Monday, 26 May 2014

The Terror of Public Speaking

Image:Microsoft
As an Introvert, I’ve never been at the front of the queue when it comes to getting up and talking about my craft. I haven’t been asked to speak about my novels yet, but if things continue to go well, there may come a time when I’ll get that call inviting me to pop along to the local library or bookshop to ‘entertain’ people for upwards of 45 minutes. Something of a challenge for someone who doesn’t think on their feet…

The words are all there inside my head. I know how I write and why I do it. It just takes a while for me to shuffle things around and sort them out so my responses deliver the correct meaning. I’m like one of those ponderous Scrabble players, only I take an age to make a sentence, not a word.

As a writer, I MULL. It’s what language is all about for me. I love having the time to play around with words to find the best, clearest or most accurate way of saying something. I like to make sure I’m saying exactly what I mean. When pressed into responding in the moment - even without a large audience - I often clam up or come out with something bland and superficial.

Elizabeth Gilbert giving TED talk
Some writers are natural on stage (Mark Billingham happens to be a writer and stand-up comedian) – what an advantage he has! I’ve heard Kate Mosse and Elizabeth Gilbert (above) speak (‘Eat, Pray, Love’)  and they’re extremely impressive – articulate, interesting, funny. They open their mouths and the words come out – apparently effortlessly, sensibly, in the right order - bringing insight and revelations. Each sentence appears to be rounded off with wit, each paragraph with a gem of laugh-out-loud humour. How annoyingly brilliant!

As I get older I find a further setback. Even in the comfort of my own home, I’ve forever starting a sentence with gusto then grinding to a halt when I can’t remember the name of the person, film or book I’m talking about. Words like ‘whatsit’ and ‘thingamabob’ get overused instead. In public – that’s highly embarrassing – especially for a writer whose domain is ‘words’.

Perhaps people will come to my talks for the spectacle of witnessing a fish out of water. Perhaps I’ll let them down gently at the start by explaining that speaking is NOT my forte, but that I want to share my journey with whoever might be interested. Honesty may be the best policy – at least it would be ‘real’ and sincere, although it may raise an entirely reasonable question: ‘What’s she doing here giving a talk, if she can’t string two words together?’

Well, I can, actually...it's just...

So - WHY DO people want to hear writers talk about themselves?

The answer, I’d say, is because many avid readers want to experience the 'person' behind the book they're holding in their hands, regardless of how ‘entertaining’ that person may turn out to be. Like actors, the audience wants to witness the 'real' individual. Readers want to hear what writers have to say off the page (I know I do). They want to know about the mind behind the story, their background, their personality. Even though authors by their very nature are often better at writing it down.

The spoken word and the written word will always exist for me in worlds that are poles apart from each other. I know which planet I’m staying on, but I’m happy to invite you in – if you’re patient and cut me a little slack!

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AJ Waines is the author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train.
Both books went to Number One in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' in the UK Kindle charts.