April 1982


It is 1982. April. I am running. Excitedly, crazily, happily, running down Floral Street, London WC2, in the mid-part evening sunshine.

I am a writer. My name appears on no jacket. (How I fancy my name where McEwan’s sits on the cover of The Comfort of Strangers). My byline appears on no feature, story nor comment piece. (How I fancy my name where Jim’s sits on his pieces in the Covent Garden free newspaper).

But I am a writer. I have leapt from the doorway of no 27 – Tony and Guy now but London’s most fashionable advertising agency then – and my invitation to employment there as a writer is secure. For the only time in my life in which I am not wearing football kit, I leap in the air in jubilation. A writer. In Covent Garden. April, 1982.

I was a writer already, if truth be told.

Barely a dozen weeks earlier I had trodden the pavement stretch between Baker Street station and the London home of Messrs Foote, Cone and Belding, and emerged from an encounter with a man named Andrew and a likeable fellow named Tim to find that, if I could envisage sharing a box with Tim (and he had presented no objections), then I could be a writer there.

I could write radio commercials week by week for Newsweek magazine, offer up the odd topical press advertisement, and enjoy the indulgence and largesse afforded to a writer in an ad agency. Then.

I quickly became besotted by Helen, a pretty, quiet girl with red hair, who occupied the junior seat in the small office signed ‘Copy Typing’. As writers, we did not type. We wrote in scribbled long hand before delivering our drafts to Helen and her elders for them to be transferred without error to headed copysheets.

I was ignored by Helen. Tim and I played Subbuteo much of the day on a cloth pitch secured with masking tape to the top of two plan chests. Writing. Writing. Writing.

Actually, I had been a writer before this, too. (You’re beginning to get the idea.) I had been a writer since five days after I’d graduated. This earliest sojourn had been at Hall Advertising, Drumsheugh Gardens, Edinburgh EH3, and here too they had indulged me with the longed for badge of office.

How I loved the cool, damp warm-grey sets and slabs of the New Town. How I adored the furnishings of Edinburgh; its alleys, steps and tenements rich in narrative, and its pubs rammed with good men – characters from some other writer’s novels.

I bought all of Kennaway here, each the moment it reappeared in fine, hardback editions from the newly established Mainstream.

It is 1989. June. London SW1, in the failing sunshine of late evening.

I am a writer. But you know that. I am a very drunken writer, downing champagne in a lavish marquee in the railinged garden in the centre of St James’s Square. It is five years since PC Fletcher met her death on the pavement nearby. There are wilting flowers. And champagne. There is a party. There are many writers. But now I am a writer with some slight elevation in this lowest of fields.

It is a right old night. None of we writers writes a thing. For sure. But bosses and their secretaries, account directors and their account executives, art directors and gamine producers are joyfully developing plot on every square foot of dusty canvas. Later in the evening, the scene will shift to the agency’s conjoining buildings on the corner of the Square and Charles II Street, and new twists will emerge: new stories be conceived.

Before I moved here, to St James’s Square (which minded me on all days of Bustopher Jones above all else), I had been a writer hovered above the railway as it rolled, weary, into Paddington.

I plied my trade in Bishop’s Bridge Road, W2 for five whole years, the bear across the road, beloved of my childhood, a daily reminder of my first and deepest longing to be a writer.

Paddington. The eighties. No glass. No reflections. Brick. And grime. I wrote advertising for The Guardian. And I came and went at will from its offices on Farringdon Road, meeting with smart marketing men and, on occasion, with giants: with Preston and later Rusbridger, each kind enough to humour a writer from a different planet.

I have been a writer at many addresses. Many nights.

Copy typists grew extinct. As I unboxed my Amstrad 9512, I wondered what had become of Helen.

So many words written. How many ads? How many scripts? And later… later… how very many pages of how very many websites?

This is a charmed life, on the periphery of writing.

But sometimes again it is 1982. April. And I am running down Floral Street, London WC2, in the mid-part evening sunshine.