Over the course of my blogging career I've attended several book launches. These can be wildly varied affairs. Usually they are held in a book shop and the author makes a small speech or does a short reading and then those present (typically a mix of journalists, book sellers, publishing staff and the author's family and friends) enjoy a glass of wine and a chat.
Sometimes they are grander affairs and the publisher puts some time and money into making a memorable splash — the event might be held in a special venue and there will usually be a lot more people in attendance, including famous guests, and there will be plenty of food and drink on offer.
Last night I attended one of the more interesting — indeed, probably the most interesting — book launches I've ever attended since I've started getting invited to these things. Let me take you with me...
First, we have to ventured to the back streets of Southwark, in South London, just a short walk from London Bridge tube station. It's cold, dark and wintry, but now that we've found the address, it's time to push open the red door... and struggle up the tiny spiral staircase (36 steps! Count them!)
We then emerge into what turns out to be a tiny bookshop crammed with all kinds of books and souvenirs, many of them with a medicinal or anatomical theme. There are, for instance, a lot of skulls.
But we haven't quite reached the venue yet. There's another (tiny) staircase to encounter (you don't suffer from vertigo or claustrophobia, do you?)
Ah, we are here now. It appears to be a big barn-like space at the top of the building, with lots of interesting objects on display. Alas, there's no time to look at them now. We are being ushered into another room, via a tiny little passageway...
And here we are! Can you guess what this room is? It's the Old Operating Theatre, the oldest in Britain, and there's a trio of musicians, known as The Bookshop Band, playing classical music while we file in and take our places.
The editor and author now make their grand entrance — and Jack Wolf (the author) stands at the head of the operating table and reads from his yet-to-be-published first novel, which is set in 18th century London and tells the tale of young man, Tristan Hunt, who studies anatomy and surgery at St Thomas’s but has a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde type complex.
The Bookshop Band swing into action once again and perform a curiously beautiful but very weird song inspired by two of the characters from the book. The bassist's voice is particularly ethereal. Can they perform a few more songs, please? They are very entertaining. Oh? There's drink and a heart-shaped cake on offer in the museum. Well, we can't miss out on that now, can we?
Um, the heart-shaped cake is, well, literally a heart-shaped cake — complete with arteries (all nicely labelled) and appears to be oozing a rich, dark red blood. I might give that a miss; how about you? I know it's red velvet cake or devil's food cake or something delicious inside (with whole raspberries, too), but I can't stop thinking that the blood just looks too lifelike...
But enough history about this place (you can look it up online later — the official website is a bit clunky but there's loads of info on there).