Sunday, 20 February 2011

Pass The Brandy!

I attended the launch of Ways Of Falling on Saturday. This is an anthology by Earlyworks Press and one of my stories is in it. The launch was at the Calder Theatre Bookshop in Southwark and was a lovely, happy event with lots of nice writerly people. My husband, an avid reader of either very long novels or non-fiction (the total opposite of what I read and write), really enjoyed himself. He couldn't wait to get home and finish reading one of the stories, an excerpt of which was read out at the launch, pausing at a cliffhanger moment.

Several of the authors elected to read. I loved listening to them. Since these stories come from the soul, they all read from there. They knew the perfect times to pause, to soften or raise the volume, to accelerate or calm the pace. It was such a pleasure to sit there and soak it all in, especially after the hellishly long drive through thick traffic in the pouring rain.

My regret was that I chose not to read and wished that I had. It was just like all those times at school, when I longed to raise my hand and volunteer to read aloud in class. But something always held me back. I knew I could read well. I had a loud and clear voice. I didn't stumble over difficult words. English was my passion. Reading was my main interest. I knew I could read better than the girls who always chose to do it. I read aloud in my bedroom all the time. I read to my mother while she did the housework at weekends. I read her every Malory Towers book and a couple of John Wyndham, one of which reduced her to tears.

So why wouldn't I read in class? I guess it was pure shyness. But it was a shame. I came out of those lessons feeling disappointed in myself. I felt the same on Saturday. It wasn't a case of not wanting to read. I just let myself back out of it. Maybe it was because my narrator in this story has an accent. But I can do that accent, because I've read the story aloud at home. Millions of times.

I was once interviewed for radio and was very happy to read some stories then. I didn't want to stop, in fact. I could have rambled on all day. So maybe it's having people in the room watching, as well as listening, that I find difficult. Not being able to see the audience, I could pretend to be speaking just to myself, I suppose.

When I took my finals at uni, the prospect of the oral exam, conducted entirely in German and lasting a thousand years, worried me enormously. There was to be a panel of three external examiners. I pictured them all staring without smiling. And I envisaged myself, shaking and stammering. I have to confess that, come the day, I allowed a fellow-student to talk me into drinking three glasses of brandy (I didn't need much convincing) just before I went in.

I stumbled through the door, catching the loop of my tie-belt on the handle. This pinged me back out of the room again. After extricating myself, which took some time, I made a second entrance. I was smiling so broadly by then that I'd stopped feeling nervous. It's impossible to be too hard on yourself if you're smiling. And, wonder of wonders, the panel was smiling back at me! I don't know if they could see me that well through the brandy fumes. I expect I smelt quite memorable though.

I sailed through the oral after that. They couldn't shut me up. I prattled about the year I spent in Germany, answered questions with gushing enthusiasm, virtually had to be prised from my seat and shown the door at the end.

Remembering that, I'm determined to read if I ever get the chance again. I know I can do it really. Even without the brandy.


  1. Hi, Joanna. I so agree about radio. It's lovely No-one can see you, and it doesn't matter what you wear or whether or not you smile. Quite different in the flesh (though do have a go next time).

  2. What a shame you let the moment go, Joanna. Why do we do these things to ourselves? Loved the story about your German oral exam and the brandy!

  3. Congrats on your latest published story. The book launch sounds very exciting.

    I think reading to an audience is pretty terrifying too. I used to do it at the writers' group I attended for a while, and I did get more confident. But reading to a big group of strangers would be another matter! I think maybe I could cope with it now, but I imagine it would be hard to judge if you're speaking loudly enough or deafening the people at the front.

    We had to do oral exams and presentations when I did my nurse training - what torture! My friend was knocking back Bach Rescue Remedy like there was no tomorrow and I was just paralysed with fear! We both survived - and passed - and afterwards I felt such a fool for worrying about it all so much.

  4. Joanna - just wanted you to know I've awarded you a 'Stylish Bogger Award'. If you want to accept it, you can pick it up (where I've mentioned your blog)at:

  5. Love the story about drinking brandy before your German Oral exam!! Did you know I also studied German at university? Leeds. I also taught German and French for a while, too.

    It's a shame you didn't get up to read your story, but I can understand your reluctance. I can't stand reading my own work aloud and get very embarrassed (I quite often have rude bits in my stories! Or bad language!!).