I had lunch a few days ago with Gill Butler, who hosts the literary events at Blackheath Halls, to discuss the format for Wednesday evening. I still can’t quite believe that they’ll be charging people to come and hear me talk. It makes me feel slightly better when I remind myself that the only people likely to turn up will be friends who live locally, but then I feel bad again when I remember that they can hear me wittering on for free, any day of the week.

I enjoyed meeting Gill, who has a real passion for books and devotes so much time and energy to organising these events of behalf of the Friends of the Halls, but it still feels strange to hear someone I’ve never previously met talking about something I wrote as if it merited serious consideration. Clearly this is something I need to get over, but after a lifetime of not taking myself seriously, it’s hard to start now.

I’m also beginning to question the wisdom of having written a first person narrative in the voice of a petty criminal living in the western states of America in the late nineteenth century. For the sake of the audience, I shall keep my reading very short.

How do other writers approach public readings? Some, I know, are quite theatrical, almost acting out the passage they’re reading, but if you’re not blessed with a strong voice or dramatic skills, what do you do? I feel I should be rehearsing, gargling, doing exercises to warm up my voice, not planting bulbs, going to an aerobics class and climbing into the loft to investigate the strange object that may be a wasps’ nest, to list a few of the exciting things I’ve done today.

Notice the absence of any mention of writing – although I suppose this blog sort-of counts. I did, however, finally post a reply to the fan letter I received, with an SAE enclosed, a few weeks ago. Lovely – and astonishing – though it was to receive, I felt a great deal of responsibility to answer the questions posed in it seriously. I even dug out a very expensive fountain pen that was part of a prize in a short story competition many years ago, but it obviously needed a good clean, and would only make faint marks on the paper, so I had to raid my son’s pencil-case for some kind of roller-ball thing. My handwriting is so abysmal, though, that I needn’t have worried about what I wrote because it will be impossible to decipher.

Come to think of it, I have read every word of each of the Harry Potter books to my kids – most of them twice – so I should be able to read a page or two of my own prose reasonably competently. Although maybe it was the sound of my voice droning on that made my children such good sleepers…

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I’ve been to a marvellous party…

I’ll say one thing for people in the publishing world: they throw some wonderful parties. Picador’s event last Wednesday was my idea of heaven: a huge Regency mansion, its elegantly shabby rooms filled with literary types and furnished with little more than a glitter ball, a chaise longue and piles of books, some of which the guests could take home, others fashioned into seats and tables.

The one flaw in all this perfection was that the ‘Gin Palace’ I was directed towards was exactly that – there really was nothing but gin there, and as a Pole I regard gin as something to be dabbed behind the ears rather than swallowed. Still, as there was no vodka to be had I graciously accepted a glass, and wearing what I hoped was an expression of appropriately Slavic disdain wandered through the crowds until I found my editor, Sam Humphreys, who showed me where I could abandon the gin and get some real alcohol.

The party resembled heaven in another way, too, in that there were plenty of people there who I recognised, or at least thought looked vaguely familiar. This meant that for the most part the guests were divided into those I was too shy to speak to in case I was overcome and started stammering and/or giggling as soon as I was in their presence and those I didn’t dare speak to in case I failed to recognise that they were people of such literary eminence that I ought to be overcome by shyness in their presence and start stammering and/or giggling. It’s hard, being a very small fish in a very big pond…

So I failed to do anything that could be described as networking, although it was good to meet fellow Picador author Charles Lambert, whose first novel, Little Monsters, I’d really enjoyed.

Another thing you can say about the publishing world is that it seems to be full of very young and very glamorous people. I had one of my customary wardrobe malfunctions between the Tube and the party when my hold-ups failed to live up to expectations, and, not wanting to do a Nora Batty in such a sophisticated gathering, I went to the ladies to remove them. As there were two of the v. young and v. glamorous girls chatting outside I had to skulk in the cubicle for some time until I felt it was safe to come out (I didn’t want them wondering why I’d left my stockings behind, there was nothing as utilitarian as a bin around, and it didn’t seem appropriate to interrupt their conversation about the Orange Prize to explain the provenance Nora Batty). They don’t tell you about this sort of thing when you sign a book deal. If I imagined publisher’s parties at all – and I was probably far too busy being hysterical to do anything of the kind – I would have thought of witty banter, tinkling laughter, cigarette holders tilted at a rakish angle, that sort of thing; not hiding in the toilets and trying not to drink gin.

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25051515.038This is the web site of Bronia Kita. Here you can find out about me and my writing life, and when I work out how to do it, order my book and contact me.