My recent book was longlisted, though sadly not shortlisted, for the Orwell Prize. The only comfort is that Christopher Hitchens's last book, Arguably, didn't make the shortlist either — an omission suggesting what all writers hope will be suggested when they fail to win prizes: that the judges must be mad.
On the night of the awards I head into the ceremony to discover a whole gaggle of Hitchenses. Christopher's son Alexander (formerly of this magazine) is there, as is one of his daughters, his wife, brother and nephew. It transpires that a posthumous lifetime achievement award is to be given.This elevates my opinion of the judges, though it crushes any claim that they are of unsound mind. At the end of the other business (the book prize justly going to Toby Harnden's account of British forces in Afghanistan) Christopher's brother Peter — who himself won the Orwell Prize in 2010 — is introduced. In a witty and moving speech he presents the prize to Christopher's widow, who reads from a last essay on Orwell.
Afterwards I am easily cajoled to join the whole clan and others at dinner. We pay some accidental tribute by being the last to leave. It is a wonderful and sad evening by the end of which I am reminded of what Martin Amis wrote in Experience. To adapt him only slightly: "This is where we really go when we die: into the hearts of those who remember us. And all our hearts were bursting with him."