In 1994, aged twenty-three, I stood in front of several hundred delegates in a hotel in South Kensington, and tried not to wet myself.
People had flown in from all corners of the globe to hear the directors’ project updates, but our director called in sick, our manager was busy, my immediate supervisor ducked sideways, the more experienced person beside me flat out refused, and so it fell to me, the new girl, to step up. I couldn’t think of a valid reason to say no, so here I was: new, gormless and not in a happy place. I opened one eye and peered around; I knew about ten people — seven of whom had been in the company for longer than I’d been alive. The rest were strangers.
“Are you okay?” Fred, the boss’s boss’s boss.
“Yes, thanks.” No. I’m hearing Pulp Fiction quotes.
“When are you on?”
“Thirty-three minutes.” And counting.
Three minutes later, Fred stood up, thanked the speaker, and announced a change in schedule. He turned to me, “You’re up now.”
Fred’s thoughtfulness saved me from a stomach-churning half hour and my talk went really well. Afterwards, of course, I was still shy — but I did know that I could stand up there and not die, and that was something.
I moved into fiction. My days of rolling my eyes, breathing deeply, and spouting forth were over; finally I could earn a living in a state of eremitic bliss, all alone, in my pyjamas with a face full of chocolate croissant. Result!
Except, it turns out, that simply won’t do.
Gone are the days of the hermit writer, spinning gold in the small hours while the world wonders what they look like. J.D. Salinger used up the last of that bounty. Now we hermits are dragged from our shells and plonked onto our platform, where we’re expected to communicate.
But it’s OK, fellow hermit folk, because initially this probably just means a website. Any format; about us, or other people and us, or about our work — it can be pages, blog or both. As long as it IS. And Facebook. (You can say Facebook’s going out of fashion, but only if you’re on Instagram.)
Then there’s Twitter. We need at least one of these apiece, and we need to hook up with lots of other people, not just tweet about our own life. (Rule #1: If you make it all about yourself and no-one else, you’re an online arse. #true. Although — Rule #2 — you can pimp yourself as long as you’re OK with people (tweeps) taking the mickey and when they do, you have to shout out their posts / stories / crocheted body parts, as payment due.) Confused? Don’t be. It’s a post office queue and you’re there to pass on info and gossip and be modest about your Nobel Prize.
Ta daaa… we have a platform (yet we’re still chilling at home, still pyjamaed, and still snugly isolated).
But if… God forbid… we get GOOD at the writing lark, we have to do ‘guest blogging’ or ‘blog tours’ (where we interact online in serial blog post swapsies), and to really heat our pool, we have to GO OUT THERE. And share stuff. That means submitting our work to judges, agents, publishers, critics, and friends. Plus hauling our actual bodies out of the house and reading things out loud to real people in front of us,
[oiiiii, isn’t that similar to doing a presen-?]
— moving on —
we also need to meet people and, if we succeed with the whole publication/sales thing, we might even be expected to go to posh dinners, and stand up and…
It’s the same as the day job.
With added pyjamas.
So, do I panic?
Last year, on holiday, I caught a hermit crab between shells. She* extracted herself from one shell and scuttled over to a larger one, into which she jammed her pink and prawn-like backside with remarkable speed.
It’s true that we all stared, took photos, and talked about her… but, freaky bum and all, she’d recovered within seconds of finding her new home.
It didn’t hurt her at all.
*Might’ve been a bloke.
I mean, how would you