With my author husband, Leslie Tate, I’m experiencing something new. We’re on tour! A year ago, when GORILLA DREAMS came out for children, illustrator Mary Casserley and I signed at a few Waterstone’s stores, but this time the tour is rather more extensive (into 2016) and varied, and it’s a novel for grown-ups I’m launching, like my other half of #authorsinlove. This is the Purple Tour and so far, with the fourth event tonight, it’s been a five-day whirlwind. But let’s be clear. Forget U2 and their private plane, or even an imaginary band of ambitious part-timers sleeping in a van on autobahns (with associated wild behaviour). Think intimate, passionate and (overlooking the odd verbal flourish from Leslie) civilised. Remember small is beautiful.
The Purple Tour starts locally, and with the exception of Capel Dewi in South Wales, home of one of my BFFs, is designed to spread the word without doubling our carbon footprint or halving our sleep and stamina. It includes one festival this year in Banbury Literary Live, and hopefully another next spring in Lyme LitFest, plus the mixed-arts show that was Berkhamsted Live 8, but most of the events are hosted by writers’ groups, libraries, book groups, studios and living rooms. So far the atmosphere has been wonderfully warm and engaged and we’re delighted above all by the pleasure our audiences are expressing in ‘being read to’ as we share extracts from our books. I’ve been feeling the same, listening to Leslie reading from PURPLE with clarity and conviction. It’s a very special grown-up variation on the Story Time I loved when I taught Year 4, and a pleasure that as adults we shouldn’t deny ourselves.
So we read extracts of our work and talk about why and how we began the creative process. We share how the stories developed from character and language, and identify themes. Of course twenty-first century presentations involve a huge number of wires to untangle and extension leads to connect as we set up a screen to project images of settings and symbols, and play music that triggers a flashback in my novel or locates it in time. It’s a sweat, and audience size can’t be predicted however committed our social media activity. But people come because they read, write, or live by a different but equally creative light as artists, musicians or photographers. They may come out of curiosity, because they’ve never been to a literary event before. We adapt to our audience and love great questions, especially if they make us think out an answer we’ve never shaped before.
Isn’t it all about selling books? Well, we live in hope! The events are free and as lesser-known authors with small publishers we don’t expect – or even, as Greenies, desire – more money than we need to live simply. The joy for us is in sharing an art form we love and, in those books, the best we can offer at the end of years of intensive commitment. Writing excites us – like reading great novels ourselves. We believe in the power of stories and this beautiful language we use to tell them. If anyone buys books we’re happy to sign them, but the real thrill comes with the email or review further down the line that means we connected, in a mysterious psychological way, with that reader who was stirred, challenged, captivated or moved. I write because I care. The knowledge that someone cares about my novel too is all this author on tour needs – to find the energy for the next date on the schedule.