Driving into the cool morning light, I felt the tension release like a great uncoupling of armour. A layer of stress cracked, and hot anxiety sighed out.
Rosellas skittering across the sky.
A pale pink mist rolling over olive green hills and laying like a doona in the hollows.
I love the binary nature of journeying.
The personal authority.
The soothing stilling of my inner voice.
The meditation of the road.
Today I was driving from Cessnock to Tamworth. I had planned to visit the Big W in Cessnock before dawdling north through Singleton, Muswellbrook and Scone. But then Emily Ashenden, publicist and co-conspirator at Affirm Press, arranged an ABC radio interview in regional Tamworth at 8.45. It was a three hour drive (three hours and four minutes to be precise) or four hours to allow for error. So a 5 am start it was.
Driving through the lush Australian farmland I was awash with gratitude for all the people who helped me get here. Obviously the publishers, editors, publicists … everyone at Affirm Press – but also my husband, family and friends. Who knew releasing a book into the wild could be such an overwhelming act of love.
Before leaving her home, my cousin Kim wrapped a cherished rose quartz bracelet around my wrist. She showed me the silver medals of St Christopher and guardian angel. She’d worn it throughout her travels in Norway. Now she wanted me to have its protection while driving the dangerous backroads of Australia.
For those unfamiliar, Australian roads have some peculiar hazards. The first is kangaroos – particularly at dawn and dusk when they’re bounciest. If kangaroos are on the road, they’re like a bunny in the headlight. They stare at you until the last moment when they leap away. And by ‘away’ I mean in any direction including towards your car.
Birds are troublesome too – and not just the little ones. The very big ones, cassowaries and emus, have skinny legs and long thin necks. If you hit one at speed their enormous bodies will come through your windscreen and wipe you out. Forty to sixty kilograms (up to 100 stones) of bird flying through your window at 100 kilometres per hour. Pow.
Then there are are all the normal horrors, the blind corners and invisible dips. The long haul trucks and the slow farm vehicles. Patience. Patience. Patience.
Before setting out on this journey my father-in-law (a dab hand mechanic) insisted I get everything checked on the car with an emphasis on my tyres. And he was right of course. Having sat idle for over a year the rubber had started to crack and flake. Their integrity was compromised. With the friction of fast driving or sheer heat of the summer roads, it was a real possibility they might burst.
Because I live in Switzerland, my friend Jo took the car in to the mechanic. What a time consuming and fiddly act of love. She also took it to get the airbags checked. And the brake fluid. And the air-conditioning. And a full road-safe service.
Now I was driving to Tamworth where a friend’s parents, Dianne and Devon Drew, had marshalled so much support for my book – I misted up with gratitude. Dianne had rung the library and arranged for me to sit in on their Third Monday Tamworth City Library Book Club. She’d paved the way for radio and newspapers interviews. She’d even rung her friend Jan Wyles in neighbouring Lismore who had arranged for the Constant Reader to let me sign books in their Kombi.
But more, Dianne took matters into her own hands and arranged for me to talk to her book club. She hired a hall, put a notice in the paper, and invited friends to bring cheese and crackers. She even baked a cake. Fruit cake! That’s what she baked.
Mum once told me that as she got older, it wasn’t pain or cruelty which made her cry any more, but kindness. I am, and was, overwhelmed by how kind this was. My very first live author talk, to a real live audience, arranged as an act of friendship.
6pm Meet the Author – Chapel Theatre, Marius Street
When I arrived at Dianne and Devon’s home, Dianne was all washed and dressed and ready for the big Author Talk. The author was not. I’d been up since before 5am and was, frankly, soggy.
But I was ready. I’d bought the wine and posters. I had a talk prepared. Emily from Affirm (that’s her official name now, she’ll have to change it by deed poll) arranged for Paul at Collins Book Shop to bring books and a method to sell them. She also gave me an eight foot poster to advertise my talk. I called it the monster. It’s a bastard to set up and way worse to pack away. So I was ready.
Here I need to remind you of my spirit animal for this trip:
Before setting out on this journey everyone had warned me that in the run up to Christmas the shops would be busy, the libraries winding down, and the shoppers distracted. They were trying to manage my expectations but Emily and I were way ahead of them: We had resolved a few weeks earlier to say ‘yes’ to everything. Even if only one person turned up, I vowed to bring my best self to every encounter. Look at all trouble Dianne had gone to to help me. If she could put clean clothes and makeup on – so (damnit) could I.
In fact, it was a good turn out. Used to the big crowds who show up for the Tamworth Music Festival my audience was unnecessarily contrite. Friends were sick, others were travelling, they wished there were more. I was happy with my generous crowd.
Dianne introduced me, and I explained it was my first talk. I asked if they could offer suggestions – and then set out to perform the unique tai chi of public performance.
It went well. I talked for 20 minutes about my history, the broad narrative of the book, film making, life in front of the camera, the cathartic joys of travel. There was enough laughter. Plenty of questions. It felt good.
Afterwards we shared locally produced brie and they all bought books. The only criticism was from one reader who was half-way through reading Wish You Were Here. She thought I’d shared a vital plot spoiler in my talk without warning her to cover her ears.
If you’re out here on a book(ish) tour, you might feel like you’re doing this by yourself but you’re not. You’re riding on the work of others. Be kind.
If you’re giving a talk remember that almost everyone who’s turned up has gone to as much effort to be there as you. You don’t know what havoc you’ve reaped in their schedule – so be generous, be grateful. Be kind.
Talk firmly. Talk slowly enough to be clear. Allow pauses. If you forget or fail – laugh. Be kind.
Try and get some local press a day or two ahead if you people to turn up.
Finally though, don’t be down if it’s not a huge turn out. Although we didn’t arrange advance press, we did secure a terrific article in the regional newspapers and that was only possible because I turned up to give the talk. It didn’t actually matter how many people came to hear it. The real story for a book(ish) tour was a recognized venue, a public event and the promise of meeting a person who turned up in the flesh.
So be kind to yourself as well.