Last Saturday I was very nervous. Last Saturday I thought I saw Richard Ford (one of my writer-heros) in a café, holding a clutch bag with a hairbrush inside. Last Saturday I built a grand piano* out of tiny lego. Last Saturday I was on stage for the first time in front of a paying audience.
Last Saturday I was one of three debut authors reading from our novels and answering questions at a Penguin Proof Party held in the Spiegel tent at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. It was my first time in front of a proper paying audience, and I was very nervous. My husband and daughter came to Cheltenham with me, and we started with lunch in a café. I was too nervous to eat much, but it was there that we thought we saw Richard Ford walk past with his hairbrush. We went to Waterstones’ bookshop tent and wandered around and I tried to calm myself with books. It didn’t work. My husband bought me a tiny lego-style grand piano which my daughter and I built whilst sitting beside a statue of Gustav Holst. It was a good distraction; but after we had built it I was still nervous. We arrived at the venue and had our sound check; I stood on the stage saying ‘testing, testing, testing’ to an empty room: terrifying. We went to the writers’ room to wait to be called, and by that point I wasn’t sure I wanted to have written a book.
We were called. We waited in the wings…
I stepped on stage: I felt great!
I read from Our Endless Numbered Days and answered a few questions from my Fig Tree / Penguin editor and our host, Juliet Annan. Then my fellow debut authors (Emma Hooper and Julia Rochester) did the same. Afterwards there were questions from the audience and then we got off the stage to talk to them and to sign the copies of our books they had been given. Perhaps my fight or flight response had finally chosen fight, or it was just that the audience were so lovely and friendly, or that I knew my husband and daughter were there willing everything to be alright, but something certainly kicked-in at the right moment.
Afterwards we went back to the writers’ room and celebrated with a glass or two of wine. And on the other side of the room was Richard Ford waiting for his turn on stage. He looked very relaxed, and nothing at all like the man in the café holding a clutch bag and a hairbrush.
* Appropriate because Our Endless Numbered Days features a grand piano.
Do you suffer from stage fright? Or were you in the audience on Saturday? I’d love to hear about your experiences.