When I became an author I thought I would be able to live in a lighthouse.
My food would be sent up to me on a pulley and I would wave to the person in the delivery boat, and perhaps say a cheery ‘hello’, before I pulled my window tight shut and went back into my safe lighthouse world.
I had no idea that writing books would mean that I had to go out and about promoting them.
If I had known, I’m not sure I would have had the courage to start.
I’ve always been shy. Always. I was brave at my sixth birthday party and thought I’d dance on top of the piano to celebrate my bravery for a change. I fell off. I think that’s one of the reasons I hid in books when I was young. I think that’s one of the reasons I write. It was definitely why I became an actor.
People think that actors are really brave, outgoing creatures, when very often the exact opposite is true. It’s a way of hiding yourself in someone else’s words. A bit like writing. It’s a way of expressing yourself without actually directly giving yourself away. A bit like writing, again.
When I realised that actually no-one was going to buy my book unless I got out there and told people about it, it came as an enormous shock. Then, after a bit of sobbing I decided that I would just have to get on with it. Hit it with enthusiasm. And I’m really glad I did.
I’ve done lots of events and school visits now and I’ve met some wonderful people.
For World Book Day 2017 I’ll be onstage with The Biggest Book Show on Earth and then at the Spread the Word Festival. I’ll be standing up in front of lots of people and attempting to talk to them about my books, and why books and reading are so important. I’m already nervous.
Last time I was onstage I forgot my words completely. It was a One Woman Show.
Another time, when I was part of a dancing group who were representing the Great Fire of London by becoming human flickering flames (I know, believe me, I know) I managed to pirouette into an audience member’s lap. It wasn’t part of the act. She wasn’t that pleased.
So, as the song goes, there may be trouble ahead, and I can never predict how shy, clumsy, or awkward, I’m going to be on the day. I just make the best of whoever I am at that moment in time and try my best not to fall over. Even if I do, there has always been someone there to pick me up and I’ve lived to tell the tale so far…
I wish that I could say that I wasn’t shy anymore. That all these experiences have made me flamboyant and confident. But they haven’t. They’ve just made me realise that there is a place for shy people in the world. That shyness is not weakness. I’m shy but I can still contribute and I can still be creative.
It has also taught me that children will always, without exception, be willing to help if you are honest. That children are kind and empathetic if you tell them that you are feeling nervous. That they will identify with you.
And that is why I can keep writing, and going to schools and events. And that is also why I know that I have found the right job. That by writing stories I really am connecting with people, through reading, and through meeting the most lovely, supportive crowd a person could ever hope to meet.
And though I still want a lighthouse, if I ever got one I’d probably get a little boat so I could pootle across to the mainland and do a few school visits.