There is more to being published than I realised. Initially I thought it was a ‘good thing’ that Helen Meeke agreed to offer me a part in Warwick’s new look history festival at the Lord Leycester hospital. Having been Warwick’s Poet laureate 2009/10, I knew whom I was asking and she knew with whom she was taking a business risk. When the 8 tickets rose to 10, neither of us was confident, the talk had been such a good idea.
In search of ideas as to how to increase the potential audience, I approached Warwick Books, the independent book shop. Mog and Pauline suggested I design flyers and distribute them locally. They gave me the email address of the Entertainment Editor of the Leamington Courier, and advised I ask the What’s On page to mention my event.
It’s hard to know what worked. The flyers all went from the bookshop. Nothing appeared in the Courier, but 30 interested people attended the hour-length talk which pleased me.
What the experience did, and what I hadn’t wanted to do, was leave the relative comfort of writing and move into the business of discussing and selling a novel. Just as I discovered the stories of Stefan and Ellen, so I am now learning who my readership will be and what interests them about the story and the history.
The first draft of my talk was boring. I showed it to a friend who gave some pointers as to what was wrong. On Desert Island Discs, I heard Tom Hanks say that while he was learning a part, it became an obsession till it was actually complete- or that was what I understood him to say- and though it wasn’t quite the same for me, I picked up clues from a variety of sources as soon as I began to plan the talk, as to how to make it more interesting.
One was to make it a narrative in itself. That idea helped me draft a second edition comparatively quickly.
I listened to other writers talk about their current work. Melvyn Bragg at Historical Novelists Society conference; Rose Remain, Maggie O’Farrell and others at the Kew Write On! festival. In different ways, they offered little gems that helped me develop a personal style, much as How to Write books eventually lead to greater confidence and therefore what is called ‘voice.’
A poem in Orbis by Charles Sorley struck me as being a great addition to the extracts from the diaries I was planning to include. His poignant, untitled poem provided a link between a personal connection to the war – that of my grandparents’ lives- and curiosity about the life of Flora Sandes- that had set me off on historic research into Serbia’s place during the First World War.
Even when I had drafted the talk to my satisfaction, read it through several times to ensure it lasted 45 minutes, leaving 15 for questions, I was apprehensive that the audience would weary of hearing me. I wondered if it would be hard to distinguish between my commentary and the extracts, so I was delighted when a friend, Nigel Hutchinson, agreed to read several of the pieces. I have done this before when reading my own poetry, and it worked well and so it proved on this occasion.
So, for this writer, giving a talk, wasn’t what I’d had in mind when Cinnamon Press offered to publish the novel, but fortunately, it turned out to be a positive experience.
Photos are taken from Wikipedia’s description of Lord Leycester hospital, Warwick.