I am back at my desk after a swift visit to London. I was speaking at the Independent Booksellers Dinner at the Hotel Russell on Sunday evening and stayed the night in the hotel (which was clearly very grand once, and still is in places).
I traveled up on Sunday afternoon and checked in. I used the time I had before the pre-dinner drinks to get spruced up and to go through what I wanted to say in my speech. I had written something before I left, but this was more a statement of intent than a speech. There is a great temptation to write a speech - I am a writer after all - and read it out, but it just doesn't feel right to me. If it isn't going down well, you have nowhere to go. Reading it seems dull and if you try and remember it, you run the risk of drying up.
My technique - if I can use such a word - is to have half a dozen things I want to say and an order in which I plan to say them. And that is about it. Things will occur to me as I speak and sections will grow or shrink depending on how interested the audience seems with what I'm saying.
I'm not an especially nervous speaker. I don't know why that is. I absolutely hated having to speak in class at school and would do anything to avoid it. I certainly never put myself forward for plays or performances of any kind. Maybe I just don't like reciting things. Hence my reluctance to read a prepared speech.
Having said that, this event was far more nerve-jangling than I had envisaged. It was much bigger for a start. There were lots of people seated around many tables with candelabras in the centre of them. It had the appearance of a large wedding reception.
Added to that, Howard Jacobson was the other speaker and he went first. He was very funny indeed. He went for the prepared speech with lots of gags and I started to seriously doubt my technique as his talk went on. It started to seem like knowing exactly what you were about to say was the only way to go and that I was going to fall flat on my face. I felt a little sick.
I also hate microphones and lecterns and this gig had both - plus spotlights. I hate spotlights. But as I am aware through my writing, much of terror is in the anticipation, and once I was up there it was fine. I think I was reasonably coherent and said most of what I had intended to say.
I spoke for ten minutes or so. I talked a little about my influences and about my take on writing horror fiction. I won't go into too much detail here because I intend to write a few posts about that quite soon. I also plugged The Dead of Winter of course. This was a room full of booksellers after all.
I was quite happy to return to my table and to the lemon tart my talk had been delaying (we were talking between courses). My part was over. People had laughed. People had clapped. I had not disgraced myself. I could relax now and just enjoy the company and the conversation.
Increasingly writers are expected to be effective speakers and spokesmen (and women) for their books. We still have the opportunity to say no, but it is really part of the job now, I think. It all helps to make a personal connection with those people who will sell or buy your books. There is no reason why someone who is good at writing should necessarily be any good at talking, but its a skill that can be acquired like any other. And it improves with practice.