Friday, 29 August 2014

Excruciating Moments in a Writing Career: The Tramp that Kept Laughing in my Book Talk

Every writer may have moments he/she would rather forget: a gaff during an author talk, noticing bowl had been spelled bowel only after the book has been published. Yes, I have noticed this confusion in a few books – trad published as well. Well I did a book talk the other day – an event greatly anticipated as always. Little did I know what was in store.

Book Talk Agonizing Moments

I had prepared a book reading for the author event from my novel, Falling Awake, a story that relates on how a mother, mired in debt, performs routines for a client. The woman’s twelve-year-old son, after overhearing the word ‘voyeurism’, misconstrues the word to mean an audience watching a show, like the X-Factor. His mother does not correct him on the definition, too embarrassed.

He also assumes his mother’s evening performances is for a glitzy show. In this vein, he makes her a cat mask to wear. His mother is bewildered at how this project could cheer him up in the face of his father’s desertion and losing their home. She doesn’t tell him the seedy truth, instead fostering his fantasy and letting him make her the cat mask.

Classic Author Talk Moment

The excerpt of my book described a climactic moment when the mother’s client appears unexpectedly in her garden. Her son is there with her cat mask providing the setup for an excruciating moment mired with misunderstandings.

Great, I thought, this is an ideal material for keeping an audience interested and alert! How can it fail? Only trouble was, my book talk took place at a city library, meaning I could not know who would turn up.

The audience during my author event included an 80 year old lady with memory loss, and a tramp who would explode with laughter for no apparent reason. The woman was very intelligent and well-read, but had trouble communicating. She also (perhaps because of her age) nodded off a few times. The tramp laughed at comments that had no comic value, and otherwise stared into space.

What Not to Do During an Author Talk

Only after the event had finished, did I realize that I had talked about voyeurism to a tramp and an eighty-year-old lady. Had that really happened? The lesson from this is that a writer must never make assumptions about the reading profile of an author talk. In future, I will prepare several excerpts and choose the one most suitable for the audience that happens to arrive. What a steep learning curve!

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