Giving Author Talks And Spoken Interviews, by Helene Young
For me, one of the unexpected pleasures of being a writer is talking to readers. I’ve spent the last few weeks on the road, tripping around the country, with the Get Reading tour, which takes writers to regional Australia. It’s been frantically busy on occasion, with delayed flights meaning I turned up at the venue in time to step straight up to the microphone.
I used to debate at school and did the odd public speaking competition. As someone who’s spent a great deal of time teaching in one capacity or another I’m very comfortable getting up in front of people and talking. (I may well have been doing that since I was very small…) But it doesn’t come easily to every writer. So what strategies can you employ for interviews and public engagements to make it easy, fun even?
The first thing is preparation. Write down the key messages from your book that you wish to explore with your listeners. Make sure you have at least six of them.
I start with single words then expand them to phrases and sentences. Let me share my process from Half Moon Bay.
I started with:
Family Crossing the line
That grew into these:
This is a story about families and the ties that bind, about the secrets we keep and the lies we tell ourselves.
How far would you go in the pursuit of truth? Would you cross the line? Could you forgive someone you loved who did cross that line?
Have you ever put someone up on a pedestal only for them to fall from grace? Could you forgive them for being frail and human?
It’s a story about the dilemma of poverty. If in a place like Afghanistan we destroy their crop of poppies and leave behind a vacuum. Without income how do those people survive?
Our men and women in the defence force are often forced to compromise their own integrity in implementing government policy. That’s a difficult position for them.
Do we as a nation really support our men and women who serve in the defence force when they return from a tour of duty? The emotional trauma can be just as debilitating as a physical injury, but if someone looks normal it’s all too easy to forget that his or her scars may run deep.
I now use those as my key messages. If I’m doing a phone interview I make sure they’re in front of me. If I’m doing a speech, I weave them through the narrative.
I approach writing a prepared speech in the same way I approach a story – I sit down, start writing and hang on for the ride! Then I have to go back, sort it into a beginning , middle and end, and add some colour. I now have a basic generic talk that starts with who I am, what I do for a day job, what my writing credentials are and then launches into why I’m a reader, which leads onto how I became a pilot, that segues into how that gave me the time to be a writer. I then talk about the inspirations for my books. Those sections can grow or shrink as time permits.
I have a PowerPoint presentation that is simply a series of photographs – the odd funny one helps – that show some of the things that have inspired me. Not all venues have projectors so sometimes it’s a straight talk.
With every talk I try to add some local colour and that involves a little bit of trawling through Google/Wikipedia or drawing on memories if I’ve been there before.
Most libraries expect a 20 minute chat. Mine runs for closer to 30 minutes and if required can expand to 45 minutes. Unless you’re a good speaker and probably very witty I’d say stay away from anything longer. After 45 minutes most people want to stretch their legs so you’ll lose their interest anyway.
For phone interviews make sure you’ve researched your interviewer. Write their name down and keep it in front of you along with those key messages. Often you won’t talk to the interviewer first, as their producer will handle it. Use that short conversation to take a deep breath, slow down your breathing and slow down your speech. We all tend to gabble – and I’m no exception!
Writing your novel is the first step in being a published novelist. Continuing to build that career will take you on a whole new learning curve. Embrace it and the wonderful readers you’ll meet along the way.
Helene Young’s author website: www.heleneyoung.com
Writing Novels in Australia