it's not my natural milieu and I was missing the person who had telephoned every morning at 7.30 a.m. and who would be waiting at the airport on Saturday afternoon.

Saturday 24 September 2005

I'm posting this today [30 September] because it's my last day with my summer Service Provider and tomorrow I shall be offline for at least a week and possibly longer.

Yesterday my bookseller rang to tell me that Grumpy Old Bookman : The Book of the Famous Blog by Michael Allen was awaiting collection. It's one of several books I shall read in the evenings at our night stops on the long journey south.

The chances are that my next blog won't be until Sunday 16 October. Meanwhile, don't miss the inspiring story, told by Elizabeth Grice in the UK Daily Telegraph, of what happened to Gill Hicks on the London Underground on 7 July and how she survived terrible injuries.

If this indomitable Australian fulfils her present intention to write a book about her experience, I believe it will have huge sales.

Au revoir…and good reading!


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