June Hutton (Underground) and Andrew Davidson (The Gargoyle) dish up dessert at the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts salmon dinner. It’s an annual tradition at the festival that writers don aprons and serve readers.
Underground is my first novel, so I arrive at the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts not sure what to expect. It’s my first public reading and no one knows who I am. So I’m nervous. Armed with work, I prepare to hide out in my hotel room.
It is an unseasonably cold first day, lashed with rain. Before I can reach the safety of my room, Wayson Choy kindly offers to buy Anthony De Sa and me hot Thai soup to warm us up. It seems that Anthony, whom I first met while waiting for the ferry, could be the one person who has heard of me. Over bowls of soup he says that Cormorant Books has designed a wonderful trailer for my novel, and that he has shown it several times to his high school students. My fear dissipates a little.
Joseph Boyden is the opening night act and later, over a beverage, we chat about rifles. I had forgotten until then that he and I met last year at a Vancouver International Writers Festival reception and that he had looked around the room and said, Hey, it’s you, me and Nino Ricci! It turns out that each of us has been published by Cormorant Books.
Next day I attend several events, and I meet more writers. An interesting discovery: many admit to being nervous. One even claims that nerves give his performance the necessary edge. At one point, I meet Marina Endicott who has read my book! The stage fright recedes a bit.
Later, a group of writers plans to go star-gazing on the beach until the wee hours, a ritual started, I believe, by Steven Galloway. But my first festival reading is the next day, and I want to be fresh. I doubt Hal Wake will be at the beach, either, but he notes pointedly: You’re not reading until 3 in the afternoon.
True, I counter, but I don’t want a raw throat. It’s nearing midnight. And it’s cold. True as well: the fear is back and I don’t want anyone to see it.
The next day, I show up early for my sound check, as was suggested in my author package. You’re early, one of the crew says. I nod and smile confidently. No, he says, I mean really early. He holds up his watch. It’s only 2 p.m. I’m on at 3. Oops.
I kill time until it really is my turn to read, noting anxiously that an audience isn’t exactly flooding into the theatre. Andrew Davidson comes by to encourage me. I’ll be terrific, he says. What a nice thing to do!
Suddenly, I hear my name. Applause booms from a large crowd (when did they arrive?). I leap onto the stage prepared to march to the microphone. Instead, John Cleese-like, I slam my toe into the wooden block set up before the podium for shorties like me. Before my nerves can completely take over, though, I slap my book onto the lectern and launch into my talk.
There’s laughter, sympathetic moans, more applause. Some familiar faces in the audience, including Gil Adamson, Andreas Schroeder and M.A.C. Farrant, add to Andrew’s beaming encouragement.
My God, it’s working. I love it.
By the end of my hour on stage I’m hooked. Now a veteran of the reading circuit (meaning I survived), I’m ready for a fall season of festival readings.
That night, with my reading over, I throw caution to the wind, of which there is plenty, and join the gang on the beach.