Vanishing London: The Harvill Press London Writing Series

I read Harvill books. I don’t read any old Harvill book, obviously, because some of them look very long and very boring but there’s an amazing strike-rate of quality in the numbered series which started, I suppose, in the early-mid 1980s and dribbles on (past 300 now) even today, after Harvill’s purchase by Random House.

I am reminded by an article by pop doyen John Carney that I meant to write about Harvill’s short-lived London Writing Series. This series could have been made-to-measure for me: books about London with that trustable wee leopard prancing on the spine. Lovely bright primary-coloured covers. Interesting introductions, too (well yes OK also one by Moorcock who is a nasty stain on any list, I agree, but we can forgive them one small indiscretion).

They seemed to be choosing un-obvious books (I hadn’t heard of any of the authors of the first four before) and they seemed to be doing it with a sense of attention to detail: the base of each spine had a little black line, notched like a tube station. And the quality! “Capital” by Maureen Duffy (Victoria Line blue), “Fowlers End” by Gerald Kersh (Central red) “The Lowlife” by Alexander Baron (Piccadilly blue), “Caught” by Henry Green (Circle yellow). Each at least good, I think, and only the Duffy falling short of great.

The series stopped then. I don’t know why (it had stopped before the rumours of the Random House purchase of Harvill had surfaced), and in truth I don’t know whether it was intended simply as a set of four London books. It’s hard to believe they ran out of appropriate material. Maybe they sold a grievously small number of copies, maybe no-one liked the books. I did. I was delighted with them and I wish they’d carried on to give my fanboy collector fetishism something to work on. The series wasn’t really around long enough for me to say I miss it, but I do think it’s a shame it’s gone, at least before we had a book per tube line.