I remember Nick sitting in front of me in a Devizes pub, asking me whether I wanted a career in fiction or one in non-fiction, and if non-fiction, telling me he had a little idea of his own…
I then remember months of negotiations, in which Nick displayed both a geologically slow, careful, risk-averse (penny-pinching?) approach to coming up with a reasonable advance — and a visionary, instinctive, belief in the project itself. He was incredibly hands-on for an MD, always available, phoning constantly to discuss things; having fretted over this or that detail he then suddenly bought me one of the first digital SLR cameras without so much as checking I could take a decent photo (this was for a heavily illustrated book), because he thought it would pay off in the long run: it did.
I borrowed a room in Marlborough in which to write, and occasionally he would stop by en route between the M4 and home, run in and read some drafts with great rapidity, deliver excellent advice, then carry on. Once one I was ‘stuck’, he took me for a walk around the glorious, intimate folds in the Vale of Wardour where he lived — and ‘unstuck’ me.
There was never any sense of judgement in any of this, nor any sense that deadlines mattered compared to getting the book right: this was old-fashioned publishing, combined with a new-fashioned sense of modern opportunities and changing environments.
One thing that impressed me from the off was that, despite his patrician manner (I am shocked to find he is only a few years older than me: I saw him as avuncular, almost paternal), he was profoundly interested in people and their potential and blind to whether they had been to the right school or university. He was always open and warm. And once we got to the production stage, the pattern continued: passionately committed, dizzylingly hands-off in some ways, frighteningly micro-managing in others, always good company, always buzzing with ideas and opinions. A handsome man with a look of permanent terror/surprise on his face, as anyone running an independent — in the fullest sense of the word — publishing house in the internet age is entitled to have. I visited his home once, after a TV project came off, and met the hawk: another memorable walk.
I was even more struck, in many ways, by our next project together, which sadly never came off. By this time I was aware he was very unwell, and taking a step back. Yet once again this was a project he believed in, and as he was between commissioning editors, he took it on himself to move it forwards. In spite of having a company to run, every week or so he would phone out of the blue to discuss one aspect of it or another; to try and clear this or that financial or logistical hurdle, many of them (it seemed to me) self-imposed. Occasionally – and perhaps this was the illness speaking – I also felt him softening, almost being affectionate as well as professional. These were the last times I spoke to him; I had hoped to get to know him better, and over several decades, as is only right.