Sunday, 24 October 2010

All the world's a stage

As a writer, you tend to spend a lot of time on your own. You develop an outer skin that encourages other people to flow off it like a drop of olive oil on a non-stick frying pan. You lose the power to communicate in words of more than one syllable. Yes. No. Tea. Out. You don't need a Do not Disturb sign, because it's written on the back of your head - the only bit of you anyone ever sees.

Then your book comes out and everybody wants to be your friend. The shy, reclusive creature who has just spent six months in solitary and has forgotten what the sun looks like is invited to sign books, speak at events and appear before vast (hopefully) audiences at book festivals.

Suddenly the hermit has to transmute into the performer.

Some take to it quite naturally, for others the process is terrifying and as much fun as a visit to the proctologist. But these days no writer can avoid it, any more than they can avoid writing blogs, keeping their Facebook page turning over or Twittering about things no-one is really interested in

But just how much does a writer have to be an entertainer?

I've come to enjoy talking about my books and the craft of writing, even to large audiences, because generally they're there because they're interested in what I have to say. But I know my limitations. I was at the Manchester Literary Society/Historical Novel Society weekend in Manchester. On the Saturday I appeared on a panel with four women novelists: talented, witty, feisty and clever ... and me. It was great fun, especially when they started to talk about sex and I began to slide down into my seat before the inevitable happened.

'So what was sex like in Roman times?'

Now an entertainer would immediately have recalled that the sex in Caligula was so erotic that his wife thought he must be having an affair. Doug Jackson, author, threw up his hands and said: 'I surrender!' Yes, it got the biggest laugh of the day, but that wasn't the point.

Day two I shared the platform with an Oxford professor who could have doubled as a stand-up comedian, a lovely young Irish fella with the gift of the gab, and a larger than life Viking re-enactor with a beard you could hide a badger in. What do you do? You try to compete in your enthusiastic, earnest, but slightly dull way and just hope you're adding to the mix. And you learn.

Not everyone can be an entertainer, but you have to remember that in all the best comedy partnerships one of them is the straight man.

That'll have to do for me.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your comments are interesting, not least of all because when I was at Harrogate, I did note that those authors whose books I enjoy most were possibly not the most verbally entertaining and vice versa. No names :-)

I also remember going to see Caligula in Glasgow when it first came out. Being one of only eight Classics scholars at school, I was amazed to see such queues for the film.

Oh the days of innocence!

JLMartin (Twitter)