I guess it’s one of those moments every author secretly dreams about: reading your book to an appreciative audience.
I have dreamt about it too, but somebody should have told me about stage fright.
The Literaturwerkstatt Altenkirchen, a Literature / Writing Workshop based in Altenkirchen, Germany hosted an event as part of the town’s jubilee “700 Jahre – 700 Stühle” (700 years – 700 chairs) in Altenkirchen, today.
I joined the group in August after a friend introduced me, and after I’d read an excerpt from my 2013 NaNoWriMo winning novel The Bravery of the Soldier to them they insisted I should be part of the event today.
The only problem was: I wrote my novel in English, instead of German. That meant I had to go through my 103k word manuscript and find two scenes that don’t give too much away and that are easy to translate.
I prefer English to German, so the translation still sounded weird to me, the words not flowing the way they should, even though my friend proof-read and insisted it was all fine.
700 Jahre – 700 Stühle is a curious event. Organisations, institutions and individuals from Altenkirchen had been asked to create or decorate a total of 700 chairs any way they liked. So far, over 400 chairs have been decorated, and they hope to reach the 700th by the end of the year.
Some of the Literaturwerkstatt’s members wrote poems, short stories and songs about chairs and/or Altenkirchen. However, I didn’t really know there was a theme as I live 100km away. Plus, I wasn’t the only one to present something that had nothing whatsoever to do with the region or seating.
I had practised reading out loud and knew I had to slow down and speak up. I usually read quickly but quietly and became a master in skim reading while studying for my BA. I knew what I was going to say and when, remembered those tips they give you at school (picture everyone naked/in their underwear, look up from the page, change intonation so you don’t drone on).
However, as soon as I got up to walk towards the stage (I was the 14th) it all went out the window. I’ve not suffered stage fright like that since my high school music teacher made all girls sing a solo to find the lead for a new school musical.
When I get stage fright, my breathing is off. I had a hard time getting words out, got a knot in my tongue and my heart was racing. It got better when I forced myself to stop and take a deep breath, but I suddenly remembered that I abhor public speaking. Guess who never made any debate teams.
In the end, nobody shouted that I should speak louder, and I got a round of applause from the 30-odd strong audience and all members of the group, which I am counting as a good sign. One of our group’s members even asked whether it’s for sale yet (the printed (English) copies are just for my family and friends who helped research and proof read and not meant for sale – after writing 103k words I wanted to hold something in my hands to show for it) and when I said no urged me to translate the whole thing because she wanted to find out how it continues. So that seems to have been a success.
I was meant to read two excerpts, but I was supposed to be second to last to read and ended up being skipped in favour of coffee and cake, even though they would have had an extra five minutes. So while I’m pleased that I got positive feedback for the first excerpt, I’m also a bit peeved, as I just drove a roundtrip of 200km to read for 5 minutes and was made to sit through another 4 hours just to be cut off just before it would have been my turn again (much calmer and better prepared).
If I’d known they’d cut me off, I would have read the other excerpt, as I felt it was more in-line with the central theme of the story.
Most of the regular members have already accepted me as one of their own and we’re really getting along. One guy, who already published a book and audiobook, approached me after the reading. I spent a good portion of the day explaining that I’m German but prefer English and that I had to translate to be able to read to them today. So he made me an offer: if I translate his book for him (approx. 120 A5 pages) and note how many hours it took, he’ll pay me a very decent, competitive hourly rate for my services.
So I’m counting my first (and possibly last, as I’m not going on stage again in a hurry) public reading a thorough success. Applause and praise, a few tips on public speaking and a job offer.
Not bad for a Sunday afternoon, don’t you think?