My lords, ladies and gentlemen: good afternoon, and welcome to the Criterion Restaurant for the second Spear’s Book Awards.
My lords, ladies and gentlemen: good afternoon, and welcome to the Criterion Restaurant for the second Spear’s Book Awards, in association with Citi Private Bank.
My name is William Cash and I am the editor of Spear’s, a magazine that has always strived be sharp, colourful – and to stand apart.
And our inaugural Book Awards last year were certainly that after our literary editor Christopher Silvester decided to read out all the juiciest, uncensored bits from the judges' report cards, revealing in brutally candid detail why the distinguished authors and publishers we had invited along for lunch had failed to win for their respective category.
I will never forget the dark look on Vince Cable’s face – he was sitting in the table right in front of me – after Christopher revealed that one judge had described his bestselling book, The Storm: The World Economic Crisis and What It Means, as having a ‘too lightweight an understanding of economic history’. Well, it’s good to know he’s now helping to run the country’s finances.
You’ll all be glad to know that I’ve had a word with Christopher and he has promised to be more diplomatic this year. Thank God we were at least well provided for by our wine sponsor last year which – considering the dismal state of Britain’s economy last year, as well as that of author’s advances in the publishing world – was the all too appropriately named Rickety Bridge vineyard from South Africa. year I am delighted that our sponsorship has moved from Rickety Bridge to Laurent Perrier champagne with whom Spear’s are proud to be associated.
The Spear’s judges may have been severe last year but they were also prescient. We have form. In October, four months after we awarded Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel our Best Novel award, she went on to win the £50,000 Booker prize. Likewise, four months after we chose Lords of Finance, Liaquat Ahamed’s brilliant account of the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression, for Best Financial History we opened up the FT to find the eminent judges of the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book were in complete agreement with us.
So I now like to think of our relaxed awards lunch today as the Golden Globes of the literary world: the precursor to the potential winners of the big glittering prizes that are announced later in the year. I know there are some gamblers out there in the audience so please feel free to use your mobiles during lunch to call your bookies to get the best ante post odds on the winner of this year’s Booker.
What a wonderful and fitting location this is and I am truly delighted that we are hosting this year’s awards at such an iconic London restaurant which has now been so superbly refurbished by its new owners.
It’s been an eventful year for Spear’s. It’s probably just as well that we didn’t think of hosting our book awards lunch last year in the Spear’s offices as all hundred of you would all have been crammed into my flat in West London where me and my loyal and talented staff operated from whilst trying to find new office space following last year’s management buyout of Spear’s.
Earlier this year we moved into the former offices of Der Spiegel and we are now just across the street from where Spear’s started out from back in 2005 – above a greasy kebab shop on Notting Hill Gate which also doubled up as the staff canteen.
Spear’s has moved on a long way since then and I am sure you will enjoy the delicious lunch – no kebabs I promise – that has been prepared by the Criterion’s award winning new head chef Matthew Foxon.
The Criterion has a notable literary history. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle set the first meeting in train between Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson in this very room, whilst Sir Winston Churchill, Graham Greene, G.K Chesterton, Bertrand Russell and H.G. Wells were all regulars reflecting the cultural and intellectual mix that always been a mark of the Criterion.
And it is precisely this eclectic mix that the Spear’s Book Awards wishes to celebrate today. Our readers are a successful and well travelled lot. They are also the sort who don’t weigh their luggage and can afford to fly with more than one book in their holiday suitcase.
I am proud of the Spear’s Book Awards because they are the only literary awards that reflect the range of interests of a magazine’s readers, including finance, family history, social history, biography and fiction, along with the best illustrated books that you will find exhibited – and we hope also read – on the world’s best coffee tables, from Mayfair to Monaco.
What we have in mind when we judge is the Spear’s reader – a sophisticated person, with an interest in literature, the arts, finance, and society. In both The Way We Live Now and The Way We Lived Then. A person who will be as intrigued to read The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham as a biography of Titian or Alan Clark. With our Spear’s reader in mind, we have picked what we believe are the best books of the year.
Once the exhaustive process of shortlisting all the book has taken place, we then get the true pleasure of reading all these wonderful books, discovering unknown worlds, finding bright new talents and learning new things. As a judge myself of the fiction category, that includes learning at least half a dozen new ways that Martin Amis has devised to describe the sexual act.
We – the Spear’s staff – have also picked some Spear’s special award-winners, who will be announced during the ceremony. We won’t say when just to add a bit of spice to the proceedings. These awards are for Best First Book, Best Produced Book and Outstanding Literary Achievement for a Body or Work.
Before I finish, I’d like to thank our Principal Sponsor, Citi Private Bank, and especially David Poole, managing director of Citi Private Bank in the UK, for supporting these Book Awards at a time when – with marketing budgets and advances being slashed – winning a book prize can make a real difference to book sales and a writer’s career.
The Criterion, for hosting the Book Awards and providing what I’m sure will be an excellent lunch; Anoushka Menzies at Bacchus for organizing everything and Prometheus Bound, for our beautifully bound prizes.
Thank you, and enjoy the lunch.