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 taking place about five years ago, when I’d been asked to go and speak in a public city library. The date had been 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 chilly winter’s afternoon, spending many hours on trains to reach my destination. With more than half an hour to spare, I entered the doors of the library and approached the man on the central desk to whom I introduced myself, asking to meet the woman who’d booked me for the evening, only for him to answer: “Oh! She’s away on holiday. Who did you say you were again?”
A panicked glance around the library walls and I found a smallish leaflet. But, there in black and white it was. My name. That very evening’s date ~ at which point the male librarian then agreed to take me in the lift to the staff room on the floor above. There, I’d hoped to check the laptop which I’d been assured before would be provided for the slides I’d made to illustrate my talk that night; until more bad news was announced – “I don’t know about any laptop. The one we’ve got is on the blink.”
The door to the staff room opened up, just as I was digesting this. Blank faces stared back out as I then introduced myself again, and – again – enquired about the laptop on which to show my Powerpoint display.
“We’ll have to see if we can find it.” Someone said, while someone else then pointed to the corner of the room, towards the other author who, I was now instructed, had also been booked to talk that night. “Perhaps you’ll find some common ground. Make the event a shared one…”
Perhaps we could, and so I sat and asked my fellow author, “What’s your book about then? Mine’s a Victorian gothic novel.” Yet another cold blank stare was met, and then the answer I received in shock – “I’m here to talk about the shortage of human organ donations in the Nigerian population settled in North London.”
A silence fell between us. How on earth could we ever make this work? And, would I ever see the laptop on which to try and load my slides, what with it now less than five minutes before the evening’s event was due to start … and where would it be taking place? The library was very large.
“In the children’s section…” came another’s librarian’s answer. “We’ve set the chairs up, and the screen, but has anybody told you … the computer here is on the blink?”
Down in the lift we went, a sinking feeling also in my heart to discover the children’s library was open plan; not only that, but still wide open to the public. More disheartening was the audience. Six people waiting patiently. Six people who it then transpired had come along to hear me speak – which was when the other author then took a huff and disappeared off home.
Feeling embarrassed and rather awkward, at least I could get on with things. If only the laptop would keep running. If only I didn’t have to talk above the cries and laughter of the children running round the room, or the hooting horns and ding ding dings of the computer games they played. I wished the floor open up and swallow me entirely when I spoke of Victorian child prostitutes, and brothels, and tertiary syphilis ~ with many lurid images displayed upon the screen behind.
Thank heavens when the laptop finally gave up the ghost for good, when two librarians who’d placed themselves on chairs at the back of the audience continued nattering amongst themselves as I did my best to fix it, until I asked despairingly, “Shall we just give up and find a pub?”
This is nearly the end of my story – but a story with a happy end – because three of the people who came along to have a drink with me that night remain the firmest friends today. One is a well-travelled businesswoman. One is a talented artist. One is a professional composer and singer who, along with another gifted friend, has performed her glorious music at the launches of other books of mine.
I do often wonder, if that library talk had gone as planned, would these connections ever have been made? Perhaps not. But, they were, and because of that I cherish that night’s memory ~ as well as chuckling about it.
And finally, here is the stunning music Kirsten Morrison composed and sang at the launch party for my novel: The Last Days of Leda Grey …