Guests enjoyed balmy weather and enchanting surroundings, hidden away from the shops and restaurants of Kensington Church Street, at PEN’s bustling Summer Party, held at PEN member Tom Stacey’s house. Revelers tucked into an excellent offering of Lebanese culinary delights and Pimms and wine while enjoying the musical offerings of jazz band, the Crouch End All Stars.
This year’s Summer Party was also the setting for the presentation of the 25th J.R. Ackerley Prize for Autobiography, presented from aloft by Alastair Niven and Francis King on a flower-adorned balcony. Alastair started proceedings by thanking Tom Stacey for enabling PEN to hold its party in such a delightful setting and the band for their terrific musical accompaniment.
Alastair handed over to the Chair of the prize Francis King, who said he felt like a South American President addressing the crowd below! Francis noted that the prize, now in its 25th year, had been founded by Joe Ackerley’s sister Nancy West and announced that he would be handing over his Chairmanship to current judge Peter Parker, who had written a wonderful biography of Isherwood, a friend of Ackerley. Pamela Petrie, who had administered the prize for many years, had now retired and Francis said he and the other trustees were extremely grateful for her hard work.
Moving on to briefly discuss each short-listed book, Francis began with Neil Cross’s Heartland (Scribner) and Anna Swan’s Statues Without Shadows (Sceptre), saying “what is remarkable about each is, despite all the childhood suffering endured by the authors, the tone in each book is never the usual one of blame or self-pity, and that is why we singled out these two books.”
Francis said Richard Mabey’s Nature Cure (Chatto) was “an account of how his observations of the natural world helped to keep him afloat during a nervous breakdown.” Whilst Alan Bennett’s “generously bulging portmanteau Untold Stories seemed to be the most entertaining.”
Referring to Dear Austen (Penguin) by Nina Bawden Francis said, “a veteran writer, like myself, writes of the horrific railway accident in which her husband most sadly lost his life. She writes about it with great passion and grace.” Xandra Bingley’s Bertie, May & Mrs Fish (Harper Perrenial) had proved a “delightful evocation of wartime childhood.”
In conclusion, Francis said he and the other judges had debated over all the books for a long time but had eventually decided that the winner must be Alan Bennett for Untold Stories, saying “it’s a terrific read and is a book I think everyone will enjoy, whatever their tastes in literature.”
Francis handed over the awarding of the cheque to Alastair Niven, who thought it most appropriate that the author of the History Boys be rewarded by means of a paper dart. Alastair proceeded to launch Alan Bennett’s cheque across the garden and over the excitement of guests searching for the prize amongst the foliage the winning author said a few words:
“I am very honoured to receive the award, particularly as it comes from fellow practitioners and from such a distinguished organization. While not wishing to mention other literary awards, I must say that the British Book Awards are somewhat a nylon, if not crinoline, whereas this award is undoubtedly tweed.
I was, when Ackerley died, just starting my literary career. I wonder, if he had been able to write as freely about his life as one can now, whether he would have written the books he did […] Maybe his sister had that in the back of her mind when she set up the prize. Anyway, I am very very grateful. Thank you very much indeed.”
We would like to thank Tom Stacey very much for his kind hospitality, the Crouch End All Stars for providing energetic and glorious music to our ears and to our charming waiters Hari Kunzru, Rowan Pelling and her delightful helpers for their assistance.
Report by Alice O’Hanlon, Photographs by Andrea Pisac
The Guardian’s Clemency Burton-Hill wrote about the party for Culture Vulture. Click here to read the article.
Georgia de Chamberet wrote about the party for Words Without Borders. Click here to read her article.
Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/events/reportsonrecentevents/summerparty2006/