Thursday, 13 March 2008

The Ultimate Networker

I'm off to Paris again soon, but yet again, I won't be there on Sunday, which is the day Jim Haynes invites anyone and everyone to dinner.

An American living in Paris since the time of the flower people (see, Jim keeps open house to like-minded souls on Sunday evenings almost every Sunday of the year (there's a modest charge for food and wine). That's a lot of Sundays, Jim, and a lot of guests have passed through the doors of that atelier. The last time I was there (which was before my daughter was born), I met two French actors, who tracked me to Cornwall, forcing me to pretend I was my 'mother in law' when I answered the phone. I don't like people dropping in unannounced, unless they are very old and very intimate friends, and these comedians were neither.

This makes me, I suppose, the world's worst networker. I have never been any good at it which, for a writer, or anyone working in the media, or any other profession, I guess, for that matter, is pretty disastrous. I remember standing like a lost soul at The London Film Festival premiere, to which I was first invited as an award-winning writer in 1989. The man I went with promptly abandoned me to talk to a famous Italian director; completely lacking in gumption, I hadn't the nerve to push out on my own into the sea of cocktail dresses and tuxes and network to save my life. Curious, really, since I had no problem asking people questions wearing my journalist's or teacher's hat. I just have a problem selling myself. There has always seemed to me to be something indecent in self promotion; I'm afraid of implying that I (not my skills) am for sale. I guess that's just a sort of self-defeating pride.

I was at an informal Society of Authors lunch today in a lovely hotel in Falmouth with misty moody views across the harbour (which, incidentally, is the third largest natural harbour in the world). I usually avoid writers' gatherings like the plague, since writers are the very worst - and most aggressive - sort of networkers (because the stakes are so low, because they have nothing to lose); but I went along at the invitation of a very old friend, who had sent me a copy of his book (It's A Dog's Life, by Noel Stuart - well worth getting hold of, too). No one networked. Everybody chatted and got along well; and, this being England, there was none of the smoking you get in Paris where delicious food is all too often ruined by the toxic atmosphere.

Cut back to Jim Haynes.

The atmosphere there is (or was) toxic enough to give you emphysema. But Jim's parties, networking meccas though they may be, are one of those experiences one comes across in life that are worth seeking out and trying - if only the once. Jim Haynes brings strangers (and strange folk) together in his own time and space -and it is very much a living space. He risks far more of himself, blase though he may be about it all now, than do the Facebookers and other instant internet companions. You open your laptop and no one sees who you are (unless, of course, you've got your webcam wired). But opening your front door, like Jim does, to let the world in, you have to show your bona fides. You have to open your mouth an show your heart.

Cheers, Jim. Maybe next time...

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