Meet the Author – Plus Support Act?
Right now, with staff at The Mitchell looking for suggestions of people we’d like to hear at the next Aye Write!, it has set me wondering how much thought goes into selecting the hosts, or facilitators? OK, so it’s a given that it’s the author who attracts the numbers, but over the past few years I’ve become increasingly aware of how important the choice of host is to the success (or otherwise) of an author talk. It’s one of those things that, when done well, we’re almost unaware of. However, when the hosting is done by someone who’s not terribly professional – well, for me, it can detract hugely from the whole experience.
Let me give you some examples and don’t worry – I wouldn’t be so cruel as to name and shame the people who haven’t quite cracked it. I know this is a very subjective area, so feel free to disagree.
I’ll get the ‘could do betters’ out of the way first. A number of years ago I turned up to hear one of my favourite authors talking about his latest book, which I loved. He was superb; thoughtful, witty and intelligent. It’s such a pity that we heard so little from him, largely due to the fact that the lady who introduced him (all I’ll say is that she was a fairly high-profile figure in the world of the arts in Scotland) seemed to think that she was as interesting to listen to as he was, and that we, the paying public, were keen to hear her take on everything that the author was asked to comment on. Not so. Inevitably we ran out of time, after just two questions from the audience. Shame.
Last year I turned up to hear another favourite literary author. Again, what promised to be a hugely entertaining and engaging talk was spoiled by the quality of the hosting, though this time for a different reason. It was not that this young woman saw it as an opportunity for self-promotion, as the previous lady had done. No, her fault was that she had a pre-prepared list of questions to which she adhered rigidly, regardless of whatever reply or comment the author had made to the previous question. It was amateurish at best and on occasions positively toe-curling, especially when the author had been talking about an issue of some sensitivity from his childhood and the host responded with an inane question from her list, which bore no connection whatsoever to what he had just said.