Class conscious

When my novel Bilton (just published in paperback by Faber and Faber) first came out, I earned a rare respite from the permanent state of social neurosis that is my life, for the writer of fiction is allowed to transcend class.

I was booked to speak at a number of literary events, some of which were not subsequently cancelled due to lack of interest. At these I was listened to respectfully by men in bow ties and ladies in expensive frocks with spectacles dangling on delicate chains around their necks. Of course, they may well have been looking at me and reflecting: "His socks aren't cotton, they're only cotton-rich", and the thought may have filtered through their minds that I was essentially a spotty little northern oik. But there was my book, propped up on the table next to me, bathing me in the lustre of art and hypnotising these genteel people into thinking I was more than I appeared.

I recall that, at one literary event, I was being led towards the stage down a corridor by the master of ceremonies (himself a very well-established personage), when we encountered, coming towards us, an elderly woman hobbling on crutches. "Out of the way, please!", boomed the master of ceremonies, "there's an author coming through!"

The publication of my book also had a dramatic effect on my status at the pukka Literary Society located near my house. I went from being reprimanded for eating sausage rolls in the reading room to having society officials hold doors open for me, while muttering to each other: "That's Andrew Martin . . . the novelist."

Unfortunately my wife is not similarly entranced. She once viciously calculated that, while working on my novel, I earned less, pro rata, than our 19-year-old nanny.

But, on the other hand, I do possess a green card from a literary festival I attended which reads "Andrew Martin, Author". It enabled me to get free tea, and admission to any talk or reading I cared to attend. Telling myself that it was too big to fit in my pocket uncrumpled, I carried it around in my hand and everyone who saw it smiled at me. The card is rather dog-eared now, but I still take it out occasionally. Just to look at it, you know.

This article first appeared in the 24 May 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Luvvies, stop moaning