I attended the Theakeston’s Old Peculiar Crime Fiction Festival last weekend. On Friday I drove though sheeting rain over the border into Yorkshire and headed for the spa town of Harrogate and The Old Swan Hotel which is, by the way, where Agatha Christie holed up during her mysterious disappearance of 1926.
Although I didn’t actually stay at The Old Swan, that was where the Festival was held and so I spent much of my weekend in its lush olde worlde environs. When I first arrived however, I have to admit that my nerves was jangling. I knew I was meeting up with my editor from Quercus, her assistant and my publicist Lucy, plus my editor from Headline, but beyond those people who was I going to talk to?
To explain, crime fiction authors, bloggers, publishers and agents are generally a friendly bunch. I knew when I arrived at The Old Swan that no-one would point at me and then suggest that the rest of the party burn me as a witch. But, in common with a lot of writers I don’t go into social situations very often. Most of my life is spent in front of a computer screen occasionally communing with my axolotls and their pet fish, as and when the mood takes me. Sudden forays into the real world of pleasurable social interaction are few and far between.
I get spooked and, as I approach a social encounter I wonder first what I should say and second what I will say. I think that maybe I should just say something witty, urbane and clever. I fear that what I might say is, ‘Hello, I’m Barbara, I write books. Please look away while I sink into the carpet.’ As it happens I usually just say hello and the person I am talking to, who is generally far more adaptive them I am, takes it from there.
Oddly on this occasion, I saw a few people I recognised and was amazed when they said, without any prompting at all, ‘Hi, Barbara, how are you?’ I was relieved that they knew me of course but I was also quite surprised also. Apart from my forays into the wilder side of London and my foreign trips I am something of a hermit which means that I can never really understand how or why people recognise me.
But then it occurred to me that other writers probably feel the same way I do. We all work largely in isolation and in situations that are more or less a state of hermitage. Unless a writer has few deadlines or is extremely gregarious then he or she will not go out a lot. So when we are ‘set free’ we do tend to be rather nervous as we blink myopically in the sunlight, pretending to be more confident than we are.
Later on of course, once time and alcohol have taken effect, there’s no stopping the average writer in full conversational flow. We all go from near silence to the apogee of garrulousness in much less than twelve hours. Noise levels rise, laughter becomes ever more uninhibited and suddenly six months or a years worth of conversation bursts out all in one go.
To be fair to my profession, we do listen to each other even if we are always anxious to make our own points as quickly and as fulsomely as possible. But it doesn’t matter because it’s all good natured and much of it, in this case, took place outside The Old Swan in the mercifully mild air of a rare warm British summer evening.
So they (my manuscripts in progress) let me out for a short time and very grateful to them I am too. However, oddly for me, my Harrogate weekend has left me wanting to do more socialising which is very weird indeed. I find myself a bit pleased and slightly unnerved by this phenomenon and wonder whether I could be turning a little but adaptive. But then I realise that that’s completely impossible and I go back to my work with a smile on my face.
Going out again? Within the month? Now let’s not go mad, shall we!