Living in an incredibly bookish town has more advantages than an abundance of bookshops and the ability to take a quick trip to Lyra’s Oxford or visit some of the locations from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I’m lucky enough to live in a place that has more author talks in a year than there are books in my TBR pile (and trust me, that’s a lot).
Why do I love author talks? I mean, there’s the obvious answer – I get to be in the same room as someone whose writing I admire, listen to the person behind the stories that have carried me away to other worlds and, on occasion, changed my life. There is a very large dollop of fangirling behind every ticket I’ve bought and every festival I’ve attended. I want to find out more about the worlds I’ve loved, and author talks can answer questions I would never even have thought to ask (such as, who names the daemons in the world of His Dark Materials? According to Philip Pullman after a fan question, it’s the daemons belonging to the child’s parents who come up with the name – an answer that got an “Awwwwww” from a crowd of hundreds).
Going to author talks has let me steal little bits of writing advice and approaches that I can use in my own work, including “don’t be afraid to put whatever you’re currently really really enthusiastic about into your work and see if the story fits around it” (I don’t think Jasper Fforde said that in so many words, but that’s certainly why the Crimean War is such a focal point of the Thursday Next series). Since someone always asks an author how they deal with writer’s block, I’ve got hundreds of techniques to try next time I’m in a rut, from “finish in the middle of a sentence the day before” to Kuang’s “listen to some music and try to construct the movie trailer in your head”.
The only disadvantage of authors talks is that, sometimes, they’re not accessible, whether because of cost or location. Luckily, the rise of podcasting is beginning to address this problem. The Nix/Kuang talk I went to was being recorded for Blackwell’s bookshop’s podcast, and I hope that more author talks will follow suit, giving every book-lover a chance to spend a little time with their favourite writers.
If you’re nervous about meeting your heroes, pick up some tips from How To Talk To Your Favourite Authors At Signings. If you’re planning an author event and want to do something a little different, you can find inspiration at Literature-Inspired Ideas for Out-of-the-Box Author Events.