Friday, March 15, 2019

Always leave 'em laughing

What do you remember about the first time you read your crime fiction work in progress or finished novel/short story to an audience?

From Abir

The first time I read from my own work was t a month after my first novel, ‘A Rising Man’, had been published in the UK. I’d been invited to a summer party, entitled ‘What’s Your Poison’ at Heffers in Cambridge, England, a bookshop which is a bit of an institution in those parts.

I was extremely grateful for the invite but had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that I was one of sixteen authors who’d be reading from their work that night. 

I planned on reading the first few pages from the novel. As RJ mentioned on Tuesday, it’s often the best place to start in order to introduce potential readers to your story, especially when you’re a debut author. I remember taking the train from London, reading the section aloud, possibly worrying the other passengers. I did a bit of editing, honing the passage I was going to read, cutting out a few sentences or extraneous words, just to maintain the pace of the narrative.

I arrived at the station with a good thirty minutes to spare for what Google Maps told me was a fifteen-minute walk to the bookshop. I set off and promptly got lost, my phone making me turn left instead of right. After walking ten minutes in completely the wrong direction, my keen sense of direction told me that something was wrong. I turned my phone upside down and found I was now almost half an hour away with twenty minutes left before the start. So I decided to run. I should point out that this was the end of July, the height of the English summer, and I finally turned up just as things were about to kick off, a jabbering, sweaty mess.

It transpired that I was thirteenth on the bill. Which seemed apt. We were told that we had five minutes in which to introduce ourselves and our books and to give our readings. All seemed fine, but as the event unfolded and I awaited my turn, I noticed that almost all the authors were reading from the openings of their novels and many were running over their allotted five minute slots. It was a very warm evening and the attention of the audience seemed to be wavering after the first half dozen readings. Maybe it was the impact of all the dead bodies coming in quick succession. After all, this was an evening of crime fiction and you’ll be amazed by how many gruesome murders can take place in the first few pages of a dozen crime novels. Then an author came on who did something a bit different. She opened with a joke and then chose a passage, not from the start, but from midway through her novel which contained a few laughs. The audience hung on her every word and she went off to what seemed like a heartier applause than some others. 

That taught me something. You see, humour works. Humour entertains, even when it’s spelled wrongly by North Americans and is missing the ‘u’! I decided then to change my approach. I spent the next ten minutes frantically searching for a light-hearted passage in my novel that didn’t give away the plot, finding an appropriate section minutes before it was my turn to speak.

I went up, introduced myself while standing underneath a sign for second hand books, and read out my passage – rather badly as it happens. But it got some laughs, and it got me remembered, and afterwards an established author came up and gave me the ‘you done good, kid,’ speech.

I was thrilled.


Paul D. Marks said...

Humor, without the "u" :-) , does help, I think. And I don't think it matters if you read from the start as long as you set up the story and characters a bit if the section itself doesn't do that.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

I think humor at a reading works too, Abir, no matter how you spell it.

Susan C Shea said...

Abir, you've hit on one major problem with authors reading from their books: they do go on. I had the same experience the first time I read at a group event and by the time I was up, people were glazed, but mostly with drink since it was in a bar. And with or without the "u", humor is a great way. You were nimble enough to adapt on the spot, impressive.

James W. Ziskin said...

Humour without the U. Hmor.

RJ Harlick said...

Good point about humour, you can see I spelt it properly. :)