On Tuesday night, I got to take Lili Badger for her first public outing. It’s not that no-one’s met her yet: she’s been introduced to my Dad, my Grampa, a few select friends. And of course my agent, who in turn has introduced her to some lucky YA editors. But it’s the first time I was introducing her directly to a literary audience of (mainly) strangers, with a reading at Speakeasy at Drink Shop Do.
As someone who trained as an actor and taught for ten years you’d have thought that eight minutes of reading aloud wouldn’t phase me. But I was surprisingly nervous. Choosing an extract to read was the first challenge: the opening chapters seemed to have too much exposition, some of the later ones too little. I was also keen to avoid having to recreate some of the dialogue as whilst it sounds suitably street when spoken by the voices in my head I doubted I’d be able to make it convincing enough when I opened my mouth. Even at drama school accents were never my strong point. In the end I chose an extract which almost stands alone as an event in the story. It was actually one of the first scenes I visualised when I was planning the novel, and made it into the final cut more to enrich the fabric of the world I was creating than to drive the plot forward. It’s a bit dark though, and I spent the tube journey to King’s Cross panicking that it was going to set completely the wrong tone.
My mind was put at rest by one of the lovely friends who’d come to support me – she also handily was one of my initial readers and I definitely trust her judgement above my own on such matters. Once that was sorted, beer in hand and catching up with mates, I was finally able to chill a little. Until of course the comperes announced the beginning of the readings and my heart was once more in my throat.
Nicci Cloke and Ian Ellard were actually completely wonderful, putting me at ease and warming up an already very friendly audience. Listening to Tom Easton’s seriously chuckle-worthy extracts from Boys Don’t Knit chilled me out still further, though as the room was collapsing in hysterics I was wondering how they were going to react to my very different and somewhat depressing choice. I really needn’t have worried though.
Stood at the bar, microphone in one hand and iPad in the other, suddenly it felt like I was absolutely supposed to be there. A hush came over the room, and for perhaps the first time I really felt like an author. Not just someone who writes, which obviously is a role I step into most days, but someone whose words get listened to. I had really enjoyed revisiting the novel I wrote this time last year in preparation for the evening, and stepping into Lili’s shoes to release her into the world as I told a part of her story was a real thrill.
I have to admit Tom Pollock’s super dramatic reading from The City’s Son passed in a bit of a blur – I was buzzing, and grinning from ear to ear.
There was still one more challenge to come, one which I’d been dreading even more than the reading itself: creating a piece of flash fiction on the spot to be read at the end of the evening. Again my worries were completely unfounded. We worked collaboratively during the interval, me and the two Toms led by Ian, writing a story on the theme of ‘a dustbin knocked over in the backstreets of Whitechapel’. With perhaps a little scientology thrown in. Armed with a celebratory glass of cava the writing itself was a blast: as authors our styles are very different, but the story we produced with those styles meshed irreverently together was, even if I do say so myself, a work of genius. I’d forgotten how much fun it is to write collaboratively. I always used to love improvisation as an actor, and it’s basically the same thing just with added speedy handwriting.
I was able to relax into the second half a bit more. I was captivated by Tanya Byrne’s reading from Heart-Shaped Bruise, loved the unexpected tenderness of Non Pratt’s Trouble, and soaked up the spookiness of James Dawson’s Say Her Name. Once the author readings were over, Nicci and Ian took it in turns to share the stories we’d concocted earlier. And ours of course won – who could resist Tiny Tom Cruise being humiliated by a Thetan? You can read both stories here: I very much recommend you do.
All in all it was a fantastic evening. I left feeling a little bit more like an author, and Lili Badger left feeling a little more real. It was a privilege to begin to get her story out there, even if only a part of it. I cannot wait until I get the chance to unleash the rest of it on the world.