Death, is number two…

by M.J. Hearle

Jerry Seinfeld does this great bit about public speaking. It begins with him listing statistics gathered from a cross section of people on what scares them. Public speaking, it turns out, is number one, death is number two. Death is number two! He finishes the bit by concluding that this means most people at a funeral would prefer to be in the coffin than giving the eulogy.

It’s funny because it’s true. Speaking in front of groups is frightening, which is why I was more than a little apprehensive when my good friend Emma Gardiner-Deans, all round wonderful person and PR wiz (check out her site shegoes.com.au) invited me to talk on a writing panel recently. The panel would be hosted by Emma and take place at The Ivy, a trendy Sydney club. Valerie Khoos, head of the Sydney Writer’s Centre, and Anita Heiss, celebrated novelist of Manhattan Dreaming, Paris Dreaming, and Not Meeting Mr. Right among others, would be joining me on the panel. The discussion would be ‘Does everyone have a book in them? And how do they get it out?’.

Normally, I avoid any situation that requires me to be verbal – I’m okay with writing words down, it’s just saying them I find a little problematic – but as Winter’s Shadow comes out next week I couldn’t refuse an opportunity for a bit of self promotion. Talk about suffering for your art.

The amazing thing is I didn’t suck. It certainly helped having seasoned pros such as Valerie and Anita beside me, but even still, I was pleasantly surprised with how relaxed I was in the spotlights glare. Even though it’s doubtful I’ll be embarking on a speaking tour anytime soon, I managed to speak semi-coherently and even slid in a few jokes (I was going to call them witticisms but thought better of it).

Afterwards, some of the lovely ladies who attended were kind enough to tell me how refreshing they found my perspective on the whole writing game. I imagine it was refreshing because I don’t have much of a perspective, being as I’ve only written one book and it isn’t even out yet. All I had was my own limited experience to draw upon and a few scattered theories (most of which have been detailed in this blog). Still, it was a massive boost to my self confidence and I’d like to thank everyone who made a point of congratulating me.

When the panel was over (too quickly – I was just getting into the swing of things!) I had no trouble giving away all ten copies of Winter’s Shadow. I was positively mobbed. It was like being a Beatle. Or a Bieber. Granted I was giving the book away for free, but a new reader is a new reader. It’s enormously satisfying knowing that people, other than my agent, publisher, and family members are reading, and hopefully enjoying, my book right now. Hopefully, next week that number will swell.

Here’s a list of the questions Emma asked:

1. Who or what inspired you to start writing?
2. Were you always good with words or was it a skill you developed over time?
3. What do literary agents do and how do you find one?
4. Talk us through the process of getting published – what are the steps involved?
5. How many hours do you spend writing per day/week/month?
6. What time of day do you write?
7. Where do you write?
8. What are the best tools/resources/courses out there for aspiring writers?
9. Do you have a writing mentor? If so, who is it and how did you find them?
10. Will you ever become a millionaire as an author?
11. If so, how? Where does the money come from?
12. Who, in your opinion, are the most successful Australian writers?
13. If you could give aspiring writers one piece of advice, what would it be?
14. What are you reading at the moment?

If you’ve been keeping up with this blog, you’ll see I’ve already touched on most of those questions, or will be in the future, so I won’t go through a blow by blow account of my answers. However, feel free to use the comment section below if there’s any of Emma’s questions you would like me to respond to and I’ll do my best.

It was interesting to hear Anita and Valerie’s answers, especially as both women are incredibly intelligent and articulate. In regard to question 10. I was fascinated to learn that Anita makes a decent income, not only through her novels but by speaking at events, much like the panel we were on. For anyone who is seriously contemplating a career as a writer, it’s worth knowing that there are ways to make money other than off your book.

All in all, it was a far less terrifying night than I thought it was going to be. In fact, it was actually kind of cool. A big thanks to Emma for shining a light on me and my little book, and for Anita and Valerie for their support. I don’t know if I’ve entirely conquered my fear of public speaking, but I think I can safely say I’d rather not be the guy in the box anymore. That’s something.

M. J.

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