Even further out of my comfort zone...


I’ve written before about how much I appreciate Carlisle’s book festival, Borderlines. I’ve had the opportunity to hear some of my favourite authors speak and have discovered quite a lot of new writers through attending events. Tickets are reasonably priced and the weekend always offers variety and entertainment. So this year I decided to get involved…

I’ve also written before about how I’m not a naturally outgoing person; I really have to push myself to attend gatherings and the thought of public speaking fills me with horror. So I decided to volunteer to be a steward for the festival weekend. Nothing too taxing – taking tickets and directing people if they got lost – well within my capabilities.

However, one of the organisers realised that I’m a writer and asked me to chair an event. Panic set in. I’d have to address an audience, field questions; people would be looking at me. So I said yes. I then said yes to leafleting in the city centre – things were getting out of control!

The weekend before the book festival, I approached countless strangers (and a few friends) asking them to take leaflets and booklets about Borderlines. It was actually fun. I found myself looking at people in a different way, trying to decide if they were likely to be readers. Standing outside a large bookshop helped me a bit with that!

The talk I was to chair was by Ruth Sutton – a West Cumbria-based author. I’d read her latest book and had been advised to meet her beforehand so I collared her in a talk by MW Craven and Vaseem Khan and took her to lunch. We had a good chat and then it was time for me to do my stuff. I was terrified. The audience wasn’t huge but there were enough people to make my legs turn a bit jelly-like, and they were all fans of Ruth’s work so I felt a real responsibility to do her justice without waffling on for too long. I have no idea what I said. Hopefully it made sense – nobody seemed shocked or disappointed so it can’t have been awful. The upside was that I got to sit in on a fascinating talk about weaving fact into fiction – Ruth is a natural storyteller and the audience were enthralled.

The stewarding was easy after that. The most taxing things I was asked were the location of the nearest toilets and whether there were still tickets available for particular events. There were also a couple of occasions where people had lost their partners so I was asked to look out for a man in a flat cap and a woman in an orange jacket and tell them that I’d already collected their tickets. I think I identified the correct individuals – if not, somebody got a nice freebie!

So I’m glad I pushed myself. It was good to get involved and I enjoyed being part of something that’s important to my city. Would I do it again? Absolutely.

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