Julie Hamill: Unexploded book on the Bakerloo

Julie Hamill: Unexploded book on the Bakerloo

In a casual and polite exchange with a London-based literary agent in December 2023, their final message to me was: “Contact us again in the New Year.” It was a standard, some might say at best brilliantly slack and non-committal reply, which might as well have said “go directly to the pile of dusty unread manuscripts”. At worst, it was a professional fob-off to yet another daily beg.

But not for me. I tell my mother: “I’m to contact them again in the new year!” 

“Well, that’s promising!” she says. “So there is a chance!”

Enthused by my mum’s one-in-a-billion-why-are-you-not-on-Lorraine encouragement, in early 2024 I decide to follow up.  I further decide that as the agent’s office is only in Charing Cross, I will jump on the Tube and drop off my submission myself.

I fully suspect – no, I know – that the agent meant for me to contact them by email, but I fear that’s too risky, my name could get lost in their junk. I want them to go, “Oh!  It’s her… that woman I talked to! Of course I know that name. Put her to the top of the pile, Malcolm! I’m going to read that immediately. Jane! This is the new Hamill title we’ve been waiting for! It’s highly anticipated!”

I could post the work, but I don’t want to do that either. What’s inside is far too valuable to me to trust the Post Office with, even with a next-day-signed-for. It contains not just the book, but also a hand-crafted letter – much nicer than an email, courteous and professional with a humble sign off. You don’t get that in an email, I tell myself; this is the personal touch. It must be dropped off for its own safety.

On the way there, I change from the Jubilee line onto the Bakerloo, and I wonder if everybody has a Tube line that makes them feel uncomfortable. There’s something about the Bakerloo that gives me the jitters. It makes me think of terror attacks and how there hasn’t been one in London for a while. I look at people with backpacks and I move further down the carriage. Maybe it’s the old face-to-face seats, or the rattle and rumble, but the heat is rising, and I clutch my parcel closer. Just let me get there, you can bomb me on the way back.

My plan is to simply walk down the Strand to the agent’s office, enter, drop the parcel, then scarper, knowing it will be hand delivered to the correct desk. My plan is not to see or speak to the agent, bump into them, take coffee with them or go to the pub with them, and now that I’m nearly there, this ridiculously self-escalated scenario is filling me with dread. What if I see the agent? What will I say?

“Hiya. I just turned up to your office uninvited in the hope you’ll like my stuff!”

“Hiya, we’ve been chatting on Twitter. Well not exactly chatting, ha ha!”

“Remember me? No? Well, have this anyway.”

“Duh, uh, uh, book.”

I arrive to the smile of the receptionist.

“What’s your name?” she asks, “I’ll let them know you’re here.”

“Oh no don’t,” I blurt, “I haven’t got an appointment.”

“I can’t take deliveries, but I’ll call their office to get someone to come down?”

Shit, shit, I just want to drop it off, now what have I done?

  A woman approaches from the stairs.

“Hi I’m [the agent’s] assistant. I’m sorry they’re not in the office today!”

“That’s okay,” I beam, “I just wanted to drop this off.”

I get out, unscathed, and rush home, always quicker on the way back, a few stops along the creaking Bakerloo and onto the familiar Jubilee.

The phone pings when the Tube comes up above ground at Finchley Road. It’s a lovely personal email from the agent, saying they have received the parcel and thank you, they’ll get back to me after they’ve had a good read.

A cool relief sweeps over me and I envisage them turning the pages, smiling by lamplight.  I was right to drop it off, I nod, Things could still explode.

Julie Hamill is a novelist, a radio presenter and more. Follow her on X/Twitter. Support OnLondon.co.uk and its writers for just £5 a month or £50 a year and get things for your money too. Details HERE.

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