When I was 11 years old, I had to give a talk about Joan of Arc in a French class. Since I was quite a shy girl this was a fairly big deal for me, but I gamely went out in of the class when it was my turn to speak. Then I opened my mouth, and the trouble started. “Joan of Arc was brought up as a pheasant,” I confidently asserted, and was momentarily disconcerted when the whole class fell about laughing. Seconds later, with flaming red cheeks, I attempted to correct myself. “I mean, a peasant….” But it was too late; the damage was done. Nobody listened to anything else I had to say.
Unsurprisingly, that incident blighted my public speaking carer for some time. Speaking in public became something of a phobia, to the point where I never even put my hand up in class to answer a question. Much later, I decided to do something about it, and gradually chipped away at the problem by setting myself small tasks to achieve. For example, I joined adult education classes and set myself the goal of making 1 contribution per lesson. It was terrifying at first, but gradually my comfort zone expanded until I enrolled on a public speaking course. Gulp! But on that course I made a speech that – intentionally – made people laugh. It was such an amazing feeling! I went on to train to be an adult education tutor, and taught for many years as well as writing fiction.
Three years ago, I gave up teaching because I was earning just enough from my writing to support myself. I was finding it hard to juggle writing with parenthood and teaching, and I needed to free up some brain space. It’s been a highly productive time for me, but I do miss the performance side of teaching, and I do feel the need to keep using my public speaking muscle since it was so hard for me to develop it. I definitely didn’t want to risk reverting to that post Joan-of-Arc-is-a-pheasant me! Maybe that’s why I had a go at stand-up comedy last year. (If you haven’t read about that, here’s the link to the post about it). Certainly, it’s why, just lately, I’ve felt the need to get out there to speak about my writing. My first official author talk took place last week at the All Saint’s WI in Norwich, and I’m glad to say, it seemed to go very well. The group were very welcoming, they were interested in what I had to say, and they all willingly took part in the activity I set them. Hurrah! One of them even summed up what my women’s fiction books are all about by asking, “Are your books about women gaining empowerment?” Yes! Yes, they are.
Thank you, All Saint’s WI, and in fact, thank you Class 1I at The Broxbourne School, because without the memory of you lot, it wouldn’t mean half so much to me to be able to give a talk in front of a group of people I don’t know.