Gearing up by Barbara Nadel

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Writers do some odd things. Apart from the main oddity of sitting down in a tatty room in front of an old computer to make stuff up, the research we sometimes have to do can be, well, a bit ‘out there’. Whether we always have to do so much research or not is often a moot point. But I do like to – as you know.

However, I may have finally met my Waterloo. Crack house visits and scrambling about on rooftops are in one category, going on stage (after a gap of about a million years) is quite another. By the time you read this I will have finally performed my five minute routine at a comedy club in Manchester and I’ll either be elated or in a state of shock.

I’m doing it, I tell myself, because one of the characters in my next book is a stand up comedian. But is that really why I’m doing it and why, anyway, does it seem to matter so much to me?

Of course I want to know what it feels like to be a stand up comic so that I can write, with some authority, about how that feels. On that level I shouldn’t actually give a toss about whether I’m any good or not, whether people laugh, cry or throw tomatoes at me. But I do and I think that it’s because I absolutely hate to do ANYTHING badly (except cooking).

There’s part of me that wants to be the funniest, the most loudly applauded nascent comedian at the gig. Realistically I will probably be crap. I’ve rehearsed my set over and over and I’m still making mistakes, just three days before the event. I’ll probably have twenty years on most of the other performers, God knows what the audience will make of me and I am really scared. Of course I could just not go and forget the whole thing. But then that will bring it’s own raft of problems when my mind decides that I am the worst coward in the world and will not let me forget it. I’m exactly the same with fairground rides. I HATE massive great roller coasters, they frighten the living shit out of me and they make me feel sick. But once I’ve seen one the gauntlet has been thrown down and I MUST go on it, come what may. To not go on it just isn’t an option. If I don’t I will not be able to live with myself.

It’s very weird to be the type of person who would rather face a charging lion than an audience full of young people or the delights of Blackpool Pleasure Beach. I think it’s pretty odd that I want to do a lot of the things I do in the name of research. But then I suppose that people who lurk in tatty rooms have to get out some time and maybe this is our (writers) way of interacting with the real world.

We’re an odd bunch. We hide behind our fictional characters and situations, only surfacing when we need or have to and yet there is a wild exhibitionism at play here also. Whenever I give an author talk or reading I go on for as long as an audience wants me. I’m never in any hurry to dash off and I genuinely enjoy talking to readers about my books, their own literary ambitions or just about anything. And I like it when I get good feedback. I like it when someone says ‘You were brave to go on that rollercoaster,’ too.

But it isn’t real bravery, it’s actually fear. Fear of finding out where your limits are and being a little easy on yourself. I find that impossible. But of course it’ll all be over now, won’t it? Wonder what kind of a mess I’m in?

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