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“Frequently Asked Questions”

July 31, 2009

I stumbled across this gem of a radio programme yesterday. It’s Ian Samson talking about – oh, why don’t I let the BBC explain?

“Ian Samson traces the relationship between authors and their readers through the changing nature of the correspondence between them. He asks his fellow writers whether festivals, promotional tours and the advent of the internet have altered their role.”

You can catch it here if you’re quick. (Sorry, that link didn’t work earlier . It’s now fixed.)

The many highlights of this programme included how Susan Hill successfully remonstrates with students who send her rude emails, the story of how Michael Rosen discovered the way to share poetry with 300 children, and the observation that back in the days of Dickens, authors were very much public figures. The idea of the aloof literary genius is a relatively modern creation.

A spokeswoman from Penguin explained that when they consider which authors to take on, they look not only at what they’ve written but at whether they are prepared to get involved in publicity – giving talks, meeting readers, doing interviews, etc.

Now, I have heard the last point before and know it to be true. However, I’d like to add a small word of encouragement to anyone currently slaving over a first novel who finds this added challenge somewhat daunting.

If someone as clueless as me can get taken on by a publisher, then anything is possible. I must have been the despair of the Penguin marketing department. The word ‘interview’ made my stomach shrivel up in fright. Frankly, if you add the words ‘live’ and ‘radio’ it still does. As for ‘events’ – if I’d had a natural flair for standing up in front of people and talking, I’d have been a teacher.

Faced with these terrifying expectations, I signed up for a Public Speaking course in the hope of learning how to be somebody else. Somebody confident and fluent. Unfortunately by the end of the day I was still a wimp.

I was, however, a wimp who had heard a famous actor confess to a group of strangers,  ‘I’m all right when I have a script, but when I stand up in front of you here as “me”… I’m really nervous.’

It was the most valuable lesson of the day. Everybody is nervous. Four years later and three books in, I still tell myself that at the start of every event. And then I take a deep breath, launch in…  and enjoy it. Hopefully, other people do too.

So to any prospective author who heard the programme and is now wondering whether they might as well give up now – please don’t be put off. As a wise man once said, ‘don’t worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will take care of itself.’

Just get on with writing a great book.

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2 comments

  1. Cheers,

    I am now reading my third book of your series, Terra Incognito. I started with the 3rd, Persona, then devoured the first Medicus and am presently enjoying this one. I find them very entertaining and quite amusing.

    The romance certainly has developed between Russo and Tilla. I particularly like the way you handle religion. Russo is mostly oblivious and Tilla is consistenly exploring. I appreciate both.

    Your short introductions wet the appetite for adventure and are useful as a reference point for reminding the reader who your characters are and how they fit into the story. Today I have done a little historic and archeological excavation on the web and have discovered extensive information re: Hadrian’s wall and walks and sites that can be visited for further exploration.

    Your blog is open and informal. Makes me feel right at home. Your honesty, candor and Britishness I find endearing. I easily understand what you write about fearing public speaking and yet also get the giggles over your teasing about George Clooney and silk pajamas.

    I will probably never write a novel, but reading good ones helps.


  2. Good to hear from you, Jamie.

    I’m really pleased that the books have led you to do some more exploring of Roman Britain. It’s a kind of weird and mysterious alternative reality that exists in the same place as the rest of us here, but not the same time. (Oh dear, I may have been watching too much Dr Who.)

    I’m interested (and relieved) to know that the books seem to work even though you haven’t read them in sequence. Trying to decide how much backstory should go into the later episodes was a challenge I hadn’t anticipated, having never expected to get past the first one.

    As for thinking you’ll probably never write a novel – be warned: I used to think that. You too may end up on the chaise longue in your silk pyjamas…



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