The 2003 Granta list of the best young British novelists has just been published. As the years roll by I grow crustily nostalgic of course, but will this lot prove to hold a candle to that truly phenomenal Granta list of 1983? What stars there were in that decade, and what fun we at Waterstone’s (founded just three months before the list appeared) had in rolling out our bookshops, and providing a marketplace for their work. No Borders, no Amazon, no Ottakar’s, just us really – until eventually, and too late to catch us, Dillons (once Terry Maher got bored with his second-hand office furniture business or whatever it was) set off in pursuit. W H Smith, insanely, were at that period issuing press releases proudly demonstrating their diminishing dependence on the book, embarrassing, low-tech, old-market thing that it was . Blackwell’s, easily the best name and the best placed of all, were, as ever, too absorbed in their family battles to notice what was happening. So we had the field pretty much to ourselves. Some independents folded their tents at the sight of us, and with vituperation. Why? We were as strapped for funds as they were, more so probably, but we went to the City, sucked our fingers as doors were slammed on them, and in the end raised, in reluctant dribs and drabs, the money that enabled us to roll.
And roll we did, with gay if not wholly responsible abandon, supported now by the huge credit risk taken on us, bravely and deliberately, first by Peter Mayer at Penguin, and then, with him telephoning around and encouraging others, most of the majors. Publishers – particularly the literary ones, led