At the time, I thought it was a shame that the spy novel was being left out in the cold and only non-fiction books about spying were to be considered for the £3,000 prize. I didn’t think there’d be enough of them, for one thing.
Well, every decade or so, I have to admit I’ve got something wrong. The St Ermin’s Hotel Intelligence Book of the Year has a longer longlist than any other literary award I’ve ever heard of – a full 32 titles. The range is impressive, too – all the way from John Cooper’s The Queen’s Agent about Elizabeth I’s spymaster Francis Walsingham, to David Wise’s Tiger Trap, about America’s attempts to root out China’s spies.
The prize is named after the St Ermin’s Hotel, hard by St James’s Park Tube station in London. The venue will host the award on 2 May. It’s the ideal venue, with deeper spook roots than practically anywhere else: in 1936 MI6’s Section D moved in and took over a whole floor, while the traitors Philby and Maclean were regular habitués of its ground-floor Caxton Bar.
Deadlines hold no terror for Andrew O’Hagan, which is a good job as he and the National Theatre of Scotland have only just over three weeks to pull together Enquirer, their investigation into the crisis in newspaper journalism which opens for a promenade performance at the Hub, on Glasgow’s Pacific Quay, on 26 April.
The project is based on interviews with assorted hacks, editors and others in the industry by Paul Flynn, Deborah Orr and Ruth Wishart, which O’Hagan, Vicky Featherstone and John Tiffany will then edit into a script.
At his recent event at Glasgow’s Aye Write! book festival, O’Hagan pointed out that for all the revelations of the Leveson Inquiry, there was still the need for a play to examine the issues. “It certainly won’t pull any punches,” he promised.
Published next week, Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell (Constable, £7.99). Here are just a couple of them:
Customer: ‘Hi. Do you have any books by Jane Eyre?’
Customer: Hi. I just wanted to ask: ‘Did Anne Frank ever write a sequel?’