A couple of months ago I was browsing in my local bookstore with a friend and got into a nice chat with the store owner about books, romance and...my books.
'An author?' She beamed. 'How marvelous! Would you consider doing an author evening for me?'
The ever-willing to please English part of me jumped centre stage and before I knew what I was doing I'd agreed to a romance-themed talk to be held the day before Valentine's Day...ages away. Months to plan...lots of time to think up humorous repartee....insightful tidbits...
Fast forward those couple of months, I'm on a camping holiday and receive an email from my editor asking if I could possibly bring forward my book deadline to 12th February as they had a publishing gap they wanted to fill. The book was nowhere near completion but I thought I could commit to head down and focusing on nothing but that- oh, and the holiday I was on for another 6 days (without a laptop), the new kitchen I was scheduled to be renovating immediately on our return, organising the kids back to school for the new school year, my husband's accounts, and those 1001 things a parent has to do generally, every day. I thought I'd just about manage it (with the help of a lot of chardonnay), so gleefully sent back an effusive yes.
As I sent that email another one pinged into my inbox from a nice book store owner reminding me of my speaking commitment and telling me how excited she was about the upcoming talk. Could I confirm?
No problem. That infuriatingly English part of me surfaced again- can't let anyone down now!
So there I was on the morning of February 13th, flustered but relieved to have hit my deadline, surrounded by displaced pots, pans and cutlery, name tags and other stationery debris, and floundering around trying to think of witty stories, helpful anecdotes and a general plan for a talk. Just a small one. Any plan. Please.... what to talk about?
See, I'm a writer. Not a speaker. I spend all day every day at home, on my own, in silence, talking to people in my head. I HATE speaking in public, I'm not overly keen speaking in small groups, I panic when I see everyone's attention focused on me. When I actually do speak to real people (strangers in particular) I cringe at my nervous stutter, the words that get lost somewhere between my brain and my lips, and things seem to get worse the more I say.
The only witty things that ever occur come out of my heroine's mouth. She's big and brave and feisty. She's confident (and tall and blonde and everything that I'm not) and has that wonderful youthful glow that faded from me a long time ago. Spontaneity just doesn't happen.
I could write a speech, but not a talk. And it was supposed to be all about me.
ACK! The more I thought about it, the worse I felt, and the more I couldn't think of anything to tell them. I had a dozen false starts on various scraps of paper. And then nothing. Nothing that I thought might be of interest or useful.
But I'd made a promise, so I had to turn up at the allotted time and say something. I drove to the store, my heart thumping, palms sweaty, and put on my best smile. As the audience arrived I was introduced to each person and they all nodded and smiled and looked at me with such hope. I was put on a stool in the centre of a semi circle. Staring at those eager faces I just wanted to cry- what on earth could I say that would entertain and inform them?
But they'd made the effort to come to see me instead of doing the zillion other things they could have chosen. So I did what my heroines do. I pulled on my big girl's pants, took a deep breath and jumped in (oh, and the half glass of bubbles helped!). I started to talk about my journey to publication, about romance and what I loved about it, about publishing and the way it's changing, about books and how much I love them. About writing and how, once you start, it's impossible to stop. And you know, they all smiled. Nodded, joined in. Laughed. Asked questions. Asked more questions. And suddenly we were an hour in and I was not just able to answer their questions, but found myself relaxing and enjoying it. We all shared a passion for stories, we all had a story to tell. And spending time with these lovely women was actually fun.
Not that I'm planning to do it again in a hurry!
But I wonder now what I was so scared about. Being enthusiastic about something you love comes easily whether with one person or a dozen, or a hundred. Having no-one fall asleep was a bonus! And I received a lovely gift- the flowers above and some yummy chocolates to show their appreciation.
So now I've signed up to do a speaking in public course for writers...hopefully that will help with the next time (if there is one!)
Do you like speaking in public? Have you ever been forced to do something you really didn't want to do? If so- how did that turn out for you? Was it better or worse than you imagined?