Sunday, 11 September 2016

Book Launches and Reading Events

Since my short story made it into the ‘Northern Crime One’ anthology, I’ve been meaning to write a series of blogs about my experiences as a newly published writer. All three blogs will contain a Patricia Highsmith quote, because she was far more qualified to teach crime writing than I.  After eight years of working out my niche in a commercial market and creating a portfolio of ‘domestic noir’ manuscripts, I realise there’s still a long way to go.....




 Wallsend, Newcastle where the second ‘Northern Crime One’ book reading event was held

For the first two book readings it was reassuring to know that Moth Publishing and New Writing North were in charge of publicity, ticketing and book sales. The encouragement of new writers at the two venues (Newcastle Central Library and Customer First Centre, Wallsend) was obvious and much appreciated. Both audiences were generous, warm, complementary and forgiving of my nervous performances. At the 'Northern Crime One' launch (my first ever public reading event) I was pleased to meet everyone and honoured to be there, but the sight of the lectern in the middle of a large empty stage filled me with dread.

I stepped onto the stage slowly and carefully, aware that my jelly legs could give way at any moment. There I stood in front of a packed house, staring at the anthology that I’d pinned to the lectern in an attempt to maintain control over flapping pages and shaking hands. I must have glanced up because I recall a mass of heads. I didn’t take notice of any expressions for fear of seeing anyone yawning. I stopped myself from doing an exact head count, rounding each row up to 10, multiplying by 10 and fretting because that estimation came to quite a lot; much more than I’d expected - a lot of people to disappoint.  I did not dare look up again until the end of my reading, otherwise I would have been distracted and lost my place on the page.

Although I’d rehearsed my introduction, I couldn’t help but make a few last minute adjustments. This kept the adrenalin going and my brain alert, which resulted in a better performance out of the two. I had to describe my novels as well as the short story extract that I was about the read, but more than anything else, the introduction had to be succinct and not send anyone to sleep. Suddenly, something came to me: ‘My protagonists are normally unreliable, but this one’s a reliable psychic.’ I heard a few people laugh. This intended reaction broke the ice and settled my nerves - for a few seconds at least.

I made mental notes: keep pausing for breath, pay attention to punctuation, make sure the delivery is not too fast or too slow, hold your head high, don’t slouch and resist the temptation to speed read. I bit my tongue to stop myself from apologising in advance and read on.  At the end, I looked up and thanked everyone for listening. I think they might have been applauding at the time...


What really surprised me was that I felt more nervous at the second event. Maybe it was the sight of the stage: two chairs, a clip-on mic and no lectern to hide behind? I perched on the edge of the chair, unable to hold the anthology; my nervous disposition clearly visible to all in attendance.  The reading went as well as could be expected, but when the compere began to ask questions my brain went into overload. Unfortunately all sorts of things were racing through my mind; everything except the correct answer.  The question was simple: “When did you attend the Arvon course?” I blurted out the first date that came to me; some random year from the 1980’s. Then to make matters worse I had a stab at another, which happened to be my daughter’s birth year, eighteen years before the aforementioned writing course. I bowed my head in shame and weakly revived the situation by announcing that it was a long time ago. For some reason I felt it was necessary to waffle on about the novel writing course; something on the lines of ‘You cook and eat together, attend workshops and one-to-one tuitions in a beautiful house in beautiful surroundings so you can go on nice walks.’  I must take this opportunity to apologise for the poor excuse for an advertisement, so I’ve made up by posting a gorgeous photograph of Lumb Bank.  



My answers didn’t get any better during the Wallsend event. When I was asked about my stint in the Special Constabulary, I said I’d thought it would be like Charlie’s Angels, but it wasn’t. I was too soft to make it as a regular, but I was interested in the whole police procedural thing, which is why I went onto study criminology....All the while I was praying that no one would ask when I went to university, because I’d gone completely date-lexic by then. The ground did not swallow me up as I’d hoped, but it wasn’t all bad. Both events were invaluable experiences for any newbie.   

I informed the audience at Wallsend that I’d spent quite a few years building a ‘domestic noir’ portfolio. My short story had been adapted from my second novel, ‘Ghost Towns’. I changed the female narrator from the mother of a victim into a psychic, which allowed me to examine the dead victim’s POV.  I enjoyed playing around with different approaches to writing crime. Ideas are precious, which is why all my work is documented, time-stamped and filed so that I may go back and use them at a later date. I might decide to rearrange plot outlines, take something from one novel and transfer it into another medium or split a manuscript in half - two for the price of one.  As long as my portfolio is full of decent material the only thing I need worry about is the next reading event......


”In the barren periods, one should browse through the notebooks. Some ideas may suddenly start to move. Two ideas may combine, perhaps because they were meant to combine in the first place” Patricia Highsmith


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