You didn’t become a Londoner simply by living there. After seven years I was still an alien. I wanted to write about the city from the inside. I felt it was happening – I was at last becoming a Londoner – the winter I discovered Gaston’s.
Only the professionals knew Gaston’s. The poet Ian Musprat (The Dogflud Chronicles) had shown me the place. It was a small used book dealer in an alley off Chancery Lane. A square of cardboard stuck in the window bore the words no rickshaw parking in Chinese characters and in English – an obscure joke. There was no other sign, but there were stacks of books.
Gaston was fussy about the books he bought and sold – they had to be new, unmarked and in demand by libraries. London book reviewers were Gaston’s suppliers, and if you lingered by the plain wooden counter where the books were piled you would meet the great names, the savage reviewers, the literary hacks, the strugglers. They entered and left like punters at a pawn shop, trying to put a jaunty face on their shame. All of them were doing something they faintly despised, selling copies of the books they had reviewed, at half price, cash.