Saturday, June 19, 2010

Writing and speaking: is it like walking and chewing gum?

As publication day draws nearer my google calendar is starting to gather a few appointments.


It's a decidedly odd experience, (as a new writer about to be foisted launched onto an unsuspecting world) anticipating spruiking yourself and your book for a few precious minutes to an unseen audience. You need to seduce them. Excite them just as much as you were excited about writing the book. Convince them to part with what may be the equivalent of a couple of hours pay to buy it. Promise them that the hours of their lives they'll spending reading it will be worth it.

You find yourself listening carefully to podcasts of people you know, or authors whose books you admire as they strut their stuff on The Book Show. You wonder if you can maybe pick up a few tips. Then Malla Nunn, hypnotises you with the story she tells and the way she tells it. What a gorgeous voice - she could DO radio not just appear on it occasionally. And then you hear Lenny Bartulin managing to be funny, self-deprecating, spin a good yarn and promote his book in a seamless flow of intelligent wit and charm and think "Hang on, how did he just do that?" 

You listen to the big guns, the imports who rock up for the writers festivals: Lionel Shriver being alternately withering and razor sharp, you hear Richard Glover confess to being intimidated by her. Then you hear Christopher Hitchens, who even when he's contradicting his past positions, still manages to sound as if he has never seriously doubted anything he's ever said, thought or written. 
How do they get that kind of confidence? Maybe listening to them wasn't such a great plan after all, as by now, you've sort of curled up under the desk and decided you may never actually want to come out again. You're feeling the pressure to be "interesting" really starting to build up. 
There's a reason writers write, you see. They have some facility with words. But becoming the interview subject? That means talking to an audience off the cuff, on the fly and that's like  putting your first draft out there with no editing, no polishing - no delete button. And as most writers will tell you, no one but them usually ever gets to see the first draft!

A lot of the interviews that have been lined up are for radio, by phone. Takes me back, along time ago (pre Sydney Olympics). I was a newly-returned-to-Australia-ex-cop in need of a job and I applied for a position with ASIO. They were recruiting analysts. I didn't know if I could be an analyst, but it sounded interesting and it was based in Sydney, working on Pre-Olympic stuff. I sent off my application to Canberra and scored an interview, by panel, over the phone. 
It was bizarre, Sitting on the lounge at home, hearing different voices asking the pool questions. From the echoing timbre I guessed they were sitting around a table, leaning in towards a speaker phone. I felt totally off balance, being unable to see anyone, or imagine the room, or pick up on the body language. Those anti-nervousness strategies - like imagining the interview panel naked - don't work so well when you can't see them. 
I must've done OK because they sent up some paperwork for the next step. It was a pre-screening security document and to say it left no stone unturned would be an understatement. By the time I got to page twenty-something and it needed the names and addresses of all the friends and acquaintances I had met overseas, I'd decided that I was just not that into ASIO. The thought of friends, who'd extended kindness to a traveller in Africa, ending up being subject to some kind of security screening, in order that I could land a job seemed just bit too much to ask.
So, while I'm not expecting any ASIO style interrogations, it did get me thinking. Maybe book promotion interviews do have a fair bit in common with job interviews. I guess you'll know if you got the job when, one day, you see someone sitting opposite you in the train, or beside the pool, and they are totally engrossed in your book.

I reckon I'll call that job satisfaction.


  1. Hi there,

    Firstly, congratulations on The Old School! It must be very exciting to have reached this point. I'm SH's other ex-copper, running about a year behind you. I wanted to thank you for your posting. It's really informative and makes me feel a little less alone out there! There's so much written about how to get your work to an agent / publisher, but very little on what to do and how it all unfolds once you've got that foot in the door. So I'm really grateful for the chance to watch how your experience unfolds. Keep up the blogs. Can't wait to get a copy of the book!

  2. Hi Yvette,

    Nice to "meet" you!

    I have heard of you through the wonderful Sophie. Congratulations and best wishes for the year ahead - it's quite a journey. I'm really pleased you've found the blog of interest. It all still feels a bit like uncharted territory to me as well. Sophie is a great person to have at your side, so we are both lucky there.

    If there's anything I can help you with - even if it's just to share an "Oh I knooow" moment (ala Sybil Fawlty) drop me an email - pmnewton AT live DOT com. I think that's how to write it so the email trawling bots don't grab it and bombard me with offers to cash in lottery tickets I've never bought along with opportunities to enhance my member!