Everyone wants to throw a great party. You put all that time and care and attention into organising the thing and you hope that people will come, that they’ll have a good time. Two young women – Anna Baddeley and Fleur MacDonald – threw a party in Soho last month. They invited celebrated journalists, writers and literary editors and they crossed their fingers.
The party was in honour of a new award they had created: The Hatchet Job of the Year. It was to be presented to “the writer of the angriest, funniest, most trenchant book review of the past twelve months” and the winner would receive a year’s supply of potted shrimp. The party was a wild success. It was so popular that when several of the celebrated journalists arrived they were told they would have to wait, as a one-in-one-out door policy was having to be enforced.
“Lynn Barber nearly stormed off” I tell them. MacDonald looks horrified.
“She did? That would have been a fucking disaster. Although this whole event teetered on disaster. It’s just been a story of immense good luck – and our incompetence.”
Baddeley and MacDonald are the editors of The Omnivore, an online literary magazine that scours the arts pages to present a selection of the best film, theatre and book reviews. Both in their twenties, the two of them were at Oxford together and having been running The Omnivore for the last four years. Until a few months ago, it wasn’t very well known.
“It was Anna’s dad who said ‘You should do a publicity stunt,’” says MacDonald. Hatchet Job of the Week was already a regular feature on the website. Why not do a champagne-fuelled live action version? The only problem was, neither of them had ever put on an event before.
So they approached The Spectator as a possible partner. The editorial team were keen but, luckily, the marketing department turned them down. The Spectator wanted to do something big and corporate. Baddeley and MacDonald wanted something intimate, low-key and enjoyable.
They eventually persuaded a potted shrimp company to sponsor the party and held it in the upstairs rooms of The Coach and Horses, the Soho pub where Private Eye hold their infamous lunches. “If we’d done it with The Spectator it would have ended up in a huge big hall with loads too many people,” says MacDonald. “And,” she laughs, “Anna and I wouldn’t have been the centre of attention, which would not have been good”
Baddeley hasn’t been saying much because she isn’t here – she went to the wrong café. We are sitting in the beautiful, high-ceilinged Fernandez & Wells that just opened in Somerset House. MacDonald is doing a comparative literature MA next door at Kings University and will be returning to the library after our coffee.
When Baddeley arrives MacDonald explains that it is too late, she’s already revealed all their secrets. Baddeley giggles and orders a cappuccino. Both women are slim and pretty, MacDonald dark and chicly dressed all in black, Baddeley blonde and looking slightly more childlike in red knitted jumper.
It was Baddeley who first set up The Omnivore. She spent six months of her savings hiring a web designer to build the complex database she needed. The designer took the money and disappeared. “He was a total cowboy,” says Baddeley, “but then a lot of web designers are like that.”
Although they now have an excellent and trustworthy coder, they still rely on Excel spread sheets to upload their reviews each week.
“We’re really harking back to the 80s. It’s a Blade Runner version of doing a website,” says MacDonald. “It’s like using wooden skis. If we had a better system we could cut out like, literally, 80% of the time.
“But I like that it’s all-rickety,” says Baddeley, “It’s retro.”
“So what does editing The Omnivore actually involve?” I ask.
Baddeley is staring down at her cappuccino. “It’s funny talking about this when you’ve just been doing it on autopilot for years” She speaks more quietly than MacDonald, who is talks brightly and says things like “super”.
Baddeley continues: “Every Sunday I read all of the book pages and note down every single book that been reviewed and I put that all on a spread sheet.” She breaks off as both of them start laughing.
“This is going to make me sound really sad.”
“I’ll make it sound cool,” I say
MacDonald giggles her disbelief: “I would like to see that. What are you going to get us doing?”
“I’ll say she does lines of coke while filling in the spread sheet.”
Drugs were a problem at the Hatchet party. There weren’t enough of them. It’s not, MacDonald explains, that she and Baddeley wanted any. But they wanted to throw a really good party. And really good parties need more drugs and more sex.
“Instead” says MacDonald, “there was just a drunken man talking to us about the future of literary reviewing.”
Baddeley finishes MacDonald‘s recollection: “He was saying to both of us ‘This is new literary London, this is who I’m going to be spending the rest of my life with’ – and we both thought ‘Oh God’.”
It wasn’t their party that was at fault – it’s the whole literary scene. London desperately needs some new young hellraisers, causing trouble on and off the page.
“It’s all very stale and stayed and boring,” says Baddeley. “I’ve got nothing against older people, but I just think it’s depressing that there isn’t enough young talent rising up to take over from the old guard.”
“There needs to be more characters,” MacDonald agrees. “I mean neither of us are putting ourselves forward as characters. We’re really tame. We just want more people to entertain us. More people who we can aspire to be.”
“Nora Ephron said that the best journalists were ones who were the wallflowers at the orgy.” I tell them. They both start laughing again. That’s it they say. We’re just wallflowers searching for an orgy.
The Harker provides a platform for young (unpaid) writing talent.