Outside the recent London Book Awards, I bumped into my friend, the phenomenally successful children’s book and television writer Anthony Horowitz (The Alex Rider series of books, Midsomer Murders, Foyles War…) who is married to the equally phenomenally successful, multiple award-winning television producer, Jill Green (Foyles War among many others). (Some years back we worked together when she made the four-hour miniseries of my novel Alchemist – which got the highest ever television ratings on Channel Five (all three of their viewers watched it, probably because BBC and ITV were blacked out by strikers, all the other Sky channel signals were down, and the police had issued a message urging everyone to stay indoors because of a chemical gas cloud hovering over the UK)
Anthony and I walked the walk through the screaming press monkeys, stopping several times to pose for photos, Anthony modestly saying it was me they really wanted the photos of, and I, nice compliment though it was, sensed it was really him they were after and would I get out of the ****g way…
Peter James and Anthony Horowitz. Photo © Susan Greenhill
Later that evening, something happened to remind me of how difficult it can be for husband-and-wife business relationships to maintain harmony. I should know, my parents shared a partners desk in their office for 40 years – and although they loved each other very much, they found it so hard to switch off talking business – it would even come up at Sunday lunch – that they ended up taking a lot of separate holidays together. The event in question at the London Book Awards – the Nibbies, as they are known – was Anthony Horowitz winning the award for Children’s Writer Of The Year. When I went over to his table to congratulate him afterwards, he was really looking quite upset, for someone at the peak of his game, who had just won one of the highest awards possible. “I rang Jill to tell her the news,” he said, miffed. “All she said was, ‘Terrific. Don’t wake me up when you get home.'”
The several million television viewers who tuned in on Channel Four to watch the star-spangled event, hosted by Richard and Judy at the Grosvenor Park Hotel saw only the great speeches and the glitz. Although it was fun to be there, and collide – and exchange apologies with – a frazzled looking JK Rowling towards the end of the evening, what the viewers did not see was us, 1,800 or so dinner guests patiently sitting at our tables, not allowed to move, not allowed to eat anything, bar a handful of peanuts, from 7pm until 10.15pm, to allow the production and retakes to go smoothly.
But, as they say, that’s showbiz. And a very small price to pay for seeing the world I love, the world of books – and ones that people actually want to read, popular books, rather than the dreary-but-maybe-worthy elitist Booker dross, finally given prominence on British television. Thanks so much to the hard pioneering work of Fred Newman, who started it all, and Tony Mulliken and the Midas team who promoted it into the public consciousness.