Busy? Busy? Yes, I’ve been busy. Busy writing, redrafting, editing, eating biscuits, and generally working like crazy on the next Eddie Flynn novel. So I’ve been a little remiss with the old blog posts, something I intend to remedy.
So here is a long overdue post about my first gig as a writer. Even typing that sentence gives me a little thrill. You see, I’m slowly coming around to the notion of actually being a writer. It may be a class thing, I’m not sure. I remember Billy Connolly doing a piece of material about having dinner in a big country house and asking one of the guests what they did for a living.
‘Toboggan,’ was the response.
‘No, I didn’t mean to ask what you were doing today. I meant what do you do for a living?’
‘Toboggan,’ again was the reply.
The Big Yin thought, quite rightly, that it was his own upbringing which simply wouldn’t allow him to absorb this information. He imagined the professional toboggan enthusiast signing on the dole.
‘Occupation?’ asked the man at the dole office.
‘I’m sorry, what?’
‘Give me a second would you?’
Dole officer rings his boss from the back office.
‘Does he have his toboggan with him?’ asked the supervisor.
‘The poor man must have a speech impediment. Put him down as a tobacconist.’
(after you’ve read this blog, go and get yourself a Billy Connolly DVD and have a laugh, it’s good for you.)
I can relate to that sense of incredulity. And there isn’t a kick in the arse between being a writer and being a tobogganist. Both fly by the seat of their pants, out of control for the most of the way and living in constant fear of hitting a tree at any moment. I remember in 2012, when I was writing The Defence, my mates asking me what I was up to at the time.
‘I’m writing a novel,’ I mumbled, into my beer.
‘You’re igniting a bowel?’
Of course the irony is that later that evening, in the kebab shop, I would engage, rather foolishly, in the process of irritating my bowel. And early the following morning, having consumed many pints of gassy beer and an onion filled kebab the night before, my body certainly possessed all of the raw ingredients necessary to achieve ignition.
It was at the tail end of August as part of the Openhouse Festival, in Bangor. Like a lot of first time writers, I had envisaged that the first occasion in which I would be called upon to speak in front of an audience would be at the launch of my debut novel, and the audience would largely consist of friends, dragged along with the promise of drink. I hadn’t in a million years thought that I’d appear on the same bill as a Colin Bateman, Stuart Neville and Mark Billingham. When I was invited to do the gig I accepted on the spot. A huge opportunity had been handed to me by much more experienced, much better writers and I would’ve turned up to make their tea.
Then I realised this gig would be in front of a large, paying audience. Well, as you can probably imagine, with or without gassy beer and an onion littered kebab, bowel ignition had now become a serious possibility. To say that I was nervous doesn’t come close. I was nervous enough just meeting the bloody panel, whom I admire enormously, never mind getting on stage and speaking in front of the audience.
I’m actually quite used to public speaking. I’ve done lectures in front of a hundred or more people, I appear in court regularly, I’ve been MC at a number of friend’s weddings – so you’d think I’d be used to it by now. But then I realised the difference. In court, at a lecture, at a wedding, I’m talking about and on behalf of otherpeople. This would be the first time I’d be speaking about me, and the book. That’s a whole different ball game.
That’s what was making me nervous. So nervous I didn’t tell my friends or my work colleagues that I was doing it and I forbid (actually, I begged very nicely) Mrs C from attending because that would only serve to make me even more anxious. I tried to pinpoint what it was that made me so afraid, and I realised that it’s largely because when it comes to writing I’ve no clue what I’m doing.
The date for the gig arrived.
Three things got me through the terror that I had before going on stage that evening. Those three things were Colin Bateman, Mark Billingham and Stuart Neville.
They were exceptionally welcoming, they totally put me at my ease, we talked about books and food, gigs, the industry, and they supplied me with a good deal of alcohol before I had to go on.
During our panel session, Mr Neville and Mr Bateman carried my sorry ass, and I even managed to answer a few questions, got a few laughs from the audience (intentionally, mind) and gave away a few books. Then it was time for Mark to take the stage. He was amazingly funny and spoke so intelligently about his work, the genre and the profession. One thing I learned about Mark that evening, he has fabulous timing. No wonder he does stand-up, with timing like that he should be on telly as a comic.
So, I survived and, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I spent a great evening in the company of three brilliant writers. I can’t wait to do it again.
And now I know the secret to getting over my nerves – booze and a little kindness.
If you were at the gig and you picked up one of these beauties…
….and on the off chance you’ve read it and enjoyed it – tweet me at @SSCav.
More blogging McBlog bloggy things to come soon… including a piece on Belfast Noir and the brilliant proofs of The Defence that are finding their way into the world.
Until then, be good. Or bad. Whichever one pleases you and involves lots of chocolate biscuits.