What happens when a thirteen year old asks you if your novel is Existentialist?
I mean, like, obviously the first thing that happens is that you wish you could google Existentialism in your mind, because even though you studied it in various forms at university you haven’t had much reason to think about it since then and so its exact (or even vague) meaning briefly (or totally) eludes you. Then, since you can’t do any invisible googling, you try your best to blag it which, in a school, usually involves batting the question back at the asker, a la “Do YOU think it’s Existentialist?”
To which the general conclusion was yes. It was only later (once I could google) that I realised he was right, that he had identified something about the book I wrote that I didn’t know myself and that in fact nobody had even mentioned before this point.
This was just one of the things I learned about doing author readings in the week I did my first ever (four of them) to Year 9 and Year 8 students at the school where I am the librarian. I wonder whether all audiences will be as unexpectedly engaged and receptive as these were, or as varied. What was really interesting was how each session had its own individual character and focus. The first was solidly focused on business (for this read money), the second on process, the third on the actual plot and world-building, and the fourth veered between the ethics and development of the publishing industry as well as the broader philosophical implications of what I’ve written. I know, right? Not bad for 12-14 year olds, most of whom are working in a second language too.
Another highlight was when a girl asked me whether writing my book had given me any personal epiphanies (her exact words). Once I got over how impressed I was with her originality and insight, I sat there trying to formulate my answer only to realise (slowly, in stages, like a sunrise) that maybe it had.
So this is what I learned about readings: I learned that because they are so personal they are terrifying (think dry mouth, shakes, cold sweats, mind blanks, everything) but I also learned that they are eye opening. Hearing myself talk about my book but, more importantly, hearing the perspectives of my audience, made me realise all these things about it I hadn’t before and probably never would have without their input. So yeah, while it takes a lot of out you to lay it all on the line like that (especially in a place where you work and where everyone knows you and where you have to turn up again the next day), when you weigh it up against what you get back, you definitely come out winning.