Friday Blog Aug 3 – on the importance of chairs

Today we welcome Julia from Cardonald Book Group, with words of advice to chairs of author events!
 

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.

There have been a few stand-out hosts over the years who add to the overall experience and therefore deserve a special mention. One of the best, to my mind, is Rosemary Goring. She is well-read, professional and knowledgeable. I’ve seen her several times but a good example to take is her hosting of the intellectual tsunami that is Alexander McCall Smith. Her very few interventions were succinct and valuable, and at the end of the talk I knew no more about Rosemary Goring than I had when I went in. Which is surely how it should be. I did, though, feel that I knew a good bit more about Alexander McCall Smith.
 
Another stand-out host was Magnus Linklater. He hosted a talk by the multi-talented Miriam Margolyes (this was actually at The Citz, but it doesn’t do to be too territorial!) on the launch of Dickens’ Women and what came across was that he enjoyed her performance every bit as much as the audience. His skilful probing and open-ended questions afforded endless scope for her hilarious anecdotes. It was a great experience, which certainly made me want to buy a copy of the book and, judging by the queues at the after-event signing, I was in good company.
 
So, here’s to the next Aye Write! and another selection of great talks from the well-known and the not so well-known. With maybe just a wee bit more thought given to who hosts?
 
Julia Butler, Cardonald Library group
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