To University College School, Hampstead, to see Zadie Smith, bright young author of White Teeth and Forster-esque On Beauty.
This week has been UCS's post-literary festival, Beyond Words, and it ran the gamut from gossip-meister and occasional actor Rupert Everett and Lord Chancelloricious Charlie Faulker to in-a-hurry Maureen Lipman ("I've got to be up at 6 for filming") and gold-bedecked Sir Matthew Pinsent.
Zadie, elegant and petrified, started by reading extracts from her three novels, noting the UCS connection with her second, The Autograph Man - its main character is based on an Old Gower (sic old boys, as I am indeed). For someone who knew the words intimately, she came across as if seeing them for the first time. Her tone was totally devoid of nuance or variety or personality.
She seemed terrified at being in front of - count them! - a hundred schoolboys and some NW London mothers, repeatedly enjoining us to say something. Given that she was reading and we were laughing at the appropriate points, for us to 'say something' would pretty much have involved heckling her. Not that we would want to, obviously.
Afterwards she took questions but they were sparsely offered and somewhat verbose in the main. The most interesting thing to come out of them was her response to the question, "Are you happy with your books?"
I'm not even slightly happy with my books. The joy of writing them is quite strong. [When I read them] it's a kind of nausea. I haven't read any of them in their entirety since I wrote them.
And when asked what she would give up first, reading or writing, the swift answer was writing. Zadie also said that she was good at working with literary models but bad at her own ideas and had almost run out of things to say. Weep/rejoice? Reader, it's up to you.