So, I'm off in the rain for my third reading of the week. This is definitely NOT normal for me. Three years ago, I would have rather gouged my eyes out than stand up in front of a group of strangers and read out something I'd written. In fact, my first reading was kept an absolute secret in case anyone I knew turned up, because I was so sure I was going to a) fall over b) burst out crying c) be heckled d) lose my ability to see (and therefore read) or e) realise that what I had written was absolute crap and not be able to carry on. But slowly, slowly, I grew to like it. And now I like it very much indeed.
I don't even hear all those voices from my childhood any more - Sarah Peplow, what are you doing showing off like that! Come and sit down and be a nice quiet girl! As if anyone wanted to hear what you have to say!
No siree, it's very difficult to get me out of the spotlight these days. I wasn't even embarrassed recently when I had to be asked to leave a recent seminar I was a guest reader at because they wanted to get on with the next bit and I had outstayed my welcome. If the host hadn't done that, I would have stayed talking all day.
So of course, at tomorrow's conference, I will stand up and a) fall over b) burst out crying c) be heckled d) lose my ability to see and e) realise.... you get the picture, but even so I don't think that will stop me aching for the next go! And I still get nervous too, but now I have certain people I can yelp at beforehand and who will always offer calm advice. My favourite text came as I was travelling by train to a reading recently - 'Tell yourself loudly and clearly: 'I am a Goddess', and then grab a large gin from the trolly'.
Seriously, I think the biggest change in my attitude towards readings came when I realised that actually what the audience wanted was to be entertained rather than to physically and mentally torture me. It wasn't supposed to be a painful ordeal. Going to see other writers helped a lot. Sharon Olds, in particular, is a fantastic reader, talking rather than pronouncing, and funny too. You feel you've spent some time with a real person, and a person who is enjoying herself too. This recording highlights everything that, to me, is good about a reading. The poem she reads about catching sight of her middle-aged rear view made me laugh so much (in a bitterly empathetic way!)