I’ve done a lot of readings in the last six months. At a conservative estimate I’d guess maybe around 50. Some have gone gloriously well. I’ve sold books. I’ve been complimented by strangers. I’ve moved myself to almost tears at the profundity of my own words, (mostly when I override my own rules and partake of the free glass of writer’s wine before, rather than after, my reading). Other readings have been nothing short of character-building. They have, in no particular order, included reading to two people on stackable plastic chairs, competing to be heard over a wide variety of background noises, (air conditioning, babies, hip hop acts), audience members falling asleep, forgetting to bring the last page of the short story I’m reading and that one dude in the High-School shooter outfit who hounded me afterwards to tell me about his very, very dark story. I’m not complaining. Any opportunity to read is an incredible chance to hone down the edges of your writing and I almost always come away from the experience chastened and improved in equal measure.
This tour is giving me the chance to try out reading for an American audience in a variety of different settings. I wasn’t too sure what to expect when I left Belfast. Without the stalwart support of Mickey, Emma and Stephen Sexton to depend upon, I wasn’t sure if anyone would even come to hear me read. I had practical concerns. Would people understand my accent? (the answer is mostly, with the particular exception of the word mirror which I now say once in Norn Irish and once again in high, nasal American for all my audiences residing outside Mid-Ulster). Would people, culturally removed from thick Belfast sarcasm, laugh at the funny bits? Would the sad bits be too sad? Would I be able to fool Americans into believing the Vietnam and Civil War sections of Malcolm Orange Disappears, when the extent of my research into the afore-mentioned topics had been half an hour scrolling through Wikipedia? Would I sell any books or spend the next seven weeks lugging dozens and dozens of unsold copies round American airports and paying excess baggage charges for the privilege? I had a lot of fears.
I’ve read four times now to an audience of around 120 people in total. I’ve read round a fire pit in Salt Lake City, in a back yard with musical accompaniment in LA, in a church in Portland and a library in TriCities, Washington. All my fears have evaporated, (though the coward in me has yet to chance reading either of the Wikipedia-based excerpts). People have been wonderfully receptive and generous with their feedback. Books have been sold, signed and swapped for other writers’ books, (what a treat! I haven’t had anything worthy of exchanging since I completed my My Little Pony sticker book in 1986). The questions have been fabulous and for the most part insightful; not once has the old chestnut, do you write on a computer or a notepad, even been hinted at. Connections have been made and horrendous bumble bee business cards distributed liberally, (even outside LA). New friends have been made; old friendships revisited. And perhaps most wonderfully of all, Malcolm is slowly and steadily finding a second home in the USA. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the tour holds. Onwards towards Canada next.