On giving a great reading – Marina Lewycka

October 28th, 2010

Marina Lewiycka’s Canterbury Festival event could have been a seminar in ‘how to give a reading’ for us authors in the audience. She started modestly, saying that she was never sure what people really wanted, so if it was alright by us, she’d just read a few passages and answer questions. She then went on to give a stunningly effective presentation, which definitely made me want to buy her books.

   She told us how she starts a book, saying that she agreed with AS Byatt, who has said ‘whenever I find I have two ideas that have absolutely nothing to do with each other, then I know I’ve got a book.’

    She then picked two contrasting passages from ‘We are All Made Of Glue’, demonstrating the range of her writing. One was serious – even harrowing: an account of one of her character’s background as a refugee from brutality. The other was extremely funny, about the book’s heroine indulging in sex with an estate agent, using Velcro handcuffs. They argue and he stomps out, leaving her trying to get out of her handcuffs. Meanwhile, downstairs, she hears her adult son come home. As he shouts up with offers of cups of tea and enquiries as to how her day was, she struggles in vain to release herself.       

    Showing a superb sense of timing, Marina left us wondering how the heroine ever got out of her handcuffs before her son came in with the cup of tea, a guarantee of good book sales after the event. 

What I’ll try to remember next time I do an author event.

1)      Explain briefly how I came to write the book.

2)      Choose two short pieces to read (neither took more than about five minutes), making sure that they are very different, to show the scope of my writing.

3)      The first piece had a conclusion, but the second one left us wondering ‘what happens next?’ I thought this was brilliant – leaving us dangling for both pieces might have been irritating, but We Are All Made of Glue is definitely on my ‘to read’ list now. So leave something unanswered.

4)      Don’t be too long. As in so many things, ‘less is more’. Marina started asking for questions from the floor after about 25 minutes. If people come away wanting more they’re probably more likely to buy the books. If they’re worrying about their parking meter/train/babysitter/restaurant booking, they’ll rush straight out at the end.

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