Don’t Give up the Day Job, Phil

There’s a great site called Meet the Author in which you can watch clips of your favourite writers talking about their books.  It features Gregory Maguire singing the title of his new book, Son of  a Witch; and among the SF writers, my favourite clip features a barnstorming performance from Iain M. Banks.

I went along on Friday of last week to do my own ‘piece to camera’.   Strangely, I wasn’t too nervous, largely because these days I never have time to get nervous (I used to spend days, nay weeks, getting nervous about things! Ah, happy times.) 

And, though I’d mentally prepared a few things to say, I hadn’t managed to write anything down. I thought, what the hell, I’ll busk it. And, to my own considerable surprise, I began calmly, and spoke fluently, and didn’t forget anything I wanted to say when suddenly


My brain emptied. My throat wouldn’t work. I totally ‘dried’.

The very nice camera guy then explained I was way over length anyway – the ideal time for these things is 2 minutes, and I’d already passed the 6 minute mark, with footnotes and a prose poem sketch of my experiences running in Crystal Palace Park. So I gulped, resolved to be less verbose, and started again.

This time, I’m glad to say, I was far more economical. I got through about a minute and half’s worth of chat effortlessly and then


My brain emptied. My throat wouldn’t work. I totally ‘dried’, for the second time.

This, have to say, is the moment when I realised when I could never be an actor.  It’s not just that I don’t look right, and I can’t act, and I get embarrassed in public, though those are major handicaps. It’s my brain. It doesn’t remember the end of things. 

     To be or not to be, that is the

Um? What comes next?

That would be me.

Interestingly, the art of classical rhetoric was very much concerned with the art of memory. Greek orators used to memorise their speeches by associating each section with their living room, as part of a visual mnemonic system. You start with the door, move across to the sofa; and when you reach the main part or ‘focus’ of your argument, you’re at the fireplace. (The word ‘focus’ comes from the Greek word for ‘hearth’, for precisely this reason.)

I’ve never learned any such rhetorical tricks; I relied on luck to get my through, and luck failed me miserably.

By this point, furious and battle-scarred, I wanted to start the whole thing again; but the camera guy just got me to carry on from where I’d stopped.  His plan is to edit it together seamlessly, but I’m convinced you’ll be able to see a few seconds of dead air, and a panic-stricken writer with a fish-eye stare who has clearly had his data banks wiped.

In the interests of my own public mortification, I’ll post a blog to say when the interview has gone online. 

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