NICK WEBB – MEMORIAL PARTY
Fans of the late great Nick Webb, whose obituary I wrote after he died last April, gathered on Saturday last (27 April) for the Unveiling of the Bench. It may be found on the promenade at Walmer pretty much in line with the tablet commemorating the landing of Julius Caesar, which seems appropriate in some hard to define way. Much fizz was drunk and food eaten, and a photo was taken of the whole crew looking merry and dishevelled as they gathered round the Bench in sunshine and a cold breeze.
Perhaps there’s something about Deal that causes folk in the literary world to live there or at least have a weekend retreat. I’ve never had opportunity to chat with so many journalists, authors and agents in thirty-odd years in the business, and I confess to feeling a fraud: not so much an inhabitant of this world as an illegal immigrant whose Romanian accent and shifty manner the others were too polite to remark on. One of the mourners-cum-partygoers was Frances Fyfield, a writer with a more considerable reputation than Yours Truly. Many years ago she gave a very nice review of the first novel of the three I did with Nick, and I’ve been trading on her good natured comments ever since though we’d never previously met. Now at last I had a chance to say thank you, and I’m repeating it now so that, were she to stumble across this blog, she will know my thanks were sincere and not just a conversational device in a tricky social situation.
This brings me back to Nick. We first met as acquaintances through a common friend back in 1981 but remained for years only vaguely aware of each other until 1996 when Nick took up SCHERZO and followed with two other books before Simon & Schuster done him in. His intervention came at a tricky moment in the development of my writing and allowed me to write what I think of as my best work. I’m deeply indebted to the faith he showed in me. Oddly, however, our friendship in the fuller sense dates only from 2003 when my then agent, the much loved James Hale, died and at his memorial service Nick said that we should make an effort to keep in touch even though he was by then out of the business. The result was that our friendship wasn’t coloured by a parallel professional relationship and could be enjoyed just for itself. I’m glad of that because I have an aversion to regarding people as instruments to be manipulated, though sometimes it’s unavoidable. Nick was simply a loveable guy, as the memorial party and the Bench paid for by his admirers prove.
In one of my lectures, I make reference to the last time I saw Nick, which was in 2011 at the launch party for my novel THE ENGLISH LADY MURDERERS’ SOCIETY. It was a cheerful occasion, but, of course, neither of us knew we would never meet again, and I mention it because it underlines the importance of engaging in life mindfully and of making sure that the people one loves are at all times aware that one loves them. For much the same reason I think it important to recognise and express the gratitude one feels for the undeserved kindness received from others. Conscious awareness of the precariousness of such things (a friend may die; a favour may not be granted) makes one enjoy them more intensely.
So this blog is partly about gratitude. To Nick for his friendship and kindness. To Frances Fyfield for a review she has probably forgotten but which meant a lot to me. And to John Stinton, who otherwise has nothing at all to do with this blog, but he is an old pal and inspiringly good-natured, and so it seems right to chuck in a word of thanks to remind myself of my good fortune in knowing him.