Our panel of Essex Writers gave another appearance this morning, at Chelmsford library. This was an event arranged specifically for the book groups attached to the library, and once again we were made very welcome by the library staff, and by a lovely audience who asked lots of interesting questions.
With five of us on the panel, it's a very relaxed way to conduct an event. When I give talks on my own, I always spend quite a while preparing my talk, making sure it's appropriate to the type of audience I'm going to address, making notes and then practising it aloud to make sure the timing's right. I enjoy giving these talks, and now I'm used to them I'm fairly relaxed about them - but with our panel, it's a different thing entirely, and it doesn't really need any preparation at all. After each of us introducing ourselves and chatting a bit about what we write, etc, we ask for questions from the audience and there's then a lot of inter-locution amongst the five of us. Fortunately it works well because we're all good friends!
This morning was a little more exciting. Just as I was answering the usual question about 'where I get my ideas from', there was a loud jangling of bells and it was 'Everybody out!' - the fire alarm had gone off. We obediently traipsed out of the fire exit and into the street, where it was cold and raining but several of us managed to get under a bus shelter! We thought at first it was a fire drill (we'd all been carefully instructed before the event kicked off, about fire regulations - but of course, that's all a necessary part of Health & Safety now). But when (after thankfully only about 10-15 minutes) we were allowed back in, we were assured it wasn't a drill - the alarm had actually been activated so the whole building had needed to be checked.
Chelmsford Central Library is a large building in itself, and it's under the same roof as County Hall - the main Essex County Council premises. Everyone from there also had to be evacuated, including a bridal group! The poor bride was shivering outside the hall, her little bridesmaids sitting glumly on the steps waiting to be allowed back inside. How awful if the alarm had gone off just as she and the groom were about to make their vows!
But of course - being writers - by the time we were allowed back into the library, the five of us had started inventing stories around the situation. Those who write romantic fiction were concocting scenarios where the bride's ex boyfriend had turned up and set the alarm off to stop the wedding so that he could run off with her, or where the bride and groom had been turned out of the hall but were determined to marry at all costs so repeated their vows on the steps outside; whereas Fay, the crime writer of the group, was determined to get a murder in somewhere and had ideas of someone being deliberately run over as they left the building ... It would be quite interesting, in fact, if we were all to write our own version of one of these stories and see how differently they turned out!
It was a relief to get back inside and continue answering our audience's questions. We ended up overrunning our time slightly to make up for it - but then again, that might have had more to do with the fact that we were fed, along with the tea and coffee at the end of the morning, with a choice of delicious home-made cakes (thanks again, ladies!).
Our next event will be in two weeks' time - 22 May - at Galleywood Library on the outskirts of Chelmsford. This is my own village library, a much smaller venue, but I'm looking forward to it because it's my 'local' and I think it'll be another nice friendly event. I've made some leaflets to 'canvas' my neighbours about it - I didn't want to deliver them until this weekend, as I didn't want people throwing them away assuming they were election leaflets! - and I've been promised a piece in the Essex Chronicle about our panel too.
All good PR, and a fun way of showing our support to the library service as well as meeting new readers who we hope will go on to buy our books - or at the very least borrow them from the library! All that, and inspiration for fire alarm stores too!