One of the odd things about being a writer is that you are, in a tiny sense, a public entity. This might sound ridiculous in a culture which has replaced gossiping about the neighbours - because we don't know them any more - with gossiping about Big Brother. And no time soon are you going to be mobbed by paparazzi, or have your bins rifled by the gutter press for receipts for things the government shouldn't have paid for, or know that every bullet the Taliban own will be aimed at your platoon now the world knows you're in Helmand.
Plenty of people have some kind of public existence, of course, if only enough to get them worried that a prospective employer might Google them and find not only the conferences they've addressed and the public bodies they sit on, but also their wickedly scurrilous blogging alter ego and the pictures of the children dressing the family dog up as Julian Clary. Maybe it's simply a measure of how very un-public indeed you can become when, thanks to the cost of childcare and the obsessive compulsive disorder known as being a writer, it's years since you had a proper job. For whatever reason, though, until 2006 the only people who had opinions about me were people I had actually met, and in return I had opinions about them: it was a two-way relationship.
So it's a small but recurring shock to be confronted with the fact that I and my work are out there, and not only is anyone in the world free to have an opinion of us, but I haven't the faintest idea who they are. Suddenly being known only goes one way: they in a sense 'know' me, without my having any communication with them. Sometimes it's nice, of course: I've had some wonderful emails through my website from people whom The Mathematics of Love spoke to in some particular way, and some old friends who wouldn't have got back in touch if they hadn't stumbled across me online. (There have been some oddities, too: why on earth should I sign someone's copy of The Origin of Species?). In fact, apart from the occasional nasty comment about my work deep in the blogosphere, I do realise that so far I've got no cause to object. It's simply that it's like standing out in the High Street after years of being ensconced invisibly under the duvet back home.
This thought's been prompted by the approaching date of the first reading that I've given in a while. (Monday 10th March, 8pm at The Stoke Newington Bookshop, London N16, if you're interested. How to get there is here. I'll be reading from The Mathematics of Love, and also giving A Secret Alchemy its first public outing.) I can see what I've said above sounds as if I hate doing readings but actually I love them: some wonderful writers find them terrifying, but for me it's definitely the good side of the public world. I like bookshops, for a start, and booky people: anyone who makes, buys, sells, reads, writes, edits, curates or librarians them is okay by me. And the Drama graduate in me is interested in the technical as well as the creative side of performing. But in the end it's that the communication travels both ways, instantly, that's the real pleasure. Normally writers don't see their words being heard, just know (you hope) that they are from the sales figures, the PLR returns, the LibraryThing listings, the Amazon rankings. (Well, what else do you think we do when we're procrastinating?). Again, it's a one-way thing: this is where readers leave their traces, but in the human sense they're a dead end.
So to stand up there and say what I think and project what I wrote and feel it in that instant reach an audience, know in that instant it's heard, is a joy. I hope you can come: it would be lovely to see you.