Posts Tagged ‘author talk’

Today I’ve been to visit a creative writing group at Caroline Chisholm School, Northampton.

I had prepared plenty of material in advance. I wrote myself crib notes on index cards. I found a short passage to read from Darklands. But I had no idea how long it would actually take me to deliver it all. Well, that’s not entirely true. The one thing I knew for sure was that my reading took three and a half minutes. I did a lot of timed readings when I was preparing for my talk on the radio a few weeks back.

I was given an hour, just before lunch. I had fifteen cards filled with subject headings and cryptic notes. A sample index card:

Writers & Artists Yearbook
Listings. Articles. Publishers > Slush pile > Agents (short cut?)
Agents > slush pile! But get help.
Submission criteria.

I knew that the length of time I could talk would very much depend on how much I relaxed into my role and became garrulous. It might take an hour – or maybe I’ll whizz through it all in ten minutes with a terrified rictus grin frozen onto my face?

After a slightly shaky start, I relaxed sufficiently to discuss most of the stuff on my cards. Though I somehow managed to miss out the whole slush pile bit from the card quoted above.

In the end I spoke for about 35 minutes, then invited questions. The teachers had primed the kids well and they had plenty to ask. What’s your favourite book? Do you find it hard to get ideas? Did you always want to be a writer? Nice easy stuff.

The scariest bit was right at the end. With ten minutes to spare I was invited to mingle and chat with the kids. Freestyle? Off-piste?? Unscripted???

*The cold, cold fear*

Some of the kids showed me stories they had written – a surprising number had written horror stories about killer clowns, one of which had ‘mouldy looking teeth.’ A nice detail, I thought.

I’ve also donated two copies of Darklands to the school library – which is in danger of being closed down by the local authorities.

Really?? Schools don’t need libraries now? (You can find out how to help their cause by visiting their facebook page)

One of the kids asked if I’d had any bad reviews, and I said that I hadn’t, but kind of wished I had. “It doesn’t seem like you’re a real writer until you’ve been absolutely slated.” Hmm, that sounds dangerously like an invitation, doesn’t it? I wonder if I’ll come to regret it..? :-S

me sulking, at school, circa 1989

me sulking looking brooding and pensive at school, circa 1989
(picture courtesy of Alice Lockett)

I’ve been invited to give a talk about writing at a school next week. Fantastic! But also – seven hells, what on earth will I talk about?

Luckily I made copious notes when I went to a very good talk by Paula Rawsthorne and Dan Tunstall a few weeks ago – about the kinds of things they discussed, and how they approached it. So using that as a starting point, I sat down yesterday to come up with some ideas.

Four hours later I looked up from my laptop, stretched my cramped hands, and realised the dog was overdue his walkies. Apparently I have quite a lot to say. My problem has rapidly changed from ‘what shall I say?’ to ‘what shall I leave out?’ 🙂

Of course, remembering any of my witty and incisive anecdotes while staring down a ravening pack of 14 year olds is another matter… :-S

But one thing I’ve learnt from my occasional (and much hated) task of having to train clients at work is that no matter what goes wrong (and stuff always does) DO NOT let them sense your terror. The same is doubly true of teenagers. Though they fill me with bowel-loosening horror, I will endeavour to maintain a calm and carefree exterior.

The other thing I’ve learnt is that it all goes a lot better, and the things that go wrong won’t matter half so much if the first thing you do is establish some rapport*. Paula Rawsthorne did this very well – asking the teen members of the audience about what books they like and what they don’t like (I nearly cheered myself when she said, ‘Oh good, I’m so glad you don’t like Twilight!’). She also told a very funny (and gross) story about being puked on by a child.

Unfortunately I’ve never had that honour. I’ll have to think up some other way to make myself amusing and gently self-deprecating. Suggestions..?

* Although this doesn’t always work exactly as planned. The very first time I had to deliver training at work this is what happened: The clients arrived, I went to greet them, held out my hand, and the guy said, “I’m sorry. I don’t shake hands with women.”
Oooooookay. Where the hell do you go from there?
As it happens, the only way from there is up. And interestingly, the same guy offered me a crisp later, so I guess he wasn’t afraid of catching girl cooties.