I am an ingrate
I wasn’t nervous, that was the problem. I needed to be nervous. I’d been nervous for six weeks and I was spent.
I’d been doing promotion for my new book, The Dead Hour, touring the states, travelling to London for TV and radio shows and interviews, doing panels at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival and this was the final day. A full day at the Edinburgh Book Festival, teaching a creative writing summer school in the morning , doing a reading at the Amnesty International tent in support of imprisoned writers and the chairing Ian Rankin in the evening. Trouble is I know Ian and he’s a lovely bloke, a good talker. I knew it would be fine. I couldn’t get uptight about it and you need to be a bit nervous otherwise you just sit there smiling and asking asinine questions about where he got that shirt and is he going on holiday this year.
I took the train through from Glasgow, listening to Lenny Bruce on my ipod. Lenny was a nervy guy, very high energy, but ultimately wasn’t fussed whether the audience liked him or not. As he might say himself, you either dig him or you don’t, man. Not a good choice.
The students were exhausted. I was their last ever class in a three week intensive course and the room was warm. I rambled about plot devices for forty minutes and spotted a couple of them nodding off so we stopped for a break and they immediately pulled out a ludicrous amount of sugary food: donuts, scones, chocolate bars. It was going to be okay as long as we could finish before their sugar rush did. We did an exercise in which they had to come up with a three line plot outline for a story. They were brilliant: a shaved bear found next to a dead woman in the woods, a dead body in the ball pool at Chucky Cheese, inspired. I wished I’d got them to talk more because they were really funny.
Dosed up with caffeine and sugar I went off to meet sound cousins for lunch. I come from a vast family. When we gather together the people on the outside of the crowd are lost to the eye by the curvature of the earth. My cousin had her small boys with her and I asked them for questions to fire at Ian. Andrew (71/2) said
“Ask him if he likes going to the toilet.”
Good question. I still don’t know the answer because he just laughed his ass off when I asked.
The Amnesty reading went well but I forgot to say the name of the writer I was supporting, mispronounce the Chinese province that he came from and was promptly corrected by the chair. There is something about well-meaning events that makes me want to laugh and hit the person next to me. Demos always make me hysterical. I think it comes from a childhood spent in chapels listening to priests droning on and on and on and on.
I met more cousins for dinner and went to meet Ian in the author’s yurt (a tent with coffee and buns for free). We should have been preparing but we just talked about comics, so that was fuck all help.
Suddenly we were in front of an audience of three hundred people, all looking at us, all paying customers, all expecting me to ask the interesting question no one else had thought of. I gave him a couple of prompts and away he went. He was funny and clever and brilliant and then asked if he was dying because the lights went out at the back of the room – a prompt by the lighting guy to wind it up.
On the train home (with cousins of course) I got a pang of nerves and wouldn’t shut up. I couldn’t sleep and sat on the settee eating peanut butter from the jar with a spoon.
Only then did it occur to me that the promotion was over.
Looking back over the six weeks, at the IHOP lunch in Texas, at the chat show in LA and hearing Al Gore in San Francisco, at the shaved bear and the live TV show in London, I realised how lucky I am and, actually, I had a ball. An absolute fucking ball.