I remember when I was nine years old and I sang a solo at our school’s Christmas Carol service. (I was the Angel Gabriel. Typecasting, pah.) The choir sang a verse, then little me in the centre of the stage on my ownsome piped in with my part. Rinse and repeat x4. Each time the choir mercilessly advanced through their lines, it felt like the whole world was condensing time into one particularly nasty moment just for me.
I was recalling this early experience (of what, I guess, is stage fright) just last night, in the moments leading up to me having to talk about my book to a large roomful of people. I was hit by that same sense of time squeezing itself down to a pinhead of fear; a fear that, although a little pathetic, is also pretty universal.
My publisher Macmillan had invited a group of professional authors (and also me!) to a get-together to meet the Macmillan team while "tasting" (ie, drinking large amounts of) wine, but the price was having to give a little speech in advance. Way down the running order, I followed Paul Cornell, and the moment he finished talking and sat down, eyes turned to me and I stood.
There’s a bit in Reviver that’s exactly like this, only with more blood.
I’d given a fair bit of thought to what I would say, and only at one point did I forget what came next. Sadly I also forgot what I’d just said, which made my legs genuinely turn to jelly. That brief wobble was resolved by mentioning the film deal, which got me a round of applause. I’ll try to mention it more often.
Funny really, before it’s your turn you’re too preoccupied to hear much of what those before you say, then after your turn you’re too relieved to hear much of the rest. Relieved that you’ve not fainted or cried, or as a friend pointed out, shat yourself. Setting low standards for success, perhaps, but baby steps…
[Speaking of low standards, here’s a tip: if an off-joke with the word ‘hole’ in it suddenly occurs to you during a speech, don’t say it. To wit: “I only know two things about wine: the hole it comes out of and the hole it goes into.” The top of the bottle and the mouth, people. Those ones.]
Singing as a nine year old Gabriel, my voice held up, nothing catastrophic occurred, and the terror I felt during the last verse was nowhere near as bad as during the first. I’m assured the same will happen now, and I’ll be an old hand in no time.
Or at least when book two launches.