The ebb and flow of any urban arts scene is marked by those celebratory, anxiety-invoking, thrilling and terrifying occasions in which a new life is presented to the world. This being was conceived in an artistic imagination, usually through collaboration, sometimes by design and sometimes by happenstance (and sometimes by mistake). It developed, mysteriously, miraculously, during an exciting but exhausting gestation. It was born through always difficult labour, in between birth pangs and moments of sheer wonder.

Now the work is ready: for the opening night, the debut, the premiere performance, the first sight of an exhibition. Of all these initiatory rituals, my favourite is the book launch. At its worst, admittedly, a book launch can simply be an excuse for massaging the ego of a writer — or, at the other extreme, a platform for shaming or even intimidating authors and publishers. But at its best, a book launch is an opportunity for conversations that take you deep into the ...

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