I made a volcano with my client yesterday. It was our last session with him and it was a blast – literally. There was a lot of cleaning but also a lot of fun. It also meant that I came out of it with hands the colour of murder.
And it was with those blood red hands that I went to Gayle Forman In Conversation with Melina Marchetta, my first ever author talk.
It was awesome.
I learned so much from listening to these two brilliant authors. They are such nice and funny ladies. It’s clear from the first pages of their works that these two ladies know their craft, their style and their characters. But witnessing these masterminds discussing their passions firsthand? Unmistakeably eye-opening.
It was my first time listening to an author talk about their writing. I was prepared for passion, devotion and empathetic anecdotes. Gayle and Melina delivered – oh boy, did they deliver.
Their speeches were so sincere. These are authors who truly love their characters and can speak of them as if they were friends back home. It felt like they were mentors to the young adults they wrote about; the kind that encourages you, teaches you a lesson when you go astray and loves you unconditionally through all your actions. Their characters are alive.
With their warm humour, Melina and Gayle told us that they had moments where they thought along the lines of “oh, my God, why am I doing this to myself? A sequel? All that blood and sweat all over again? What was I thinking?” It was so funny and honest, and for writers out there: so. true. We’ll all be overwhelmed by our stories at one point and to hear that we’re echoing these authors’ footsteps is remarkably reassuring. There’s nothing more motivating than the knowledge that someone else has gone where you want to go, come back and is ready to do it all over again, kicking, screaming and loving it.
They also taught me that all the above is worth it because of the connection you develop with the characters and their story. Gayle called it an ’emotional breakthrough’, which I just love. My favourite part of the talk was when they talked about how they couldn’t wait to write the next part of the story, being that excited about it. Because even as an amateur – heck, even as a nine year old kid writing about adventures that never ended – I had that same feeling. I’m sure every writer out there knows how it feels. The story is all you can think about; it’s the barnacle of your imagination. When I heard Gayle and Melina talking about these experiences, I suddenly felt immensely glad that I had decided to come. I was sitting in an audience of kin, surrounded by people who loved stories beyond simply reading them in a single moment. I’m amazed the roof didn’t lift up in a beam of holy light above my head.
Above all, listening to Gayle and Melina taught me one very important thing: that they are normal people like the rest of us. Well, it’s not like I expected them to have purple skin, yellow eyes and a crown of horns… buuutttt, you know. These women are success stories: authors. What I had realised was that authors were writers to start with, and still are. It sounds silly; authors, writers, same thing. To many they are synonyms but to me, there is a world of difference. I always say ‘writer’ because ‘author’ traditionally carries the idea that you are published and, well, officially a professional writer. But what about the rest? I keep going back to the idea that a child can be a writer – their imagination outruns all of ours! That’s where my philosophy that anyone can be a writer comes from. It doesn’t matter if you write well, if you write for others or for yourself – you write because words aren’t mere words to you.
I felt this passion from Melina Marchetta and Gayle Forman. These are ordinary writers who found well-deserved success and that’s something that should always be good news for the rest of us. Good news not just because it gives us hope for our own success (after all, getting published isn’t the only success out there!) but because other writers’ success shows us that our love for words and stories is still appreciated. There are people out there who want to read about the worlds we write.
After the talk, these authors generously did book signings. I left this last. Because herein lies the real highlight and mortification of my day.
I had a copy of Just One Day with me. My boyfriend’s actually, that I’d bought him last month. He chose the book himself, which just amazed me because Just One Day had actually been on my reading list. That, and I couldn’t believe he was reading. A romance novel. This man has read nothing but comics for the past five years. Sure, I’d started pushing him to read but to see him actually show interest in a novel? That I’d also had my eye on? Mind-blowing.
And there I was getting him to buy me a zombie survival guide. But that’s a story for another day.
Point is, we played typical and wrote each other a message in the books we’d gotten each other. I can be remarkably cheesy in print. And my handwriting is terrible. My boyfriend, bless him, didn’t tease me. And neither did Gayle, when I gave her the book to sign. She thought it was romantic (coming from an author of romance!) and was honoured that her book was special to us, but really, Gayle, I’m the one humbled. It was such a privilege to meet you and Melina. You’re a great person, an amazing writer and I’m so grateful that you were part of my first author talk. I also hope you didn’t notice my red hands!
P.S. I just saw a photo on Gayle’s Twitter and I’m momentarily dumbfounded… I think the man sitting behind me during the event was Scott Westerfeld. Wow!