Tonight I am going to be one of the writers at the Brixton Book Jam - at the Hootananny pub in Brixton, 7pm onwards, free entry - and will be reading an extract from James Eyre and Other Genderswitched Stories. The idea is that a series of writers do brief readings or talks, then there’s a panel discussion. And there will be drinks, and books for sale, and exciting new people to meet. I’m looking forward to it.
Like many people, I have a complicated relationship with public speaking. At school it was probably my worst fear, along with hockey and being made to dance in public. I basically didn’t want to be either hurt or publically humiliated, which when I think of it like that doesn’t seem unreasonable. As an adult, I still can’t play hockey, but I can both dance and speak in front of strangers, so two out of three is broadly acceptable, as Meatloaf might have said if he were English and didn’t mind his lyrics not scanning.
In the end, my public speaking fears were overcome by a variety of life experiences, mostly a combination of alcohol and having no choice in the matter. The turning point was probably my friend Richard’s wedding, at which I was best (wo)man and had to make a speech: it took place in the USA and I didn’t know most of the guests, but it turned out that an English accent of vaguely RP origins goes a long way with Americans. They liked me, and they laughed where they were supposed to, and I learned two valuable lessons. First, just because you dread something doesn’t necessarily mean you’re terrible at it – in fact, you might end up enjoying yourself. Secondly, you can’t actually die from fright. (Probably. I have not consulted any medical professionals about this.)
I am therefore pleased to announce that, at the age of 37, I have achieved the stage where I would pick speaking in public over, say, touching a spider, and where I can utter recognisable words in front of a group of people I don’t know and expect at least some of them to make sense. Of course, by writing this I have clearly jinxed myself for this evening and will end up tripping over the microphone, forgetting how to read, or suddenly finding myself improvising anchovy-themed haikus on stage. Why not come along to find out which?