For a newly published author a first invitation to speak at a literary festival can be a daunting prospect. After all, if your sole experience of such events has been in the capacity of bibliophile it is quite a dramatic change of mindset to approach it from the other side of the fence. This year I was invited to speak at the Greenwich Book Festival on a panel discussing the inspirations behind crime writing.
Naturally, the first reaction is delight. Am I now important enough to be invited to speak at major literary events? Hurrah! I have arrived. The incipient megalomania, however, is swiftly tempered by a concatenation of realisations that thud into your mind like a barrage of cannon-fire … oh, God, I have to meet my readers! How can I possibly appear charming, witty, debonair, interesting? What if they despise me? Will I put them off reading future books? Will I come across as a smug self-satisfied narcissist? What if I’m asked a question I haven’t prepared for? How sweaty can one get on stage and still look composed?
Calm down. The good news is that most literary festivals are very well organised and most people in the world of books, particularly readers, are wonderful and sympathetic. Greenwich University was a beautiful location for such an event, on the banks of a Thames dappled by May sunlight. The organisers had thoughtfully set up a room so that I could meet my fellow panellists and the chair, a very jovial Dr Michael Fiddler, in advance to plot strategy. When the curtain rose I felt relaxed and at ease. To use a cricketing metaphor the chair deftly bowled half-trackers at me which I proceeded to hit out of the park. When the floor was opened to questions the audience was gentle, and kind. My fellow panellists – one of them bestselling author Clare Mackintosh, the other talented writer Paula Lichtarowicz – were wonderful.
So … my advice? Embrace any such opportunity that comes your way. For writing is a lonely business at the best of times, and literary festivals are the great gathering places of like-minded souls. What is there to be afraid of?