I’m a writer. It’s possible that I’ve mentioned this before. But something over two years ago – I actually cannot remember the date – I returned permanently to Birmingham and something under two years ago, I talked on stage.
For that one I was being interviewed at PowWow LitFest by Steph Vidal-Hall in September 2012. I’ve been interviewed quite a bit since then and I’ve also been the interviewer many times. Produced a few events. Run a lot of workshops. Presented a great deal. Book talks. Author talks.
Being a writer, I wrote all this down. I have a list in Evernote. It’s got LitFest as number 1.
Tomorrow is September 2014 and I’m in Burton upon Trent to run a Young Writers’ Group session for Writing West Midlands – and that is number 100.
After the first 9, I started counting how many people heard me. That’s sometimes necessarily approximate and I’ve no way at all of even guessing the answer when I’ve been on radio or television. Or when I’ve done teleseminars for other companies. That’s quite eerie, speaking into the void. So this can’t be accurate at all, but I’ve at least spoken to 1,754 people.
Funny thing, though: I still think of this as writing. It’s the same job of communicating an idea. (Or hopefully lots of ideas: you’re spending money here, I’ve got to give you good value.) I go about it the same way in obviously planning and structuring but less obviously in reaching into myself as deeply as I can to find something new and something that might be worth your listening to.
So it’s writing, which I’ve done all my life, and by tomorrow I’ll have spoken 100 times to something like 1,754 people and still it’s scarier than writing to you like this. You’re nice.
Actually, I think the 1,754 people were nice too.
But that only helps from the moment I begin speaking. From that instant and throughout the talk, most certainly afterwards nattering with people, everything is great. Usually.
Up to that instant, not so much.
I’ve only vomited once with nerves and that was before this 100 started. During the 100 I’ve come close only two times so that’s pretty good: near-retching 2% of the time.
Funnily enough, I’ve been wretched 2% of the time.
Clearly I’m not saying I’m fantastic the rest of the time but those two stand out as bad. I should say that these two weren’t same as the two near-vomit ones and actually I’m being a little unfair. One of them, number 80 (Royal Television Society mini-summit at BBC Nottingham, 17 people on 26 June 2014) I was merely rubbish.
But for the other, number 3 (Mee Club spoken word cabaret, before records of exact dates and audiences began), I stank.
It wasn’t for a lack of effort. I just hadn’t got the material right, despite a lot of work and a lot of time. The material only came together that afternoon and I didn’t physically have enough hours left to get it right.
Cat Weatherill ran that evening and let me atone very shortly afterwards with number 5 (Tell Me on a Sunday, also before counting began). I was much, much better then.
So I have Cat to thank for that opportunity to redeem myself. I have Steph to thank for making me sound great on stage that very first time, I have 1,754 people to thank for at the very least pretending to listen very well.
But I’m a writer, okay? I just talk about it a lot.