Russel D McLean
With the launch of CRY UNCLE in the UK (is it the last McNnee? Its certainly the culmination of my five book plan) I've been reading the damn book all over Scotland. Crowds (or at least two people) were present in Gilmerton, Dundee (three times!) and Glasgow have now heard the opening chapters to the book (Including my impressively bad Hungarian accent, which caused me to corpse terribly during the Glasgow event). Its been great fun, reading the book. It always is. I like reading. I like (badly) acting when I'm reading. But I know that reading isn't for every author. I limit myself when I do read because, frankly, I tend to lose track of author readings at the best of times. I much prefer someone talking with passion about their book or about anything.
But it has left me wondering about events. Are single author events worthwhile? The most fun I had these last few weeks - and they were all fun - was pairing up with other authors. Jay Stringer's impromtu quizzing of my knowledge of Mel Gibson's films was great fun. Realising that Chris Brookmyre was the new Shakespeare at Kirkcaldy was a highlight. And I think it adds atmosphere to an event, too, when writers with good chemistry pair up. It becomes more of a show than someone talking about something of interest only to them.
I also started to think about the mechanics or reading your work. Its strange to see your own words there in front of you. I find that - for my own amusement more than anything - I start to edit or adapt as I'm going along; changing small lines of dialogue, speeding up and slowing down sequences. Its part of the experience of writing for me; a book is never finally finished. It gets published, but if I was allowed to, I would tinker forever at the nuts and bolts of sentence structure and word choice.
Author events are strange things. Authors are not natural performers, but I think that if we are going to go out and talk about our books in public we should be. One of the nicest moments this week during a solo event was a librarian, after I was done, saying she hadn't had readers laugh quite so hard with an author in a while. I know I write hardboiled crime, but honestly, that one moment summed up everything I love about doing live events: its a show, its entertainment, its supposed to be interesting and entertaining. And entertaining doesn't just mean funny. It means it has to be interesting to the audience, it has to grip their attention the same way reading a book does. If a live event doesn't do that, then, really, what's the point?
All writers should be required to read this if they plan on reading publicly. YOu're right: it's a performance, and it requires preparation. Sure, some will be better at it than others--after all, writers must have strong introvert tendencies to lock themselves away for so much of their time--but, however you pull it off, the author owes it to his readers to be interesting, as they are giving him (or her) two of their most valuable possessions: their money, and, maybe even more important, their time.
I wholeheartedly agree. There is nothing so disheartening than to attend an author event of a favorite author and have said author have nothing prepared and just stake questions, the answers of which are on their website. Charles Dickens used to perform his stories live. Levenger.com has a nice bound version of what Dickens did to David Copperfield to prepare it for performance. It got me thinking about doing something similar when I get a solo author event. Probably not for a multiple author gig. I've even given some thought to what kinds of visuals I could use. First things first, however: I have to get the books out there and then people read them.
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