An insightful conversation with Damian Barr - Founder of the literary salon ‘A Book & A Bottle’, Brighton
April 27, 2017
What is your favorite past time after work? Hanging out with friends or co-workers over a glass of shooter or cocktail? Or go straight home and unload all your work-gear, lying on the couch with your favorite TV program or sports game on? Well, we all have that, yet, I find something that is more relaxing and meditative, which none other than having some good read over a glass of fine wine with no disturbance around, just me, the book and the wine. This simple, old-school past time still having its own charm and allure for someone like me, a perfect refuge of getting away from the hectic and chaotic day work, and taking a pause from the obsession of our electronic devices that consumes most of our time with difference messages, networking and photos. Don’t get me wrong that I do enjoy the convenience that brought by the new technology, and finding the balance in between technology and traditional fashion makes life more innovative, empower our sense to appreciate the presence of mankind, and witness the endeavor of the advancement we made our life so much better nowadays. As said old-school fashion still has its charm, it truly resonates to me because the physical connection when reading a book, especially the ones are vintage or from some great writers, that literally brings the bond in between you and the author (or the characters inside the story) much closer that is irreplaceable simply by softcopies of any kind, it almost feels like that the writers are right here telling their story right next to you but in a much subtle and gentle tone and manner, oozes from the scent of the paper, or, from the evidence of time-passing coming from each page or the slightly peeled and tore cover. To me, having a glass of fine wine in my hand with a great book, sitting by the warm fire place in a dim room, on a comfortable, vintage single armchair, it can be just as indulging and relaxing that nothing can be more euphoric to experience after a hectic long work day.
Speaking of the experience of book and wine, I recently came to know a gentleman who can bridge those two element so intelligently into something more enjoyable and beautiful, especially for those who appreciates the beauty and sophistication of traditional charm, this gentleman, is no other than Damian Barr, the founder of ‘A Book & A Bottle’ by Damian Barr’s Literary Salon. As an award-winning writer and author himself, Damian has written for countless world-renowned publications, and, co-written plays for BBC Radio 4, his passion on pursuing literature and the perfect martini, leads him to reach to another new height of achievement, his very own literary salon, which, holds an exclusive reading event every month as well as offering incredible appreciation packages with a beautiful selected book and fine wine in monthly basis, getting all the like-minded people around, with incredible pairing of a selected fine wine with the book of the respective month, giving each guests an enjoyable and value-added experience, sharing the passion of literary and wine.
As much as I would like to outline all the great work that Damian has done throughout his life journey, today, I am very honor, and thrilled, to let this gentleman himself to share his own story about his work, passion and more with, you, our dear readers.
My Modern Darcy: Hi Damian, firstly thank you very much to be with us today and having this conversation with you; as there are so many questions in my head, as starter, can you tell us about what motivates you to start ‘A Book & A Bottle’? What does it come about? Do you have any specific message that you want to bring out?
Damian Barr: As host of my Salon, now at the Savoy Hotel, and Sunday Times Drinks Critic, my life is spent finding the best books and bottles. Every day books and bottles arrive at the door and it’s my job to find the best for my Salonistas and readers. So, I thought, why not combine my two great loves in creative #NovelPairings. It’s not about being literal—although we do sometimes features drinks from the books, like Sloe Gin from A Christmas Carol. It’s about being literary — what are the themes and how might they taste? Corney & Barrow and Foyles are fiercely independent so it made sense to join forces and bring their tastes to the table.
MMD: As a glimpse with your book and wine pairing work, it seems you have made a very deep effort on arranging those packages, can you tell us how did you made your pairing selection? What are the challenges? and how did you define them that they will be appealing to your audience?
DB: As with the Salon, I choose the books and stories that speak to me. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a book that doesn’t feature any booze — well, just fino sherry - but it’s full of astonishing characters, multifaceted truths. It was a challenge shortlisting bottles for that book but great fun to think what would Miss Jean Brodie drink? Or What drink would she be? We include a postcard in each box explaining the novel pairing and there is also our podcast, in which we get steadily tipsier, and our bibulousography which lists every single drink mentioned or drunk in the book. So far Secret History has had longest bibulous-o-graphy!
MMD: Among all the book and wine pairing event (and package) so far, can you tell us which one(s) is your favorite? Or the most memorable that give you much satisfaction and encourage you to carry on?
DB: Oooh a tough call this one…we do events too — we launched Jessie Burton’s The Muse. I think the event at Cheltenham Fest with Lionel Shriver for The Mandible’s was best. She’s a tough, smart woman and the book is all about a near future American buckling under the weight of its debts and a society unable to cope with demographic change and a family that started our rich and ended up very poor—the Mandible family. In this near future we envisaged even more people would be drinking English sparkling wine so we started with a Winston Estate sparkler and that worked with the novel’s timeline but it seemed too celebratory for a book that’s essentially dystopian (I won’t reveal the ending — no spoilers here!). We tried several other surprising choices but you can find the final pick on our podcast.
MMD: How do you see the conventional printed books compare with the e-book from the electronic devices nowadays? What’s your thought on that? And what is the value about the existence of conventional printed books? Do you still see the significance of printed book in future?
DB: It’s all about stories. Some people want them on the move on their phone or on a tablet on the train. Some want a paperback. Others a hardback for their shelf. Some people want a combo, in fact most people do. Ebook sales are leveling off now and we can see it’s just another format. Publishers need to focus on finding fresh new voices and to look at neglected communities — specially the BAME community – and get their stories out there rather than fretting about format.
MMD: Apart from your success of literary career, can you tell us about your personal style? What is your favorite way of dressing? And how do you define good style of a gentleman?
DB: Regarding to dressing. I am answering your question in a navy waffle robe with fawn lining and I am wearing navy cotton lounge wear and some slippers made for me. I am a fan of the pajama and will host dinner parties in them. I want my guests to be comfortable and what better way to put people at ease in fact, I wore them for a long time as reader in residence when I would stay in hotels, like Andaz, and read bedtime stories to guests. I believe the right suit can take you anywhere. So I have some of this made for me by the fine tailors at Huntsman and in particular a tweed jacket which I’ve had taken in and out and which I know it will last me a lifetime. I am less concerned with fashion than I am with style and think everyone has their own style story to tell.
MMD: In your opinion, what kind of qualities should a modern day gentleman should have? And why are they important?
DB: The modern gentlemen listens more than he speaks; he talks to the person in front of him before the person on or in his phone; he opens doors for whoever he is with; he is generous but not frivolous and he understands that now, more than ever we need to seek out stories. The modern day gentleman is a citizen of the world and affords everyone the equality and dignity he deserves to be accorded.
MMD: What is your point of view about integrating your literary salon into a men’s lifestyle? How is that relevant and what are the advantages for today’s busy life for men?
DB: Men are telling their stories more and more — the stereotype of the strong silent type is falling away. See the Good Men Project, for example. At the Salon I am careful to curate a range of stories and to pay special attention to the stories we don’t hear. Readers read from new material for 10 minutes and then I interview them for thirty minutes, I am as interested in their story as I am their novel. So if you don’t like a guest you’ve lost only 10 minutes but if you happen to love them it’s the start of a life-long affair. I love nothing more than seeing people respond to someone they have never heard of — the Reverend Richard Holloway had the whole salon on their feet crying and beaming when he spoke of his love for Yeats. I don’t believe in gendering fiction - I see men respond to fiction that’s marketed to women and vice versa.
MMD: If one day you encounter a young man who asks you about the advice of being as successful as you are, as a writer even a founder of you own literary salon, what kind of advice do you have for him?
DB: All great writers are great readers and I believe that is also true of the people we find most warm, most charming, most humane. So take time to listen to stories in unexpected places — on the bus, from the person you didn’t want to sit next to at that dinner party, from the darkest corners of your own imagination. Make time, as well, for stories to happen — don’t plan every second, escape the tyranny of being busy to visit a gallery you never knew about or see a friend you’ve missed or write an actual paper and ink letter. And for God’s sake learn how to make a Manhattan.
Special thanks to Mr. Damian Barr, image credit to Honeybunn photography