Thursday, 2 August 2012

A Literary Festival Virgin

For a while there I felt it. Stinging pain, embarrassment. Worry that I wouldn't be able to perform.

Beforehand, I worried that my clothes would be all wrong, that my hands would fidget, that my mouth would say awful things.

Last week I spoke at my first literary festival in Penzance.

I watched other old hands breeze onto the stage, sip their water, cross and uncross their legs. I listened to their unburdened discourses, the ease with which they shared their characters, their writing processes, the anecdotes rolling out as if on a whim.

It made me nauseous. It made me want to run away.

A few days earlier I spoke to a friend who is a pop star, can you believe? Her advice: Be Exuberant. So that day, my day, I heeled up the hill feeling gleefully, painfully, horribly Exuberant.

Strangely, it was fine. It seems my body was two steps ahead of my thoughts and saw to it that I was just a tinge nervous, and not smiling too hard. I did not trip onto the stage. Or even sweat much. The other writers for my session were marvellous and my unease dropped away. I too sipped my water and raised some light laughter.

I came out on a rocking high!

I would like to think that, for once, everything came together. I knew why I was doing this. Why I was sitting on a stage with people looking up at me, all expectant, warm, wanting to laugh or look out the window, or thinking perhaps they should have gone to the loo. It felt good, funny, enlivening. Can you believe I want to do more? In September I am up for another one - the Women's Fiction Festival in Matera. I know I will be a little nervous as it will be in Italian. But as well as nervous I will be keen, curious, alive. I've come this far.

Outside my window in Penzance I had a peaceful view. Just walls and yards and houses. Sometimes a big golden dog barked or moved about on the stones. I worked. For four days - not before having a scrumptious Cornish breakfast each morning - I felt pure concentration. No phone calls, no homework, no taxi-driving, no worrying (should I feel guilty about this?), no guilt. The short story revision has lagged. Promotion of my novel has taken up enormous slabs of time and energy. But for a few good days I had my stories mapped on the bed, a new order in place, a rush of underlinings and crosses for a new print-out, and a damned fine view through the afternoon.

I also met other writers, such as Alison Lock, poet and short story also with Indigo Dreams who, like me, is spanning genres and wondering what comes next. I imagine this is the true purpose of Literary Festivals, just like some people go to the beach. Instead of dissolving into sand, into water, into the whole coastal experience, we writers speak of words, share hopes and defeats, gossip a bit and, best of all, start itching to go back to work.

A lovely gift: today my copy of Tears in the Fence arrived, with my story 'Veronique in the Dark' which is part of the collection. I reread it in a sushi bar waiting for my son to arrive.

By late autumn Veronique called Heinrik. She had recommenced work and her injury was no longer the thing she had to manouvre around. The light had distilled, as though winter had chosen her course and would visit their city when she pleased.