John Harris made a great programme for BBC Radio 4 on the ‘toilet circuit’, music venues that were so small, they were likened to loos. Whether or not they were a public convenience or inconvenience, I guess, is another story. My first ‘literary gig’ took place courtesy of the wonderful Archway With Words, down in the bowels of The Hideaway in Archway (North London). And I knew what the bands felt like. It was a small and intimate, I believe is the word, gathering.
As it was on my doorstep, I knew at least a few friends would come, spurred on by the thought of the quiz afterwards. When I arrived, the organiser was there. ‘Oh good’ I thought, we might make it to five then. I thought about it as a good practice night for the big book festivals, you know, Hay, Cheltenham. We all start somewhere. So I had one glass of red for courage and waited upstairs, away from the depressingly empty room.
I consoled myself with the thought that it was the Tuesday after St Patrick’s Day, so people were nursing their hangovers. More people trickled in, friends arrived and all of a sudden there was a respectable audience there. Not a crowd, but an audience, most of whom I didn’t actually know. Result. Time for second glass of wine, writers and drink: a time-honoured relationship. One for the muse, two for the show, now it was time to go, go, go.
The first five minutes are nerve-wracking. Aware of the audience, aware of reading, keeping eye contact and holding the audience. Then I’m off into the magical zone which makes me do it. I pick up speed and enthusiasm and suddenly I really enjoy it. Author and audience, imparting knowledge, raising a laugh, respecting tragedy – the essence of witchcraft it seems.
A signpost to the end, accompanied by a bon mot and then it’s time for questions. This can be the hardest part and yet sometimes the most predictable. When witchcraft is one’s subject there are inevitable questions about Wicca and its connections to be fielded. There were questions about Poland, there were questions about witches, but most importantly there were many questions.
As the warm-up act for a quiz, I think I did quite well. Come September, I’ll be delighted to reprise the act at the Archway with Words Festival.