Events, interviews, bookshops and festivals
Spring Rain goes live!
Writing is a solitary profession, we sit alone with an idea for hours, days, months and years. We push it around, explore it and test it, break it and repair it again and again. We do this in quiet rooms where we can concentrate, contemplate and delve into our own deepest and darkest places. We are drawn to this, most of us can do nothing else - it is who we are, it is how we understand the world, it is what we have always done. We build a little personal model of the world in our heads then pull it to pieces and put it back together again in different and more pleasing configurations. We are solitary.
Publication day is approaching for Spring Rain, just four weeks to go and invitations are coming in to speak at events, bookshops, festivals, interviews with newspapers and magazines, radio stations, podcasts and bloggers are being scheduled. I have to talk with people. I can sit and write all day, I can put together a coherent, and occasionally intelligent 1500 or 50 word answer to any question you care to ask me about my work but getting actual spoken words out of my mouth is like trying to get the seeds out of a pomegranate with your fingers, it is difficult to and messy to do, probably horrible to watch and will leave a lasting stain. However this now is the nature of writing and publishing, we are expected to be entertainers. I am not very entertaining, not a performer, do not enjoy the limelight.
A good live interviewer, on stage in front of an audience is a joy to work with, it becomes a collaboration. They see my awkwardness and accept it and help me to find the answer they are looking for. When people ask me about my work, my imagination dies, my memory dries up and withers into an ancient gobby walnut that screams ‘go away, leave me alone’. I forget what I have written, I cannot remember how long it took me to write or when I wrote it, I have no idea who is in it or why they did what they did. A good interviewer who has read the book is a joy and the whole process can be fun as they draw it out of me. They have to work for it. I used to think of interviewers on television as ‘talking heads’ or a ‘gob on a stick’ but having been their subject I have far more respect for their skills.
An interviewer who has not read the book is a nightmare, they ask dumb things like, ‘so tell me, what is your book about?’ The single worst question you can possibly ask a writer, this often prompts a tedious sales pitch from some writers and others like me drivel ‘well it’s about a million things’ (but I can’t remember any of them right now) and I drift off into talking about the first thing that comes into my head which gives a very poor and inaccurate impression of the book. Doing this live, on a stage in front of an audience isn’t nice but at least we get the feeling that most of the audience is on our side. Often there will be one interviewer and two or more authors, chosen because of similar themes perhaps. I think the idea is that the interviewer sparks an ‘entertaining’ conversation between the three of them, or maybe there is a feeling that the audience gets more value for money if they get a few different writers for their pounds. It rarely works, everybody is nervous, some just want to get it over with and others want to speak at length about themselves and have no time for the other writers. I’ve got used to it now and I’m happy to chat with the other writers - I always prefer chatting with the audience though, writers are generally a boring lot and often surprisingly grumpy - but we don’t have much time and it always feels a little rushed, like a weird cross between a job interview and sitting in the pub with your mates to have an in-depth conversation that is limited to 18 minutes each.
An aside: I was once an audience member and the interviewer was clearly besotted by one of the two authors who was rich, middle class, handsome, young, well-travelled, arrogant and single and he; similarly obsessed with himself spoke at length about his travels, used up all the available time while she gurned at him open mouthed and dreamy eyed. The other writer barely got a word in. I was delighted at the signing later to see that his queue was far shorter that the other writer’s queue.
I enjoy the signing afterwards, sitting at my little card table, I like to chat with the people who have done me the honour of buying my book.
For me, interviews done over the phone are the worst. What you say is what goes live, there is no hiding place, no place for woolliness or vagueness, no time to ponder, add to this that my hearing comes from the lovely warm days of analogue, it’s a bit woolly, a bit squeally, there’s lots of static. A few broken wires between ears and brain means that sometimes, especially if the interviewer speaks quickly or not clearly, my brain tries to fill in the gaps in what I ‘think’ they have asked. On live radio ‘dead air’ is a crime and the interviewer is clearly lining up the next thing while you are answering, if you don’t answer quickly enough they start talking again, it seems like a chat to the listener but it is not, they are not listening to your answer at all, they are watching the clock, shuffling papers and talking in the background to the producer. National radio is the worst for this, local radio is much calmer.
I do like people, no I do, I enjoy being with people (unless they are in a pack), I like to be on the sidelines watching and listening, especially if there is easy access to an escape route that I can slip through. People individually are lovely, people in groups become a whole other thing but luckily people who come to book events are readers, and readers are people like me on the whole, people who enjoy books and because they have read lots of books tend to be broad-minded and tend to enjoy difference, strangeness, oddness in others, readers are not usually attracted to groupthink or mob-mentality so although I get a bit stressed sitting in front of an audience I do feel that I am in the company of like minded people.
I’ve had lovely newspaper and magazine interviews and horrible ones. The very best email me a list of questions and I send back my responses at length and then if they want, after that we can have a talk on the telephone. I love journalists who do that. That for me is the perfect way, it is slow and lovely. The worst way is to ring me up and ask vague questions like ‘what is your book about? or dreadful loaded questions like ‘what do you think is the answer to toxic masculinity?’
Journalists are a different breed from most writers of books. They think fast, act fast and want quick answers. My books are not quick books, they are for mulling over so we are at cross purposes much of the time. Please give me time to think about it properly rather than just spouting rubbish off the top of my head. I am a contemplative person and need time to ponder, pondering is what I do with my life, that is why I write books.
Anyway I am in the middle of all this right now so I thought I’d take a few minutes to tell you about it. It is very tiring but fun when it goes well. Of course later there is the post mortem when I read what they actually wrote or listen to the broadcast, I am often surprised not to read ‘this man is a blathering idiot who can barely string a sentence together’ but they don’t, mostly they say nice things. Mostly I get away with it, rarely they are not so nice but most people are just kind and interested. Going through all these conflicting emotions is draining and I’m glad when it’s over and can crawl back into my conch.
After that will come the reviews. God knows what will happen. I have no idea how this book will be received, but one never does, the most wonderful books often get overlooked and puerile things get lauded so we can never know. I have completed what I set out to do, will it gain an audience and give a publisher enough confidence so that I can write another book? Nobody knows. The tide of public opinion washes this way and that, a ball thrown in the waves may catch the wind or it may roll back to your feet, you don’t know if a book will be popular or not, every work must take its chances.
Let’s see what the reviewers make of it.