On Saturday I did my first ever event – the Latitude Festival 2011. I have never before spoken to an audience larger than my own family, so was hoping I might warm up with a few talks for schools or librarys or something, but no, I went straight into a festival. That’s not a complaint! I’m absolutley thrilled to have taken part, I just wasn’t really very… prepared for speaking in front of large audience who were accustomed to watching peole who knew what they were doing. And it was a VERY large audience (okay, not quite Wembley stadium, but, thanks to the heavy rain, people were packing in wherever they could. Did I say ‘thanks to the rain’?! Silly me! Of course, what I meant to say was, ‘thanks to my amazing reputation and household-name status’).
In actual fact the majority of the audience were a mixture of people who had come to see Henry Worsley talk about Ernest Shackleton (on before me) and giddy young girls waiting to see the lovely Louise Rennison (after me).
Having said that, it was by no means a disaster. I had genuinely expected to cock-up, dry-up and die up there (I share a horrible similarity with Jack Samsonite in that I DREAD the thought of talkng in front of large groups of people). As with most things that take some nerve, I did a good job of pushing my fears to the back of my mind and expected them to rear up and attack just minutes before going on stage.
After waiting an hour in the rain for an on-site minibus to take me to the check-in gate, I finally made my way to the literary arena with less than half an hour to go before my ‘performance’. I made myself comfortable in the back stage tent, introduced myself to some of the people there (except Juliet Stevenson, because I recognised her and assumed that people who are famous enough to be recognised do not want to be introduced to every no-name author who passes by), and then someone told me I had a dressing room! My very own little cabin with a sofa, a table, a mini fridge filled with beer and water, and, bizarrely, something that resembled a hospital gurney (I can only assume they give this room to people like me, who look wimpy enough to pass out). Even though this was somewhat of a luxury after standing in the rain for an hour, I wasn’t too sure I fancied being left on my own with my thoughts for 20 whole minutes. I occupied myself by practicing reading a few chapeters from my book and quickly drinking two and a half cans of beer, until I heard Louise Rennison arrive in the Dressing Room next to mine. In a selfless act of charity I invited her to allow me into her room (she didn’t have a bed OR a fridge, which I made sure to point out and rub in) and let her sign ‘And Then He Ate My Boy Entrancers’ for my sister-in-law’s birthday present (which is a surprise unless she reads this). I also allowed her the privelige of distracting me right up until one of the lovely stage hands (I did know her name and her correct job title, both of which I’m sure were far nicer than ‘Stage Hand’) came to tell me ‘We’re ready for you at side of stage’.
So I quickly said goodbye to Lulu (that’s what I call her, because we’re like this now, me and Lu… LouRe…. Renny… Louie-louie Ren-ren) and she asked if I’d like to go for a drink when she comes off. ME?! Go for a drink with a real life proper author?! Obviously I made up some lame excuses until she was practically begging me and then I finally submitted and squeeled ‘Of course!’ before running to Side of Stage, where I could see the MC (Andre Vincent) introducing me. He was supposed to do this for ten minutes, but since I’m such a complex and interesting character it only took him one, which gave me no time at all to pluck up any fear or anxiety, and before I knew it I was bounding on stage in front of a rather large group of people who seemed very much in the mood to hear some more riveting tales about Ernest Shackleton (I’m not being sarcastic there - from what I heard, Henry Worsley was genuinely fascinating). Shame then that all I had to offer was ‘nob-ache’.
In hindsight I should have played the sympathy card and told them ‘Ive never done this before!’ and I’m sure they would have given me lots of charitable laughs and applause. The worst part was probably when, having entered the stage, scanned the audience, ensured there were very few small children, began talking non-stop about ‘nob-ache’, then spotted who was sat directly in front of me - an entire front row of under-8s! (I apologised, explained that a ‘nob-ache’ is a type of unicorn – it was the first thing that sprung to mind – then continued to reel off an endless string of offensive words, which is actually really hard to avoid when reading my book!).
Even so, they were a very nice audience – polite, attentive, clapped when they were supposed to clap, quiet when they were supposed to be quiet, blank when they were supposed to laugh… If only I had the confidence of LouRe! I guess I’ll get better with practise. It’s not that I think I did BADLY, but I know I could have done better. Everyone told me I was great when I came off, but, really, what else were they going to say – ‘Wow! That was SO mediocre! No, seriously! You were just so amazingly amateur, almost verging on shit! Well done!’? But hey, at least I managed to speak without crying, stand without buckling and hold my book without trembling so violently that I couldn’t see the words! I even managed to put some inflection into my words, instead of just reading one long, continuous, monotonous, punctuationless, drawl (go me!). I have finally mastered the art of courage (well, the two and a half cans of beer I downed in the ten minutes before I went on stage could also have played a part).
I then went to do a joint-signing with Louie-Louie Renren, where I watched her sign her books and smiled at all her fans longingly (in that I would like to have that many adoring fans, not because I’m a feeaking messed-up pervert), then, when I realised her queue of fans was quite long, it dawned on me that I only had twenty minutes to catch the minibus back to the bus stop and catch the last biggybus that would get me to the train station in time for the last train home!
So, reluctantly I broke the bad news to Lulie-O-Rennybop, I comforted her whilst she gently sobbed and then I left. Cold, wet, muddy, a little bit wobbly still from the beer, and a little bit glowing. I flashed my ‘Performers’ wristband to as many people as were willing to look, I waved my book in front of as many faces as were stupid enough to not duck, and I put a notch on my belt – my first ever public event. And I never even dribbled poo down my leg!
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