Yesterday evening I was at the launch of the latest issue of Seam, the poetry magazine. It was an excellent evening, with many contributors reading and reading very well. The poetry world was not always thus but, like it or not, in the last twenty years poetry has become an oral and aural art again, a performance art. How you do it - how you look, sound, speak, take the platform and leave it - makes a huge difference to how your work is heard both literally and figuratively. Poets know this, and novelists are learning it. Unlike them we can still (usually) earn some money writing, but we too have to stand up on our hind legs really quite often, in draughty church halls, feisty little independent bookshops and corporate sales conferences.
And then today I was trawling the shops, because the prospect of two days in Madrid to launch La Aritmética del Amor has made me realise the deficiencies of my wardrobe. It's not the first time I've realised it. After a decade or so when my life could be spent in pyjama bottoms and a fleece, an invitation to a smart West End restaurant, to meet among others the chief fiction buyer of Waterstones', is a severe sartorial shock. And how come all the other authors look so stylish? I should have asked, but of course the only people you're not supposed to be talking to at a trade dinner is the other authors.
So, here we are in Womenswear. But should I be Stylish Author (chic black suit and chunky gold)? Or Professional Author (tweed/cord suit with jewellery that will also do for the rain-drenched literary festival next week)? Friendly Author (flowery frock and soft little cardi)? Cool Debut Author (hand-made Peruvian dress shirt, scruffy jeans and disintegrating plimsolls)? Or what I am: rather nervous and unconvincing versions of all these and then some, with nothing sufficiently chameleon-like in my wardrobe to suit, let alone keep me warm on a station platform after a distant reading while disguising how disastrous a writing life is for the figure.
Many authors feel it shouldn't matter, of course, only our writing should. But what I wear and how it makes me feel does matter, because all writing is, in a sense, a performance. We chose print and solitariness because that's how we say things best, and get them heard most clearly. Readings and sales conferences are essentially a different medium for the same desire: a chance to explain what we're trying to say in print, and to be heard. When I think of it like that it doesn't seem so daunting, or peripheral, or superficial. It even sounds quite fun.