It’s early. Just gone 7 o’clock. Much earlier than we would normally leave for school. But I’m dropping my son off at a friend’s house. I have a journey to make, a major task to complete.
It’s pouring with rain and I can barely see out of the car window. It’s like I’m in a car wash – one of my biggest fears. It makes me feel as though I’m trapped, drowning. The M25 rush hour beast is roaring today and I’m swimming against the tide, hoping to make it on time.
It’s not the first time I’ve done this, but it’s my biggest gig. And that, in itself, makes it terrifying. I tell myself it’s okay, you’ve got this. You’ve rehearsed the speech, you could say it in your sleep. But that doesn’t calm the nerves.
The angst of driving in early morning traffic means that by the time I reach my destination, I’m already drained.
I turn off my car engine and breathe. The rain beats a steady rhythm on my windows and it calms me somewhat. I’m ready. As ready as I’ll ever be. I step out into a huge puddle. It’s not a good sign but I try not to dwell on that. It’s just water. We’re all waterproof, right?
Once I’m signed in and welcomed into the building, the nerves begin to show. Anxiety and trepidation roll around my insides like a whirlpool, rushing through me and threatening to overspill. I swallow them back down. I walk into the hall.
Hundreds of pairs of eyes stare at me. Waiting. Wondering. I’m on my own and there’s nothing anyone else can do to help. Then I see some smiles, some encouragement. I cling on to this so that I no longer feel like I’m drowning in this sea of people. I begin to speak.
I don’t know what I’m saying. I’m talking, reciting the words I practised, but it’s as though I’ve stepped out of my body and I’m looking down at a version of myself, going through the motions. There but not there. And within a matter of minutes, it’s over and I’m back in my own body again, looking around and seeing everybody properly for the first time.
They ask me questions, they clap. I read some of my work. And then I leave. I’m a mixed bag of emotions: relief, elation and exhaustion. But most importantly, pride. I did something I never thought I could do. I stepped out of my comfort zone to address a room full of people to talk about my books and the inspiration behind them. I never thought people would even be interested in what I had to say, but it seems they were. And it makes me feel as though I do have value in this world. It also makes me feel that what I’m doing counts for something and that I should keep on doing it.
Giving an author talk when you’d rather be hiding in the comfort of your own home is one of the toughest challenges you can face. It goes against everything you stand for. But it’s an important part of being a writer because it means you get to meet your readers and they get to meet you. Writing is a two-way process and as enjoyable as it is under that rock of yours, you might just find that when you get out of your comfort zone and push yourself to do something you wouldn’t normally do, or don’t think you could, you’ll be surprised by how good it feels.