My eldest daughter and I went to see Joanne Harris last night, making an appearance at a school in Great Dunmow as part of the Essex Book Festival. The large school hall was packed to capacity, and Joanne proved to be an amazing speaker. She mostly talked about her forthcoming new book 'Blue Eyed Boy' - which sounds like yet another brilliant novel from her! - and also read a couple of passages from the book.
It was interesting for me, having given quite a few 'author talks' myself now, to see how a true expert does it! I always make notes, but try to use them only as a guide, to keep myself on track and make sure I don't forget things I want to say. Joanne had some notes with her but barely glanced at them at all - even though she started off by saying that this was her first talk promoting this new book so she expected to ramble slightly! Not a bit of it ... she was extremely eloquent and there certainly weren't all the 'ums' and 'ers' I find myself so guilty of uttering!
She talked at length about how she got the idea for 'Blue Eyed Boy' and developed it into a story, and also about the characters and their relationships with each other. Somehow she managed to do all this without giving away very much of the plot - afterwards I found myself wondering how on earth she talked about it for over half an hour without doing so! She then took questions from the audience, and when she was asked about her own favourite books as a child, my daughter and I exchanged raised eyebrows! My own responses would have been something along the lines of 'Heidi' or 'Wind in the Willows', (and of course, Enid Blyton's Famous Five books!), but Joanne's were far more serious and intellectual and made me aware of how different her upbringing must have been from that of, perhaps, the average reader. Obviously a very clever child who grew up to be a very clever lady!
Well, we're all different, aren't we, and thank goodness for that. I love Joanne's novels and I loved listening to her speak; but when I give my own talks, one of the things that gives me great satisfaction is that people often remark that they find it interesting to hear about my life as a writer, and how I got published, simply because I'm from a fairly 'normal' background, without a degree or any writing qualifications. Perhaps it gives hope to other aspiring writers.
I was thinking about everyone being different, and enjoying different types of books, when I read a feature in yesterday's paper, too - about the lack of 'real men' as heroes in modern romance novels. The feature focused on the short-listed books for the Romantic Novel of the Year Award, and has inevitably led to a lot of discussion among my fellow members of the Romantic Novelists' Association. Apparently the writer wasn't keen on the sensitive, 'New Man' type of heroes, or stories focusing on problems in people's lives - although it's been pointed out that the feature has of course been edited and cut so that the writer's opinions aren't being represented quite the way she intended. Anyway, I reckon it's just another situation of 'horses for courses'. If you don't like certain types of books, with certain types of heroes, you won't buy them. If they're selling well, then lots of people obviously do like them!
If only I had been as gifted as Joanne Harris and could write the type of novels she writes ... ah, if only! But we're all different in our capabilities, as well as in our reading tastes, and we have to be realistic. I hope to continue to have books published and to have readers who enjoy them; that'd be good enough for me, and I'd be very grateful too!