Stand Up for ‘Stand Up’.
One of the many attractions of being a professional writer is the solitary nature of the job. There you are on your patch, coffee, tea, whatever floats your boat on hand, and just your story for company. Friends drop by in the form of books – I have a lot of bookcases in my writing place – to impart the latest information on guns, forensic techniques, security issues and a whole host of other bits and pieces, but that’s it. This is my domain, and my story and its characters belong to my empire. There is no greater pleasure, from an artistic point of view, than a day of uninterrupted writing when thoughts become words and words become chapters and, finally, many days, weeks and months later, a fully formed novel is born. This is the writer’s life. Wonderful, isn’t it?
Apart from the ‘show biz’ element, which nobody remembered to warn you of when you first picked up a pen, or tapped out your first novel.
Make no mistake, a writer, unless very famous, is expected to talk the talk. This comes in various guises: interviews on radio and television programmes, participation at literary events, usually by taking part in panels in front of the public, talks to anyone prepared to listen. For the solitary writer, it can come as a bit of shock. If you’ve got a great voice, have no fear of public speaking, or were lucky enough to have studied drama at school (I did) then it doesn’t pose so much of a problem. If you have none of the requisite skills, it can be a nightmare.
The very first time I did a radio interview I seriously considered running out of the radio station three minutes before I was about to go on air and never come back. Instead, I went to the loo and threw up, then did my thing. Once my pulse rate settled and I stopped sweating, I actually discovered that I enjoyed it – afterwards.
Don’t get me wrong; all of the above are magnificent ways in which to get a writer ‘out there’. It creates the opportunity to let the reading public know about your novel, what you’re about and promote your work. So grow up, one might say, and enjoy your brief moment of fame. And not all writers dread the publicity machine. There are plenty who love, even relish, this aspect of the job. They’ll say that it’s the perfect antidote to ‘cabin fever’ and a way to enjoy that special connection to readers.
So what’s a less confident writer to do? Take a proverbial leaf out of the stand-up comedian’s book. It takes the equivalent of balls of steel (female comics included) to go on stage, night after night, in front of thousands of people (some tanked up on booze) whose only desire is to have their funny bones given a full work out. Am I in awe? You bet. It’s no wonder that stand-up is the new rock and roll.
To explain, I’m genuinely knocked out by the sheer ingenuity, versatility, observational skills and intellect of most comedians. Sticking my neck out, I bet most have an IQ high enough to qualify them for joining MENSA. One thing that strikes me about the many comedians I’ve watched both live and on DVD, over and above an ability to make me laugh out loud, is that they don’t take themselves too seriously. It may be a fake front designed to win over an audience, but it works. Even those with a political bent, keen to mock the establishment – a form of comedy not so much in vogue currently – usually finish their act with a wry smile of self-deprecation because they know, at heart, nobody likes a show-off, yet it’s an irony that, as art forms go, stand-up comedians are the ultimate show-offs. How else could he or she front it out to an audience of thousands? So, I guess, my best advice to the writer new to the publicity side of the job is to embrace your inner show-off while not taking yourself too seriously. And just remember that when a comic walks off that stage and disappears to his dressing room, the equivalent of the writer’s study, he walks alone.