Last week I read from my debut novel, BloodMining, at two separate events – Ace Stories at the hotel Pelirocco in Brighton and the official launch of BloodMining at Iambic Arts in the heart of the North Laines. They were only the third and fourth times I’d read my own work aloud, in public, and I was terrified. Perhaps marginally less terrified at the launch. Both audiences were supportive, verging on the downright loving. I was in good, safe hands. So why the fear? And what advice would I pass on to other new authors facing similar situations?
1. Choose your material carefully – make sure it reflects your novel, is tempting and not too long. Leave them wanting more!
2. Practise. Practise. Practise. I am convinced that the major reason I was a little less anxious at the launch was because I had more preparation time and I’d read through my chosen scene several times. Also, I’d practised in front of a person, and not just the bedroom mirror.
3. Read from cards or the Ms, and not the actual book. Books, especially big ‘uns like mine (oh, how very Carry On…) are difficult to hold and if, like me, you need glasses for reading you’ll have all sorts of things to carry, fiddle with, lose etc. You can print your material in large print and dispense with the specs. And your material will be lighter, so your arm won’t start aching.
4. Inject some humour before you start; it’ll put the audience at their ease, as well as you. Of course, this is considerably easier said than done. I’m no comedian and would have bulked at this suggestion, but I know from personal experience it works – at my launch I took a sip from the glass of orange juice beside me before I started and swallowed an ice cube. After I’d stopped choking I explained why. Everyone laughed, including me, and my heart rate slowed.
5. Have a drink beside you if possible. Coughing fits can happen at the strangest, and most inconvenient, times. Don’t ask for ice in your water (see above) – this gag will only work once.
6. Whilst audiences will not expect a ‘performance’ – you’re a writer not an actor – you must speak loudly and clearly. Remember the old lady at the back of the theatre/library/book shop who’s forgotten her hearing aid.
7. If you absolutely cannot bear the idea of reading yourself, get an actor to do it. Most will not expect payment; they’ll be only too delighted for the opportunity to exercise their craft.
As an aside, I’d like to say how fantastic the BloodMining launch was. It went so much better than I expected. I was bullied into having a launch – I came from the ‘what’s the point, everyone who comes will buy the book anyway’ viewpoint – but I would recommend a launch to every debut writer. It’s a great way of marking publication, it’s a rite of passage, and you may sell even more books than you expected to. I did! So big, fat thanks to everyone who came (it was packed in there), and especially to my sister, Helen, and Mark at NWS who sold books all night, and the fabulously talented Mark Sheerin who did the introductions and has been an amazing writer friend to me over the past three years. What a night!