Chapter Twenty Seven - Public Events24 August 2010
So, you’ve put in the hard work, earned your lucky breaks, seen your work published, and are now ready to go meet your audience at a signing or public event. Some writers love reading out live in public, but others hate it! Writing and performing are two very different skills. If you decide to combine the two, as most publishers will ask you to, you’ll find it helps to put some serious thought into what you’re going to do at your events, and how you want to be seen in a live environment. Here’s a blog from a few years back, when I was preparing for an event in Edinburgh, to show how I go about getting ready to go on tour.
Spent the last couple of days fine-tuning my Edinburgh extracts, tightening them up as much as possible. I never read out an entire scene from any of my books—I always edit them down for greater impact. Reading a piece of work out live is very different to reading it to yourself from a book. Ideally an extract should work as well for someone with no knowledge of your work as it does for hardcore fans. That’s one of the reasons my CDF and Lord Loss scenes work so well—since they come from the first few chapters of their respective books, people listening don’t need to know anything about the books at all to appreciate them. Given that I’m going to be reading from books 8 and 9 of a series this time round, it isn’t going to be possible to make these particular scenes work as well, but I’ve whittled them down to their bare essentials, so they should hopefully be accessible to most of the people, including those who’ve never read any of the books and know nothing about me.
Performing—i.e. reading out loud to an audience—is very different to writing, and I think that’s why a lot of writers struggle in a live situation. They think that if they simply read out an entire passage from their book, they’ve done enough. In truth, that’s rarely the case, although most audiences will act as if it is. People in the book world (I’m including readers here as well) tend to be a very polite bunch, and I’m sure audience members sit very quietly at virtually all author readings, listen attentively, and clap at the end. It’s not like live stand-up, where a comedian will get heckled if they don’t do enough to entertain. But I think it should be. I think a lot of author events are very boring, because nobody ever tells the authors that they’re BEING boring!!! Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind! I think author readings can be funny, exciting, thrilling, scary—all the things, in short, that the books themselves can be. At the best author events I’ve been to, the authors bring the stories alive and act them out and create the sort of atmosphere you can get at a concert or at a really good play. It’s not exactly the same, but close. At others they simply drone on, and everyone responds politely, and I find myself stifling my yawns.
Not every writer is suited to a live environment. Many are better off sticking to the shadows, only doing press interviews or signings. There’s no reason a writer SHOULD be good at performing live, since writing is a very solitary, anti-social affair. A lot of writers aren’t confident reading out live in front of an audience, and I don’t think pressure should be put on them to do anything they aren’t happy to do. But if you DO make the decision to put yourself up in front of a crowd, I think you need to do your best to make it as entertaining as you can, to give them value for money (even if, as at many of my events, they’re actually not being charged anything to come in!!). If you’re going to play the game, play it as well as you can! I’m lucky in that I enjoy performing live, and have done since my very first event. I’m not a very social person in day-to-day life—I’m quite shy, and I find it hard to make casual conversation, even with long-time friends, never mind strangers!!! Sometimes people who’ve just met me think I’m being aloof and unfriendly, but that’s not the case—I just often find it very hard to make connections and carry my end of a chat. I’m fine on certain subjects, like travel, art, books, films. But if I don’t make an immediate connection with someone who shares the same tastes as me, I struggle—and sometimes struggle big time!!! But, oddly, I’m totally relaxed in my “role” as Darren Shan. I sort of slip into an act when I get up in front of a crowd, and “become” a public-speaking author. I’m very theatrical and at ease, I joke around, I love reading out—I have fun!!!
That makes it fairly easy for me, and I see touring as a natural part of my job. But even so, I try to put a lot of work into preparing for events, to keep things fresh, both for myself as well as for the audience—but not doing exactly the same thing all the time, I stay interested in the material I perform live, and I like to think that shines through. I think you need to do that if you’re a touring author, especially in this day and age. I’m always conscious of the fact that there are so many other things people could be doing rather than sitting in a tent or hall at one of my public events—they could go to the cinema, a concert, the theatre, a comedy show, just sit at home and play a computer game… I genuinely appreciate the effort people make to come see me, and I do the best I can to reward that effort, to give them the most I can from my readings. It would be easy to just pick a chapter and read it out “as is”—but that would be doing fans a disservice. You guys are entitled to a good show, and I think you should always demand it—there’s nothing wrong with a bit of politeness, but not if it leads to boredom!!!!
Anyway, what I’m saying, in short, is that I’ve done my best to make this a cracking good show, so I hope all of you coming have a good time. If you don’t, please feel free to boo and throw rotten vegetables at me!