Crowd Pleasers

After the festive season, it always seems to take ages before literary events get going again. So, it was great to finally get back out to book events this month. My first two events of 2020 were very different and yet quite similar in that both authors managed to take serious topics and deliver very entertaining evenings.

In 2018, This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay was one of my favourite reads and I’m not alone in loving this memoir of the author’s previous career as a doctor. The memoir is an international bestseller, so it was no surprise that the Kings Theatre in Glasgow was packed. I was intrigued to see how Adam would turn his book of diary entries into a show. I’d read an article he’d written in the Society of Authors magazine about how he’d learnt the hard way at the start of his book tour days that often he’d appear at a library or bookstore for no fee simply to get exposure for his book. This isn’t uncommon for new authors to agree to deliver an event for free and I know from personal experience that I’ve ended up out of pocket after covering my travel costs as the percentage of royalties from each book sale amounts to pennies rather than pounds!

Adam Kay is a smart man. He decided to create a different approach for his book promo tour and turned the event into a theatre show. At £25 per ticket he’s making a LOT of money on top of the millions of copies his book has sold. I wouldn’t attempt to charge readers to hear me talk about my novels but I’m not a bestselling author! Also, I’ve not got Adam Kay’s talent to entertain an audience with anecdotes that are funny and moving in equal measure. To break up sections of him reading aloud he even played a keyboard and sang medical themed songs which involved audience participation. It might have been cheesy but it worked and reminded me of Victoria Wood’s style of comedy. The most impressive aspect of the show was that he made serious political points about protecting the NHS but delivered his agenda with a perfect mix of humour and pathos.

Politics was the key theme too when I was back in Glasgow a few days later at the Mitchell Library to hear John Bercow discuss his autobiography, Unspeakable. It was another full house event with a lively audience keen to hear his life story and of course some juicy gossip about his time in the hot seat as the Speaker in the House of Commons. I don’t share his party politics but that aside, he’s a very interesting man and a true performer! There was no music this time, he didn’t need any props. He barely drew breath as he showcased his talent for sharing political anecdotes. The journalist, Ruth Wishart, attempted to chair the event but despite her many years of experience interviewing high profile figures she hardly got a word in edgeways. There was no shortage of hands in the air for the Q&A and I’m sure that John Bercow, who clearly loves the attention, would have talked for hours on end and the audience would’ve lapped it up. He ended the event with a ‘party piece’ of him performing a monologue whilst impersonating Tony Benn. My only tiny disappointment was that he didn’t treat us to his famous roar of “OORDEEEEERRRRR!” I haven’t read the book yet but after listening to this witty and clever man it’s sure to be a great read.

 

Inspiring Words from Jackie Kay

Last Thursday night, I returned to the campus of Stirling University for the first time since completing my MLitt course to hear a former student who studied English at the university.

images

That student was Jackie Kay who went on to become a multi-award winning poet, novelist and playwright. Fiere, her most recent collection of poems was shortlisted for the COSTA Award and her memoir Red Dust Road won the Scottish Book of the Year Award. Talk about a success story!

images (2)After suffering a blip in the progress of my WIP, I was in need of an injection of inspiration. I wasn’t left disappointed as Jackie kept the audience hanging on her every word. When Jackie announced at the start that she planned to read for 45 minutes from various pieces of her writing, my heart sunk. I’m not good at staying focused on lengthy readings and I’m not a great fan of poetry. But I’d never experienced one of Jackie’s readings. This was a performance more than a reading and she had the audience laughing out loud one minute and swallowing a lump in our throats the next with the roller coaster ride of emotions. Jackie oozes stage presence and has a Ready Brek warmth around her persona that lifted my spirits. That might sound cheesy but it’s true and I’m not easily impressed!

download (1)I’d read Jackie’s memoir about her story of how she tracked down her birth parents – a young nurse from the Highlands and a Nigerian student at Aberdeen University. I loved the book and when the floor was open for questions, I grabbed the opportunity to ask Jackie if she ever worried about any negative impact of her memoir on her family and friends.

Jackie acknowledged that she did have concerns over how her family would react and was anxious when her brother rang her up to challenge her on a section where he was featured. But to Jackie’s relief, it was only to correct the model of the motorbike he was driving. She feels that as long as the writing is not done with malice, then there should be no problem with a writer telling her story.  She said that as a writer, she found that self-belief and self-doubt come in equal measure. This was so reassuring for me after my recent worries about using anecdotes from my own life in my fiction.

downloadphotoI queued like a star struck fan for Jackie to sign a copy of Reality Reality, her latest short story collection. She told me that worrying was part of the job and if you didn’t worry about your writing, you’re not doing your job properly. Wise words indeed from a very talented lady.

Have you had advice from a writer which has inspired you?