Comfort Zones by Debbie Bennett

We all have comfort zones and they expand and contract at different times in our lives. Way back in the when, I used to thrive on conflict and it was all part of the day job. If we didn’t have at least one letter of complaint each week, the boss would say we weren’t doing our jobs properly, and arresting people for drug-smuggling was never going to be a calm and peaceful day in the office. Those who know me may say I still love an argument and that’s probably true, but in reality I’m way more conservative than I used to be.

I think as a writer, it’s necessary – indeed vital – to enjoy your own company, to wander off inside your head with an imaginary gang of friends. But in the increasingly-media-centric world, it’s also necessary – and quite possibly vital – to be able to step outside into the real world and engage with people. Even traditionally-published authors are expected to walk the media-walk these days.

It was with this in mind that I answered a call on facebook a few months back for writers to talk to sixth form students at a college in Lancashire. It’s four months away, I told myself, and didn’t think anything of it. Time drew closer and the organiser confirmed slots and times, gave directions and emergency phone numbers. Too late to back out and anyway, I don’t let people down if I can possibly avoid it.

Oh shit, I thought. I’m going to have to do this.

I’d already confirmed they really did want me. Me – the writer of very dark, graphic, nasty and violent crime aimed most definitely at an 18+ market. Oh, they’ll love it, I was assured. I’m never sure, but at least they were warned!

Bright sunny October day. No traffic holdups and my friend Annie had agreed to come along for moral support and a road-trip. So we set off up the M6 in her camper van and arrived at the college with plenty of time for a coffee.

And there was a poster of me in the library (learning resource centre, it might have been – but library to us older folk). A poster! Of me! With images of my books and my blurb from my website. And they’d bought a copy of my book too. I’m easily pleased.

Maybe 30 or so students turned up. I find teenagers scary these days – they’re so cool and sophisticated, but they all seemed keen to listen. So I talked about my career in law enforcement and how it had inspired my writing. I did a short reading and then talked about e-publishing and my journey as an indie writer. Some of the students were keen writers, so we talked about the merits of indie v traditional publishing and how to recognise the vanity press. And we talked about sites like Wattpad and how they might be useful for young writers to get feedback for their work. An hour flew by and I could have carried on.

And at the end, a couple of girls came over and we chatted some more and I felt like I’d made a difference. Maybe some of them had picked my talk because there was nothing more interesting to attend, but I think they all got something out of it. And so did I.

I’ve done this before. I talked at Knutsford Literary Society earlier in the year, but that was a smaller audience made up of adults. This was very different. I wasn’t going for a hard-sell – it wasn’t that kind of event – though I did take some keyrings and postcards, but I stepped outside my comfort zone and didn’t make a complete idiot of myself. Will I do it again? Probably. The anticipation is always worse than the event.


Jan Needle said…
I really can't imagine you arresting people, Debbie - but I can easily see you arresting your teenage audience. It sounds like a great gig!
Kathleen Jones said…
Bravo Debbie!! I remember how terrified I was when I first started doing readings and talks. But I bet those kids will remember your talk for ever!
Bill Kirton said…
Good for you, Debbie. I did a much smaller scale version of the same sort of thing with a group of 6th year pupils (all female) in Aberdeenshire. I talked about crime writing then we did a workshop in which I prompted them, using completely random names and other elements, to create a murder mystery. They were brilliant, coming up with relationships and motives that would never have occurred to me. With such youngsters around, the profession's in good shape.
Jan Edwards said…
Talks are scary! Done a few as part of an event but seldom gone single handed. *tips hat in general direction*

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