So, it's festival time again. That makes me sound like an old hand, which would hardly be true. Having said that, if a festival and publisher have paid for you to fly halfway round the world, they get their money's worth, and in ten days in New Zealand and Australia I did something like five festival sessions complete with post-session gallop down to the bookshop tent to sign things, as well as TV, radio, press, a couple of photos. I've a nasty feeling that real authors are supposed to hate it, to be such tender plants or introverts that standing up in public is agony, or at least to regard it as a terrible waste of good writing time. I'm obviously not a real author, because I enjoy it enormously. Yes, it's more fun talking to 200 festival goers with the Australian sun beaming down outside the marquee, than it is signing 2½ books on a wet Saturday lunchtime that happens to coincide with a European Cup match, but it's still fun. And yes, the actual hour on the platform isn't a waste of good writing time - you could say that it is writing time, if writing is communicating to readers.
What still surprises me is how long I take to get my normal, concentrated, tunnel-visioned, misanthropic, writer's balance back afterwards, and that does often feel like a waste of time. Like a grumpy eight year old, I don't want it to be Monday, or not my birthday, or not Christmas. I scull around the house, a spoilt brat whose audience has left... Or that's how I tell myself off for being so useless. Why not get on with the laundry, the admin, the novel? Wasn't there a point when you couldn't face another bright and friendly conversation with a stranger, another question about The Ancestor, another hotel reception, another caterer's coffee, another train; a moment when all you wanted to do was put your jetlagged head down on the shoulder of the publicist you only met yesterday, and sob? Weren't you incredibly pleased to be home, and to sleep in your own bed?
Yes, but I forget those. Adrenalin is supremely addictive - ask a racing driver - and performing is all about adrenalin: it's a mild case of fight or flight. To someone who spends most of their working life alone, even the amount of social interaction you get with a signing is more in a couple of hours than you might get in a couple of days, and it's strong wine for a teetotaller. Indeed, as Help! I NEED a Publisher blogged recently you have to be careful that you don't end up a performaholic, when it becomes more fun than the writing, and the writing suffers because of it. But standing on a platform with lots of people looking at and listening to you... well, even people to whom it doesn't come naturally always seem to pull something out of the hat, and perform. It's not the most alarming kind of of performing, either: there are no lines to learn, and little risk of bumping into the furniture in any serious way, and on the whole the audience has come to like you, not to criticise. They'll even applaud you at the end.
More seriously, in a sense this is what we've all been waiting for, isn't it? Writers are trying to say something, wanting to communicate and tell their story like any actor or musician, but for most of our lives that communication is at one remove, by way of the printed page. Even a painter can stand in a gallery and watch. But we don't see people's faces when they read our work, we don't hear shuffles and coughs, we don't see tears or hear laughter, let alone get to take a curtain call. The fact that a festival scheduler thinks that people will actually pay to hear you - you!; a thoughtful question about your work from a total stranger; the hush at the end of your reading... Why wouldn't you want those? It's just a pity that after that, the laundry looks even drearier, and the fridge emptier, than it did before you left home. Even the silence of your novel-in-waiting can seem mute and lacklustre: like an astronomer waiting to get their night vision, it's a while before the dazzle of the day leaves you, and you can see the real stars.