A writer’s life is varied when it comes to public appearances. Ask any author on a publicity tour and you’ll hear how on one evening they’ll experience venues full of fans, the next more intimate affairs where members of the audience can be counted on the fingers of a hand.
I often think of one event when I’d been asked to go and speak in a city library. The date was scheduled months ahead, and around a week before I sent an email to my contact to check that all was still on plan.
It was, and off I ventured on a winter’s afternoon, spending hours on trains and tubes and then a frantic walk (I am known for getting lost even when looking at a map) until I found the library. I approached the central desk and introduced myself to the librarian on duty, only to be told that the woman who had booked me was away on holiday. And that was followed up with, “Who did you say you were again?”
A panicked glance around and I found a smallish leaflet posted on a wall. There it was in black and white. My name. That evening’s date ~ at which point it was agreed that the librarian on the desk would take me in a tiny lift to the staff room a floor above. There, I’d hoped to check the laptop I’d been assured would be provided for me to use during my talk, to load the slide show that I’d made. But, when I asked to see it I was told – “The only one we’ve got is on the blink.”
As I digested this, I was shown into the staff room and met with more blank faces as I introduced myself, and once again made some enquiries about the laptop I would need to show my Powerpoint display.
“We’ll have to see if we can find it.” Someone said, while someone else suggested that I go and sit with the other author who, I was now instructed, was also booked to talk that night. “Perhaps you’ll find some common ground. Make the event into a shared one…”
Trying to make the best of things, I sat and asked my fellow author, “Tell me what your book’s about. Mine’s a Victorian gothic novel.”
This was the answer I received – “I’m here to talk about the shortage of human organ donations in the Nigerian population living in North London.”
A silence fell between us. How on earth to make this work? And, would I ever see the laptop on which to load my slides, what with it now less than five minutes before the talk was due to start … and where would it be taking place? The library was very large.
“In the children’s section…” came the answer to that question. “We’ve set the chairs up, and the screen. But has anybody told you … the computer’s on the blink?”
Down in the lift we went, a sinking feeling in my heart to discover that the children’s library was open plan; not only that, it was still open to the public, filled with – children. Apart from them, the audience consisted of six people, sitting and waiting patiently. Six people who when asked said they had come to hear me speak – which was when the other author disappeared to go back home.
Feeling embarrassed, very awkward, at least I could get on with things … if only the laptop worked. If only I didn’t have to talk above the cries and laughter of the children running round us, the hooting horns and ding ding dings of the computer games they played. I wished the floor open up and swallow me entirely as I talked about child prostitutes, brothels, and tertiary syphilis ~ with many lurid images being displayed upon the screen.
Here, the laptop blinked its last, which was probably as well. The librarians who’d placed themselves among the audience seemed to be oblivious, carrying on a private conservation as I did my best to to fix it, until I finally despaired and said, “Shall we just give up, and go and find the nearest a pub?”
And so the story ends – but on a happy note. Three of the six who came along to have a drink with me that night remain the firmest friends today. One is a businesswoman. One is a talented fine artist. The third is a professional musician and composer.
And finally, here is the music Kirsten Morrison would later compose and sing for me at the launch party for my novel: The Last Days of Leda Grey …