Monday, 23 March 2009

Guest Blogger: Mike Bollen- Author of Earth Inc

Today's Guest Blogger is Mike Bollen. His novel 'Earth Inc' was published by Picnic Publishing, and selected as one of EI's final ten titles. Here are his thoughts about Wednesday's event at Hammersmith Library.

“I’ve never done this before, so if it’s a bit rubbish, that’s why.” Perhaps not the most stirring opening to a speech, certainly not the sort of thing that would inspire an army to follow you into battle. But that’s how I chose to begin my career as an author-who-reads-bits-of-his-book-aloud-at-public-events. There’s probably a more concise way of describing this activity, but a novice like me doesn’t know what it is.

So, not the most rabble rousing of starts, but it seemed to do the job. It broke the ice nicely, and lowered everyone’s expectations, which was good. And then I launched into a section of my novel, Earth Inc. I wasn’t reading from an actual copy of the book, instead I clutched a couple of sheets of paper I had printed earlier that day. This did feel like I was cheating rather, and I felt the need to proudly wave a copy of the novel first, to prove my credentials. I really had written a book, a whole one, not just two sheets of A4.

The paper was necessary because I had slightly re-written the section I had chosen to read. This was good, because I wasn’t starting from very beginning of Earth Inc, so I’d been able to cut a few things that didn’t make sense out of context. However, it was bad because, while trimming the scene down, I thought of a new joke for it, which was kind of annoying as the book is now on the shelves and is completely unchangeable. So the audience in Hammersmith Library were treated to an exclusive remix that night, featuring a bonus new gag.

I was sharing the stage with six other authors, and while not reading from my pieces of paper, I sat there quietly and rather timidly. We seemed to be split into two distinct groups: those (like myself) who could hardly start speaking, and those who were the exact opposite. I hope that doesn’t sound unkind, because I don’t want to disparage the members of the other group. Indeed, thank god for them. They managed to be amusing and informative, and the evening would have been much duller without them.

Personally I was rather daunted by the event; I suppose I’m happier putting words down on paper where they can be rearranged, crossed out and replaced before they are offered to the public. But I can understand how those from the other group felt liberated by the occasion. You speak a word and it’s gone, quick, on to the next, no time for second thoughts or thesauruses. (I was going to look up whether or not that should be thesauri, but I shall pretend that I’m speaking this bit aloud, and plough on regardless). Plus of course it can be intoxicating for an author just to be out in public, with other human beings, human beings who, luxury of luxuries, actually want to hear about the author’s writing. In my extremely limited experience I can see that these events are not a million miles away from group therapy. But it’s not a one-way street; while the authors were getting tipsy on attention there was at least some free wine for the audience.

I found the actual reading of my extract extremely rewarding, a rare chance to get some immediate feedback. Novelists are quite hard done by in this respect – songwriters can play you their songs, artists can show you their paintings, but for some reason it’s considered rude to scrutinise the face of someone who is reading your book, interrupting every thirty seconds to ask “Are you still enjoying it? What about that bit?” I have tried this occasionally, but the feedback you get quickly descends into abuse. The other night in Hammersmith I could easily tell which jokes were working because people laughed at them, and I knew the extract was interesting because no one yawned or walked out. The whole thing was very enjoyable, and I hope it won’t be my last such event. Also, I can see now why authors tend to read from actual copies of their books, rather than pieces of paper. It’s so they can give in to the temptation to carry on beyond the scene they’d planned to read; I’m pretty sure if I hadn’t confined myself to those two sheets of A4, I’d still be reading now.



John Tattersall said...

This is a great post in so many ways. Mike Bollen is one of my heroes.

Jen P said...

Long live reading events for not-used-to-it-never-done-it-before authors!

Well done, you've got your first behind you and can look forward to more.

Anonymous said...

i love this book. would have loved to see the reading but didn't know about it! more books from this author please!

Shanta Everington said...

You were great at the reading! I was very nervous too (obviously in 'your camp'). What an evening! And a weird and wonderful mix of authors! (Must add that I'm including myself as weird not wonderful, just to avoid any potential misunderstanding!)