How I survived my first solo book reading and discovered the magic of why I write.
When the librarian from my local library asked me to do a reading from my memoir, River Tales: Stories from My Cowichan Years for their book club, I imagined a cozy conversation with a small group of eager fans.
It wasn’t until the librarian showed me the poster that she had made for the event, that I realized it was also open to the public!
I wasn’t practiced.
I had a ‘small’ voice.
I asked for advice.
My writers’ group said, “Project your voice, breathe from your diaphragm.
My younger son said, “Read excerpts that follow a theme.”
My daughter said, “Read the story about the raccoon and the chicken.”
My elder son said, “Practice, practice, practice.”
I did it all, and more. Ninety minutes, speaking to twenty-seven people. They listened, they laughed. I told anecdotes, and they asked questions. No one noticed my deep breaths, the moments my mind went blank, the times I fumbled with a memory.
Then a strange thing happened as I was telling my stories. I saw myself in the audience. The young woman in the front row clutching a copy of my book, her shining eyes never leaving my face, absorbing every word with her whole being; that was me years ago.
I remembered how I felt the first time I heard a writer speaking to me, her words moving within me and how I knew then I was going to be a writer. That was Sylvia Fraser reading from her memoir, My Father’s House 1987.
She wrote in my copy of her book: “To Liz, thanks for your glowing face, Sylvia Fraser.”
And another time, listening to the elegant British born Elizabeth Latham, reading from her locally based historical fiction Silences of the Heart 1995 and feeling inspired and at the same time despairing of ever being able to write as well.
Latham inscribed my book: “To Liz Forbes, and thank you for being such a warm and positive person while I read, Elizabeth Latham.”
I also recognized an older version of me in the woman who sat directly in front of the lectern and asked questions with what I knew was a burning desire to know.
This woman asked about writing, about publishing, asked how I organized my stories, and if it was a problem using real names. I wondered if she were also a writer, she evaded my question but I noticed her furiously making notes on scraps of paper jammed into my book. A closet writer. I wished I had asked her name.
Another woman wanted to know if I wrote with pen and paper or directly to the computer. I asked Jane Rule that question years ago; only her options were paper or typewriter. I confess that I don’t recall her answer, only that she said her arthritic hands were so sore she could barely manage to write.
I once thought if I knew an author’s secrets of writing (how often she wrote and where; in her own study or at the kitchen table), that I would know how to become a writer too.
If anyone had asked on this day of the library reading, I would have told them there is no secret; it is about a need to write, a desire to figure out life, to record the world around you. Most of us have messy lives, doubts about our abilities, know we will never be as great as: ‘pop-in-a-name-here’, but we keep on writing because in the end, that is all there is.
And, reading passages from your book and entertaining an appreciative audience and perhaps inspiring someone to write their own story, is where you’ll find the real magic that makes the work of writing all worthwhile.
Musings of an Island Crone