There’s something nice about being a published writer at a Writers and Readers Festival. Strangers look at your name tag and nod knowingly (or shake their heads in bewilderment), people you haven’t seen for years (and in one case at least three decades) come up and say hello, and total strangers who buy your book become instantly familiar with you. I signed books and wrote personal messages to people I said no more than a dozen words to.
I had lunch with Mark Kurlansky and in the Green Room at the Hilton Witi Ihimaera kindly said my name was familiar to him. I felt like I had arrived, and I loved it all.
Yes, my first book Postcards From Elsewhere landed with a light thump in bookshops on Friday and the following day I was on two panels at Writers and Readers Week: the first was about travel writing and I shared a stage with Graeme Lay who boldly announced he likes to travel in great comfort and know when the flight out leaves, and with Eric Hansen whose travelling life has been punctuated by shipwrecks, bar fights, and sundry unpredictable weirdness.
I sat between them, both literally and metaphorically.
It was an interesting hour (for me if not those in attendance) and I learned a number of things: notably that as an author you should not be shy about reading from, and talking up, your work.
I have always thought that going to see a writer simply read from their book was kinda cheap. For a kick-off a lot of writers don’t actually read that well, and secondly I figure I can read the damn thing anyway (and probably have, otherwise I wouldn’t be there).
But I went to another event where five writers read from their work (the elegant Caryl Phillips exceptionally well, the rest hmmm). But the audience at this, and at the travel one when Hansen read (very well, incidentally) seemed happy. So if there is another forum or another book I have out, I intend to adopt what I thought was a rather indolent practice.
Okay, I know it is about the writer giving voice to the words and so on, but at $15 …
I also learned that bragging is part of the contract and there is nothing shameful about mentioning the title of your book many, many times.
Mine incidentally is Postcards From Elsewhere, a collection of 20 travel stories (only a couple previously published, it is not reprints from Herald stories) and is brought to you by Random House for a mere $29.95. It is extremely well written (funny, insightful, sad in parts and thought-provoking in others) and is in all good bookshops now.
The other thing I learned is that I can do this: get out and talk about my book, make jokes at my own expense, be witty and cavalier, and not make a rude comment when Peta Mathias, who chaired the travel panel, suggested that people travel so they can have sex with strangers.
I had a withering response on the tip of my tongue and, unusually, I second guessed myself and decided it was better to blush and look coy than offend her.
I have actually enjoyed the whole interview process, I guess because I am so used to being on the other side of the microphone. I did a session with Chris Laidlaw the other day for his Sunday show (which will broadcast in a few weeks) and that was also fun.
Chris had actually read my book and said how much he enjoyed it. He quoted from it, asked some questions which indicated he’d done more than skim read, and seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say. It’s a rare skill that he has. I know. I have it also because I have had to interview many and various bores and have sounded interested too.
Of course the next bit is when the reviews start to tumble in (I am warned there is one in tomorrow’s Herald in the travel section).
There is one published already, a very curious one by Warwick Roger in North and South.
Warwick, a man who I respect and actually gave me a start in writing when he published some essays and short stories in Metro at the dawn of time, doesn’t seem to like Postcards From Elsewhere (Random House, $29.95)
But then again he did indicate I wrote about Tokyo (I didn’t) and said that I sat around in cafes and watched the world go by. I guess he didn’t read the one about going out for a gunplay night with a cop in Miami, staying in poverty-stricken Clarksdale in Mississippi, travelling around Korea with some old soldiers, going to a remote island off the coast of Korea, a night at the boxing in Thailand, being inside the very disconcerting Graceland Too in Mississippi (you’ll need to read the book for that peculiar place), some weird times in a cockroach infested hostel in Taiwan, and failing to climb a mountain in Samoa. Among others.
I found that comment about sitting around in cafes in the review -- which was also in parts complimentary -- most odd. A friend said I should have been insulted because I seem to spend a lot of my time in bars, not cafes!
Anyway I think Roger is also sort of right in a couple of his comments -- maybe the pieces about Dali and Cervantes are a bit teacherly, I need to read them again with that in mind -- although I am not sure that all stories should end with an irony or twist in the tale, as he suggests.
Sometimes, at least this has been my experience in life and specifically while travelling, things don’t have a twist or an irony, they just end. To impose an irony for example would seem artificial.
Oddly enough my stories do seem to have a punch line or a wry point. And not one of them ends with, “Needless to say, I has the last laugh”.
Anyway, my book -- Postcards From Elsewhere (Random House, $29.95) -- is out there. Other people who have read it have been very complimentary and some of my friends -- who I would have expected to knock me up for a free copy -- have actually bought it.
Should you wish to know more about this soon-to-be-a-best seller you can check my website, or tune in to most radio stations.
Today I am doing Solid Gold ay 3pm and within a week I will have gabbled away on iwi stations, chatted to Simon Dallow and Martin Crump and Kerre Smith on their various programmes, and will be on 95bFM on Damian Christie’s Sunday show alongside fellow-author David Slack whose Civil War And Other Optimistic Predictions is also out there in bookshops.
I recommend David’s to you very highly. It might just be the second best book you buy this month.