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Sex, drugs and sausage rolls: London life, love and other random stuff

The London Literature Festival: My night as a bit of a celebrity

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Image: Kristian Johns at the Literary Festival 2010

Me with part of the supporting gang: Mum, sister and best friend

I looked in the mirror at the man smiling at me, and smiled back.

He was about thirty, wearing a deep V neck t-shirt and fitted black blazer. He had short hair that had gone sandy-coloured from a recent holiday, excited green eyes, stubble that hadn’t quite made the transition to ‘beard’, and was probably wearing a bit too much aftershave.

I’m now at the age my parents were when they had me, and I feel like I’ve come a long way in my six-weeks-from-turning-thirty-one years. Probably over less bumps than some, but definitely over more bumps than most.

But all those experiences put me on a path that had landed me right where I was standing — in the gents’ restroom at the Royal Festival Hall, about to share a stage with six ‘proper’ writers at the London Literature Festival on the South Bank.

I was reading an extract from my recently published story: Dying, And Other Superpowers in front of about 200 editors, writers, authors, critics and general ‘literary’ types.

Don’t ask me what ‘literary’ looks like exactly. But to give you an idea — it usually wears glasses, is probably holding a copy of your book, has its legs crossed, pen poised, head cocked to the side and is regarding you with a slightly inquisitive expression.


Deep breath.

The book’s editor, Paul Burston introduced me as “the newbie” and I got up to cross what had morphed into three miles of echoey floor to the stage at the front of the room.

I say echoey — people were clapping and cheering — but I could only hear my own footsteps.

Deep breath number two.

(Oh, who am I kidding? Deep breath number three-hundred-and-forty-two is slightly more accurate.)

I straightened my notes on the lectern and began with Josh’s story:

“I’ll remember my eighteenth birthday for three reasons.  The first being that I turned eighteen.

Well, duh.

The second reason is because it was the day I got diagnosed with HIV. And the third? I made a mug explode.

Yeah, that was a pretty hectic day…..”

I took the audience through the story I knew so well. I knew these characters far better than I’d described on the page. I knew what they looked like, where they lived, what music they listened to, even the subtle facial tics they made when they were angry or excited. I got lost for a little while, enjoying the feeling of bringing them to life through speech.

I finished on a cliffhanger:

“I gaped at my hands, turning them over a couple of times, but my vision was blurring and I felt unsteady. I looked around the room, unfocused and disoriented, and in a weak voice said, “Mum?”

I don’t know if she answered, because my world went black.”

I looked up, smiled and said: “And if you want to know what happens, you have to buy the book!”

There was a collective cry of “Gah!” from the audience, followed by a round of very genuine applause, and I knew I’d done OK.

I’d like to tell you about the rest of the evening, but to be honest, it was a bit of a blur, I remember points of it. My wonderful friends and family hugging me and clapping me on the back, warm congratulations from people I’d never met. A very humbling moment when a young man told me he’d come all the way from Nottingham to hear me read because he’s a fan of this blog (thank you, David — it’s not often I’m rendered speechless).

And people were asking me to sign books! With my signature!

Feeling like a bit of a fraud, I wondered: what do I write? Do I try to make each message personal? Do people expect you to write “best wishes” or is that just wanky and patronising?

Do I just sign it? Do I try to be neat? Do I screw it and just be intentionally, fantastically, artistically untidy? Can I make my writing even remotely legible when my hands are shaking this much?

Oh, Paul-bloody-flipping-Burston, you’re supposed to be my mentor! WHERE are you when I need you?!

On top of that, I realised I was going to have to ask them all that cringeworthy question:

“What’s your name?”

The crowds filtered out and I rejoined my wonderful, drunken friends, and ceased being a writer, a new talent, or a member of the literary world — I was just ‘me’ again. We set off into Soho for a few celebratory drinks.

Now that the dust has settled on that crazy night, I certainly don’t feel like an ‘author’, a ‘fresh new talent’, a ‘hidden genius’ or any of the things I’ve been described as over the past few weeks.

It’s hard to feel like a ‘rising star’ when you’re sitting in a messy bedroom, wearing crap boxers, writing a blog post with a cup of tea and Star Trek: Voyager on the telly for company.

Cynics may (possibly rightly) argue that this is nothing to get excited about; I mean, it’s not my own novel — it’s a short story that’s been published in an anthology.

But as I’ve said before, it’s the beginning of my story, and I don’t know if it’s a short story, a novel, or a whole fricking library, but I can’t wait to write some more pages.

Paul called me late last night:

“I didn’t get to speak to you afterwards because it was just a bit crazy, but I wanted to tell you, you were phenomenal. I’ve had so many messages about the event over the last 24 hours. You made a huge impact. You should be very proud of yourself.”

Phenomenal? Well, that’s for time and other people to decide — not me.

But proud?

Hell, yeah.


Written by guy_interrupted

July 17, 2010 at 4:48 pm

8 Responses

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  1. big fat pat on the back hunny, just wish I could have been there with you.

    Claire Mackaness

    July 17, 2010 at 4:59 pm

  2. Been meaning to comment on your blog for a while, really enjoy reading it. I like your writing style and openness. I was reading your posting the other day about obsession with exercising and could totally relate to it.

    Hope you continue to blog, well done on your London Literary Night! 🙂


    July 17, 2010 at 5:07 pm

  3. K-Man,

    Exceptionally proud of you, but not surprised at your success in the slightest. I love the way you write – rather than lose myself in your writing, I tend to find parts of me instead – which sounds a little bit schmaltzy, but it’s true. Am enormously pleased that it’s all coming together… Well done and keep it up .

    JRP xxxx

    Johnny Red Pants

    July 18, 2010 at 8:58 am

  4. so proud of you sweetie. xxx


    July 18, 2010 at 11:33 am

  5. It was wonderful for me to be able to be part of your “special night” and so emotional to have the reading dedicated to me, your “mum”.

    Well done sweetheart, we are truly proud of you and all you have achieved and so thrilled that the evening was such a success.

    We look forward to even greater things in the future.

    Love mum and dad xx


    July 20, 2010 at 4:39 pm

  6. Congratulations! That’s awesome!


    July 23, 2010 at 10:25 pm

  7. Bought it, read it, loved it. Congrats 🙂


    July 24, 2010 at 4:20 pm

  8. Excellently read at polari last night as well


    August 13, 2010 at 8:18 pm

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