Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Book Launch!

(all photos courtesy and copyright of Janelle McCarty)

I’m always saying that being a writer is about engaging with readers, about getting out and talking to them directly. Which si very easy to do from the safety of one’s keyboard. But last Thursday, it was finally time to put my money where my mouth was, and find out if I felt the same way when I actually had to do some direct conversing with readers. It was time for my book launch.

I’d chosen to hold the launch for Songs from the Other Side of the Wall at The Albion Beatnik bookstore in Oxford for several reasons. First, the owner, Dennis, had agreed to stock my book. Second, it’s the coolest bookstore I’ve ever been in, with its specialities of books on jazz music and the Beat Poets. And third, it’s a perfect venue for hosting not just reading but music.

Because, finding it oh so easy from cyber-safety to say how I didn’t want this to be like any other book launch; I didn’t want a table and some chapters read aloud to polite listeners who’d applaud and maybe buy a signed copy afterwards; I had decided I wanted a gig. A proper gig with live music. Because that’s what my book is about (well, literally, it IS about musicJ); and because that’s what Year Zero is about – giving our readers a great time.

I was very lucky that local singer-songwriter sensation Jessie Grace, whom I’d first heard at Radiohead’s old haunt The Jericho Tavern, said yes, she would play a set from her new album, Asleep on the Good Foot. Throw in some free Tokaji wine (the book is set on a Tokaji vineyard) and I was genuinely excited. When I went into the shop the day before the gig only to find a young guy chopping up Shirley Bassey records to make art, I knew I was in the right place!

Add to all that the fact that Jessie’s producer, Kevin from Selecta Sound, had swung us a 9-strong film crew from Worcester University, and I was in hopping up and down with excitement media tart heaven with anticipation.

It’s hard to figure out what to say about the event itself. It’s not really good form to talk endlessly about yourself, so I’m not going to do a review of the gig. Although I WILL say that Jessie Grace, with her clean, pure voice and dirty guitar, elevated the music part of the evening way beyond anything I could have hoped for.

So what will I talk about? I don’t know. Whether it lived up to my expectations, or whether I decided to shut up and stick behind the keyboard for one. What it was like meeting up with some fellow Year Zero Writers and the lovely Bee Drunken for two. How it felt seeing my boss walk through the door just as I was getting to the juicy bit of a sex scene? Maybe not.

The day itself felt like I’d set up an Authorworld theme park ride. I went from buzz to despair to being physically ill to control-freakery to having, ultimately, the time of my life. I decided went I chose the venue and asked Jessie to play that I didn’t want to play safe. And that had always seemed like the right thing. At Year Zero, after all, we don’t do safe. We do different and exciting and out there for the audience. Come the morning, however, the decision to augment my readings from the book with an impromptu talk about French cinema (I still haven’t quite figured that one out), and a reading of the first three parts of SKIN BOOK, seemed like a Very Bad Idea. Not just because, frankly, saying “Is it wrong to want your snot-piss-shit-come-vomit on my skin?” in front of work colleagues is embarrassing/apt to get you fired. But because SKIN BOOK is my attempt to reach into the darkest parts of the psyche, and to do it justice I was going to have to lay myself absolutely bare. It took several twitter-buddies more effort than I had any right to expect to tweet me up from the depths.

By the time I arrived, though, a can or two of Relentless later (because everyone knows caffeine’s great for anxiety), all I was thinking about was making sure the performance was as good as I could get it. That meant laying the venue out perfectly, sorting out glasses and wine, and laying out the souvenir programmes. Best of all, though (for me, not for them), having three cameras, with an editing suite in the basement meant I had enough to focus on getting my positioning and delivery right that I didn’t have time for nerves. And all the while Dennis, whose shop had been utterly overrun all day by swarms of camera crew and sound people, was an utter saint, if a very bewildered and despairing-looking one.

One of the great things about the evening was I got to meet some of my favourite people from the web. I’d already met Anne Lyken-Garner (pictured, left, in the purple) but it was a delight to meet her again. I got to meet another Year Zero Writer, Penny Goring, who was lovely, ferociously intelligent, and an utterly electric personality – one of those people who has the kind of presence that can make a whole room go quiet. And the author of the Bee Drunken blog, whom I interviewed a few weeks ago for The View From the Shoe, came along and added her wit and charm to proceedings.

And the performance? Jessie was incredible. Me? I’d better let others answer that, but I CAN say that I am very glad not to have been found out in a lie – reading live to an audience is the most exciting thing an author can do – it’s what storytelling is all about. I loved every second of it, and can’t wait for the next one (December 1st, Café Tarifa, Oxford, as part of Free-e-day, before a big gig in London). I would advise every writer out there to get out and read!


  1. So glad the gig was great. I wish I was there!

    Do keep us posted about the Free-e-Day gig in Oxford.

  2. Will do, Sabina - and the big gig in London - would be graet to do something in the States

  3. What an excellent report of what sounds like an amazing gig! I really do wish I'd been there.

    Thanks, Dan.

  4. SO pleased for you. How wonderful!

    It probably is bad form to talk about how great you are on your own blog but it's positively encouraged on Word Nerd Army - everyone will want to know about your adventure. Let me know when you want to blog - it can be about anything that matters to you now. The 11 issues are on the right at the top so see if any of them fit with what you want to talk about and blog away. Email/DM the email to add author permissions for you when required.



  5. I really enjoyed it! So glad that Bee brought me along too!

  6. It was a fab event, you were wonderful & it was a pleasure to be there. I felt instantly at ease with you & Ann & loved the whole vibe of Albion.


  7. @Shayne - I do wish I could afford to travel and do things like this abroad. The wonderful thing about the web is it connects us with lovely people from all over the world - the sad thing is it means we never get to meet most of our friends

    @Rebecca - I very much look forward to blogging for you next week - will almost certainly want to talk about the imprtance of storytelling :)

    @B - it was so lovely to meet new friends and

    @3c so lovely also to put real life experiences to old acquantances from the web :)